I am gliding across Wellington Harbour on my way to the South Island as I write this week's column.

And I am privileged to be in the company of a couple of bright young foreign students who are staying with us for a few weeks.

We are parents of teenagers again and enjoying the experience, which includes running around delivering and picking up kids; stuff; doing more dishes than we have for a while; and cooking for four instead of just two.

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Young people brave enough to venture to the other side of the world on their own to communicate in a foreign language and to live in another culture for 12 months at an incredibly influential stage of their growth into young adulthood are inspirational. I would not have been so brave.

It is also a chance for us to show off our region and country and to look at the things that go into being provincial Kiwi and proud of it.

I find it is the little things that push the biggest buttons — walking up dramatic and isolated lonely beaches is a strange event for somebody from bustling Brazil, where population would be teeming and beachgoers shoulder-to-shoulder.

I don't know how well Kaiteriteri and Golden Bay will stand up in stark contrast to Manutahi, Ohawe and Castlecliff.

Both of our guests loved the visit to the River Traders' Market, Durie Hill via the elevator, coffees, food and the music.

It was French National Day on Saturday, so we were treated to boeuf bourguignon, cooked by our young French student, and costumed with beret, national colours and false moustaches.

Life is good as the stand-in parents of exotic teenagers.

Both students find New Zealanders are friendly and open, as kids are in Brazil and France, but attending a high school in small town, Hawera, they find there is very little understanding of life outside South Taranaki, let alone outside New Zealand.


Education here is nowhere near as demanding as what they have experienced in their homeland.

French school hours are 8am to 5pm, with plenty of homework. Brazil schools starts at 6.50am and generally finishes at 5.30pm but on some days school may finish at 12.20pm only to allow for further study at another school from 2pm to 7pm.

Competition is fierce for places at university and prospects for living a life involving disposable income, travel, and good wages are zero without a tertiary qualification.

The range of subjects taught compulsorily in both France and Brazil seems wide in comparison with New Zealand.

I guess your average exchange student is part of an elite subset, but what has not escaped them is the lack of a sense of urgency and determination in Kiwi kids.

Here there's such an outwardly easygoing and egalitarian culture which means people can succeed without the level of effort required in a country such as Brazil where poverty is an everyday visual experience — even for those well-heeled enough to never have the threat of having to live that way.

Kids in Brazil are aware of the United States and Donald Trump because of that broad school curriculum but also because of the proximity of the US, on which many depend for education, employment, and tourism.

In France there is far less concern because Europe provides distance, strong neighbourhood relations and their own strength, which is not reliant on the largesse of America.

Sharing our culture with international visitors has a two-way application. We learn heaps about life outside New Zealand, but also question what is important to us.

We are reminded constantly of the comparatively pristine environment, and with that comes the obligation not to stuff it up.

We are challenged not to blindly accept the New Zealand media representation of news as fact, but to seek out other sources before holding faith in what we have been told.

The over-riding impression I get is that we have a huge privilege to live in a country such as ours ... although, I guess, every nationality takes pride in what defines them in terms of history, culture, food, music, landscape, sports and contribution to the world as global citizens.

*Chester Borrows served as Whanganui MP for 12 years and as a minister in the National Government.