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My first recorded attempt at writing.

A few days ago I was startled to realize that we were rapidly approaching the 500th post on my Ambassador’s blog, which is quite a milestone for what was our first, modest experiment in 21st Century Statecraft at Embassy Wellington.

When we launched the blog on March 14, 2010, I wasn’t quite sure what direction it would take or how long it would last. I was dubious and a bit bemused at the prospect of regularly writing a public diary, as the tone of my first post indicated. Frankly, I wasn’t sure the blog would survive, given the volume and intensity of demands on an Ambassador’s time.

As I write article number 500 on Christmas Eve, however, I couldn’t be happier that I devoted the time and energy to the prior 499 pieces, an eclectic mix of travelogues, policy discussions, adventure stories, profiles of impressive people, information sharing, and historical notes.

We’ve covered in prose and pictures a lot of exciting, diverse ground … from my collecting air samples at the South Pole to attending multilateral meetings on maritime security in tropical Rarotonga … from teaching high school classes to greeting American Cabinet Secretaries on the tarmac … from issues of ocean acidification to intellectual property to freedom of religion … from touring with the Harlem Gospel Choir to digging through the New Zealand archives … from celebrating independence days to helping friends in need.

I have been particularly pleased to highlight the transformative work of trail-blazers such as Adi Tafuna’i and Lina Chang … share off-the-beaten-path experiences of New Zealand and Samoa … revive shared history … feature extraordinary places to visit and study in the United States (and make such endeavors easier) … and celebrate American-origin treasures as diverse as the Peace Corps, blues and jazz music, Eleanor Roosevelt, muscle cars, Marine Corps, Creole cuisine, vibrant civil society, pride parades, Special Olympics, internet, public national parks, Fulbright, and more.

We have posted on average three times a week for more than 3-1/2 years, attracting a sizeable audience composed largely of folks who otherwise would not see the doings of an Ambassador or take an interest in the work of an Embassy. We have featured a variety of guest authors including students, scientists, and policy experts. The large volume of feedback we have received from readers has guided me in selecting topics and refining content and approach. And in the process we’ve expanded the conversation in very healthy ways and won a few awards.

While still bemused about many things, I am no longer dubious about blogging, tweeting, and other digital “ings.” In my experience, they are viable, valuable, and potentially powerful tools of policy and diplomatic engagement, allowing one to engage in a broad-based, enlightening, authentic conversation without the distortions and blockages of traditional filters. Of course, there will always be intractable skeptics and insistent gatekeepers, but such folks will gradually recede out of sight in the rear-view mirror.

So, what now? Well, I still have a few posts left in me before I shuffle off stage right. And the blog’s second act will be very exciting. But I’ll talk about that later.

For now, I’d just like to thank you for coming along for the ride, for reading what I write, and for enriching my time in New Zealand and Samoa with your comments and suggestions.

Mahalo nui loa. Fa’afetai, fa’afetai tele lava. Kia ora.

DH Sig

In the past couple of days, as I have cleaned out my office and started to close the books on my time in New Zealand, I’ve continued to wrestle with the upper half of our 2013 Top Ten list. After some final juggling – and before I’m tempted to make further adjustments – the countdown continues:

5.  Future Leaders of the Pacific Conference

Three of the five items in the top half of our best-of-2013 list relate to the Pacific islands, starting with our exciting inaugural Future Leaders of the Pacific Conference in beautiful Pago Pago, American Samoa. Partnering with our good friends at the East-West Center and the Government of American Samoa, we brought together 22 young leaders under age 26 from 17 Pacific nations for several days of policy discussions, leadership training, keynote addresses, and networking.

Delegates and Speakers visiting the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa.

Delegates and a few speakers during a break between sessions.

We conceived the conference as a youth version of the annual Pacific Islands Forum of heads of government, and thus we invited representatives from each of the 16 member nations of the Forum plus the United States. It was natural to hold the event on American soil in the heart of the South Pacific, and we were honored to attract an A-list of speakers including Samoan Head of State His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, Premier of Niue the Hon. Toke Talagi, Tonga Member of Parliament Dr. Sitiveni Halapua, and Vital Voices laureate Ms. Adi Tafuna’i.

It was a dynamic, uplifting few days that exceeded even my high expectations, and the engagement did not end at the close of the conference. We asked the delegates to select three of their number to accompany us to the actual Pacific Islands Forum this year, where they met regional leaders and attended plenary sessions and social functions. There simply is no better investment in our shared Pacific future than convening, mentoring, and empowering our future leaders, and thus plans are already underway for our second annual Future Leaders of the Pacific Conference, scheduled for September 2014 in Apia.

