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Working holidays – what is the Australia experience?

by Katrina Phelps

Dr Sunny Lee.A working holiday in a foreign country is a rite of passage for many young people. The work is often less than glamorous but the adventure and fun of the experience coupled with meeting new friends in an exotic location often makes up for it.

Despite the popularity of working holidays, surprisingly little Australian research has been undertaken on this topic, according to UniSA PhD Lecturer in Event and Tourism Management, Sunny Lee (pictured above).

Dr Lee teamed up with a PhD Professor from Risumeikan Asia Pacific University in Japan, Dr Timothy J. Lee, to study the perceived value of the working holiday program in Australia by South Korean visitors. Working holiday makers from South Korea are the second largest nationality group to come to Australia under this program, second to the UK.

“Australia is undoubtedly the most popular country for Korean working holiday makers with about 35,000 coming here every year,” Dr Sunny Lee said.

“Australia’s working holiday program encourages cultural exchange by allowing young people (aged 18-30) from 19 countries that have agreements with Australia, to have an extended holiday supplemented with short-term work,” Dr Lee explains.

“Working holiday makers in Australia contribute to various sectors such as education, hospitality, seasonal work on farms, in retail and information technology. And of course they make a substantial contribution to Australia’s tourism market.”

The researchers undertook surveys that revealed the overall satisfaction with the experiences of Korean working holiday makers was not high but rather moderate, with study, work and culture identified as key areas of the working holiday program which need to be improved to increase the overall satisfaction level.

“The main difficulties they found with study and work is that they weren’t getting enough opportunities to practice speaking English,” Dr Lee says.

“Korean holiday makers really want to work in an English speaking environment but unfortunately for many, their English language skills are not good enough so they work in places like Korean restaurants.

“And in regards to study, one of the main reasons it was rated low was because they were in a class with many other Korean students which meant they still spoke lots of Korean rather than English. In Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane the classes are big and about one-third are Korean students.

“Many are starting to travel to Adelaide and Perth where there are smaller classes with more opportunity to speak English. It’s definitely a market that Adelaide and Perth could capitalise on.”

Despite the surveys showing moderate satisfaction levels, Dr Lee says these holiday makers are generally forming a very strong attachment to Australia.

“Australia becomes a second home and they become strongly attached,” Dr Lee says. “They often come back to visit friends, to study further or to honeymoon, or even to migrate here.

“A lot of them also use their two year working holiday as a study orientation or trial to see if they will come back for further longer term study. In Korea, it is very common to study overseas, and is seen as a necessary rite of passage for their study and future work.”

Dr Lee says understanding working holiday makers perceived values and satisfaction allows professionals in all fields to appropriately use the findings to organise and manage better working holiday programs that generate more benefits and attract more working holiday makers to Australia.

This research was funded by the Australian Korean Foundation in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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