The U.S. government regularly sends Americans abroad, both students and professionals, to learn about other countries and to share America's values and culture with the rest of the world.
I recently returned from such a program to New Zealand that was sponsored by the American Council of Young Political Leaders and the U.S. State Department. The program involved cultural experiences, such as attending a highly anticipated rugby match. But the vast majority of our time was spent getting to know how their government and electoral system works.
We did this through meetings with state heads, university staff and party leaders, including Prime Minister John Key. But we also met in less formal environments where we could have more relaxed discussions with the very humorous and straightforward Kiwi people.
The result for me was a new way of looking at many issues and an appreciation for our own system. I admire the high Kiwi 80 percent voter turnout, their 70 percent renewable energy and their social conscience. Even their more conservative political parties can't understand how getting sick could bankrupt a person in America. They also have no tort law. People hurt at work automatically get their medical bills paid for by the government, but in exchange, they are not allowed to sue their employer.
I learned that though they are an ocean away, we share the same basic values as well as problems like graffiti, obesity, domestic violence, financial literacy and a greater need for math and science in schools.
Most importantly, I gained an even better appreciation for our electoral system and U.S. leadership. In the New Zealand Parliament, the Rep. Joe Wilson-type outburst is routine. During one hour of observing Parliament, I heard members laugh, shout and insult each other during debate, yelling "sellout," "grow up and govern," and my favorite, "mind- bogglingly stupid." Believe it or not, even with their multi-party system, they are more partisan (and certainly more theatrical) than we are, I believe.
I also learned New Zealand and America have a very close relationship, in part because of New Zealand's increasing involvement in supporting anti-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan. New Zealanders live in an isolated part of the world where they haven't had to worry about national security. I fear their involvement puts that security at risk, and we should be grateful for their commitment.
The Kiwi are very versed in American culture and politics and were more fascinated by our 2008 election than their own. It made me feel slightly ashamed I didn't know more about them before my trip.
International travel and education teach us not only about other countries, but about ourselves. Take every opportunity you have to visit or learn about other nations. If we want to continue to lead the world, we need to know what is important to the rest of the world, and we must find ways to support the nations that support us.
Amanda McGill is a state senator representing Lincoln.