Matthew Kuehl has visited 40 different countries. He says maybe some people think that’s a lot, but he sees there’s still over 155 left. As he returned to visit home in St. James, he took the time to stop at the Watonwan County Library on Tuesday evening to speak on the opportunity to be an American and looking at your country from the outside.
Kuehl has lived in five different countries, including Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, and the Philippines. He’s worked in up to ten different countries ranging from Morocco to Afghanistan to Indonesia. His first major travel was a solo backpacking trip from Jordan to Syria to Lebanon. He was 19-years-old.
He works for a private contractor for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), helping develop other countries. It includes democracy, health, water and sanitation, energy, and more. He’s been in the field for eight years. He’s currently working on a health program in the Philippines.
His presentation at the library in St. James included a string of topics based on observations or statistics. Though Kuehl realized the topics muddied into politics in the United States, his intention wasn’t to share his political views, but to present things either foreigners abroad think are a little strange about the U.S. or that he’s been able to look back upon after living and experiencing other ways people live. The topics included Minnesota nice, the American dream, diversity, commercials, measuring system, money, tipping culture and hidden costs, water, drinking, expensive education, paid time off, cars and gas, weather, climate change and protections, incarceration, religiosity, support for Israel, economic inequality, guns, healthcare, spread of fake news, elections and politics.
A few of the many observations and statistics Kuehl shared included:
Other countries don’t have commercials for prescription drugs, lawyers, and election campaigns.
We’re very privileged to have water you can drink from the tap while the vast majority of the world can’t. Yemen is the first country expected to run out of water completely in the next 15 years.
21 is one of the oldest age for drinking. People think it’s strange that Americans can serve in the military, take out massive debt, but still not drink.
The amount of student debt in the United States is 7.8% of our GDP, while the UK is at 3.8%, Japan is at 1.5%, and Germany is at 1%.
With the number of people incarcerated for 100,000 people, the U.S. is at the top with 707. The next country is Russia with 474. It costs $71,000 per inmate per year.
649 billion is spent a year on the military. The next seven countries are China, Saudi Arabia, India, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Germany. You can stake them all up and it’s still less money spent on military than the U.S.
The only political message Kuehl wanted to deliver was voting. “For a democratic country, we’re some of the lowest in terms of turnout,” said Kuehl. “The good thing is Minnesota is one of the highest in the States. But in this current environment, especially with fakes news... The only thing I can always say is to be an educated voter.”