Fortress New Zealand or Hotel California?

Our beautiful but tiny country has a population of 1.49% of the USA. Our $US GDP is around $200 billion … California’s alone is $2.79 trillion. And yet … as a nation we take the weirdest public stance of looking down on the world’s greatest country and would critique it well before other major nations with human rights records that would make Atilla the Hun cringe.

Last week I met up with a tremendously successful NZ sportsman who has made a career in finance and financial advice in California. He is completely flummoxed in an ongoing way about NZ’s negative bias towards the USA but adores living there and is philosophical about the negativity and sensationalist reporting our mainstream media indulges in. The experience of living in the USA has very little in common with the way that our media presents it.

As a family we were very privileged to get to know Sir Peter Snell a little over the last 10 years before his passing. Arguably NZ’s best ever sportsman, a true gentleman, but someone who needed to escape our introspective mentality and was never forgiven by some for doing so. His academic career in Texas is one of our great seldom told stories.

The problem? Our young people risk missing out, especially under covid conditions, on some of the greatest life opportunities on offer through the lack of perspective of our education sector, politicians and media.

Our oldest child has lived in the USA for nearly 10 years. In two weeks he becomes a US/NZ dual citizen after having a Green Card as an “alien of extraordinary abilities”. He is a very high quality – US trained – Chemical Engineer who works at a superb NY State pharmaceutical call Regeneron. His wonderful wife grew up in Honduras and works, at 26, in a supervisory role for Cummins where they are well ahead on reducing emissions without the heavy metals of electric vehicles. (https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Automobiles/Isuzu-to-source-truck-engines-from-Cummins-for-key-models). Their combined income exceeds US$200k and, more tellingly, the 5 bedroom, 1 acre home in Albany cost them US$240 because in the USA there is freedom to build. This is even though the NZ population density is 18 per square km and in the USA it is approx. 36.

The college both our son and daughter in law attended is a public college in Tampa Bay – a city now famous for owning the Super-Bowl, the Stanley Cup and coming second in the MLB. The University of South Florida has some high-ranking faculties but also has more tennis courts than Auckland, an 18,000 seat Basketball stadium, two 400m tracks, gyms that are out of this world, a Division 1 football team that plays at Raymond James stadium, etc. So many colleges have this level of developmental environment for your people. This compares to NZ universities who do virtually nothing for sporting development and cost a blind fortune.

Between my wife and I we have visited the USA around 12 times in the last ten years. We have never experienced a single person being rude or aggressive or ever felt in danger in any way. The food is superb and you are not required to eat the whole portion. We have loved the experience of American theatre and all US pro sports. We have seen some of the most beautiful places and every State is like a different country.

My point? Our life-work is with young, low decile and Maori and Pasifika children to get them into a place where they are on fire academically and really want to make something of their lives. When they leave our schools they go into local high schools and thrive in terms of qualifications as well as winning many of the prizes. They are getting UE at a good rate and then … $50 a week just to catch a train to the University of Auckland that only provides for half of their development. Should they somehow get through that they face their first 10 adult years with a significant student loan and more barriers to home ownership and financial independence than the Chiefs found trying to get a touch down against Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl.

Many New Zealanders love to hate the USA but we need Pfizer for our vaccines and our erections. It is time we acknowledged it as a great place for our young people to be educated within many high-quality colleges, amongst students from a broad range of countries and with multi-dimensional opportunities. We should not impose our own Hotel California psychology on young people who need an adventure. Some won’t come back – but that is okay – to a person we are a nation that came from somewhere else. Those that do come back will add a great deal. Let’s look for the NZ government to treat international education opportunities for our young people on an equal footing for the support within NZ. We will be a better country for it and maybe also lose our small man’s syndrome towards the USA.

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