Six months ago, Ella and I looked after a couple of exchange students for three weeks while their New Zealand mum was on holiday.

Circumstances changed and one student has been with us for the duration of her stay.

Julia, or "Ju", as she is known, is a little pocket rocket.

As a ballerina, she excelled and had previously trialled for the Bolshoi on two occasions which, as she was only 16 years of age, was an achievement in itself.


Ju is a committed student who works hard and is also an independent and feisty young woman. We have enjoyed many colourful debates on current events and themes such as feminism, human rights, race relations, the environment, law and order, drugs, gangs, food, drink, politics and religion.

I'd say the score was about 50-50 before yesterday when it was time for her to return to Brazil.

I asked Ju for reflections on New Zealand as an exchange student living in the provinces that I could report in my column.

Here are her thoughts:

"New Zealanders should be proud of what they have. The country is beautiful and the ability to move around New Zealand in safety is something to enjoy — groups of young people walking at night or socialising alone would be unheard of in Brazil.

"Despite this, New Zealanders have an unreasonable fear of crime. In Brazil there is a continual war going between the defence forces, police and emergency services against drug lords and gangs.

"The gangs in New Zealand largely stick to themselves and people are not caught in crossfire. In Brazil whenever I walked on the street, I always had two hands around my purse, and there are places our families would never go. We would not move around the cities in safety.

"New Zealand is a rich country and even the poorest of people have wealth way beyond poor people in Brazil and many other countries.


"Although there is a gap between rich people and poor people here, the gap in Brazil is much wider.

"For example, higher education is not an option for poorer people in Brazil and the state schools in New Zealand seem to be at about medium standard private education in Brazil. To have this level of education available for free for all people of any level of wealth is a wonderful opportunity.

"Our housekeeper earns $800 per month. She has been working with our family for many years and her salary is higher than most people working as a housekeeper.

"Kiwis are a very compassionate people — they think about others a lot and not just in their own country but internationally. They are interested in everyone, just watching TV news shows that.

"I was in Mount Taranaki a few days after I arrived in New Zealand and could not go to the top so had to wait until the group returned, which would be about five hours later.
"I got homesick and upset while I was alone, and a lovely New Zealand woman comforted me and took me down the mountain and to her home, where I was collected later.

"Kids at school were compassionate and friendly. Kiwis don't wait and hold back if they see someone needing help, they just go in. That doesn't happen in other countries in the same way.

"New Zealanders love contact with nature and the environment. They don't just lie on the beach — they swim and play and walk the beach.

"They don't just look at the forest — they tramp and hike and camp in it and enjoy it. They hunt and fish and use the environment.

"Kiwis think they are clean and green, but that is just because there are only 4.5 million of them. If there were more Kiwis, the country might well be much dirtier than other countries as they are not thinking any more about the environment than any other country.

"Some people have got very green practices, but this is by no means the rule for all Kiwis, and they need to look after their country."

Ju loved her time in New Zealand and her 10 months here has changed her outlook on life and made her richer in a ways that cannot be counted in dollars and cents.

The experience will stay with her forever and she is grateful for all those she encountered while living here.

And Ella and I enjoyed having a kid in the house again after 10 years as Darby and Joan. In fact, it seems a bit quiet now she's gone.

And, of course, the learning went both ways.

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