4.  Pacific Partnership

A great highlight of 2013 was the more than a week that USS Pearl Harbor spent leading Pacific Partnership in Samoa in June. In fact, this and the three items that follow are essentially locked in a four-way tie for the top spot on this year’s list. In different ways and for different reasons, each is a strong statement of American commitment to the Pacific and our shared future, as well as an example of what can be accomplished by committed teams of public servants when they are empowered to be creative, entrepreneurial, outcome-oriented, and focused on solving problems.

An Apia Primary School student has his blood pressure checked.

Apia Primary School students have their blood pressures checked.

Conceived by the U.S. Navy following the catastrophic 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, Pacific Partnership is intended to improve the interoperability of the region’s military forces, governments, and NGOs in order to respond together more effectively and efficiently during humanitarian crises and disaster relief operations. In practical terms, it’s an annual deployment of forces of the U.S. Pacific Fleet with our regional partners (including France, Australia, Canada, Japan, and New Zealand) in close collaboration with host nation governments.

This year the mission spent several months visiting six island nations. In Samoa, more than 700 sailors, doctors, nurses, dentists, veterinarians, engineers, and builders, along with Samoan partners, fanned out across the country to hold medical clinics, refurbish schools, distribute supplies, conduct emergency response drills, and engage in disaster preparedness projects. It was a hectic, impactful, uplifting experience, capped by an exuberant American Independence Day celebration on the flight deck of USS Pearl Harbor with several hundred of our Samoan friends.

3.  USA Universities Expo

As part of our strong commitment to engaging with, mentoring, and offering practical value to youth, we invited recruiters from various American institutions of higher education to come to Auckland this year for what we call a “college fair“ in the United States. The result was a day-long expo in late September at Aotea Centre where recruiters and alumni from major American schools staffed recruiting booths and offered group presentations on topics of general interest such as the application process, student visas, sports scholarships, and other financial aid possibilities.

International Student Recruiter from Yale University.

A recruiter from Yale University answers questions.

The experiment far exceeded our expectations. We had hoped to attract 15 schools and about 600 prospective students. We ended up drawing representatives of 34 American schools (including Princeton, Yale, Texas, Stanford, USC, UCLA, BYU, Penn, Vanderbilt, Oberlin, and other powerhouses) as well as more than 2,600 interested Kiwis. The atmosphere was electric throughout the day with packed aisles in the exhibition space, a steady buzz of activity, and standing-room-only audiences for the presentations and seminars, which required us to move several folding walls to expand our space.

I was particularly pleased that we were able to bring students down from Samoa to participate. All in all, it was a powerful and very useful day. Because of the nature of the U.S. education system, attending an American university can be transformative but applying can be a daunting prospect, particularly with about 5,000 fully accredited institutions from which to choose. The Expo was intended to make the process easier and more fun, and it most certainly succeeded. My colleague Drew is already far along in planning next year’s Expo, as we intend to make this an annual event.

2.  Faleolo Medical Center

As a general matter, I am far more oriented toward people-to-people projects than bricks-and-mortar projects. I think that investment in people produces much greater benefits and higher returns for everyone than investment in buildings. Depending on what they are used for, however, buildings can be very important. That’s why our construction of a new medical facility across from Samoa’s main airport hits the uppermost tier of our 2013 list.

At the ceremony opening with Prime Minister Tuilaepa, Colonel Suntheimer from Pacific Command, and Health Minister Tuitama.

At the opening ceremony with Prime Minister Tuilaepa, Colonel Suntheimer from Pacific Command, and Minister of Health Tuitama.

A project of U.S. Pacific Command’s humanitarian assistance program, the new Faleolo Medical Center sits in the village of Satapuala and will serve about 30,000 people living on the western side of Upolu and on Manono who would otherwise face a lengthy trip into the capital of Apia to seek urgent care. The facility was designed in consultation with Samoa’s Ministry of Health so that the center would suit local needs and circumstances rather than some cookie-cutter template, and it contains general wards, birthing rooms, emergency room, dispensary, and support space. It is designed to be expanded as need and utilization increase.

We employed Samoan workers, contractors, vendors, and materials in the construction so that the significant cost of the project would flow directly into the Samoan economy, which I think is very important. As I said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony last month, this is a significant project built for Samoans by Samoans with a little help from their American friends. It will greatly improve the lives of those who live in surrounding villages, and we are working to organize a schedule of periodic visits to the facility by teams of American medical specialists to support and assist the Samoan medical staff.

1.  Embassy Wellington Upgrade Project

In light of the views I expressed earlier, it is perhaps counterintuitive that a construction project would take the top spot on my list of our Mission’s most important and exciting projects of 2013. After wrestling with myself for an extended period, however, I concluded that no other single step that we have taken in the past twelve months is likely to have a greater impact on our work and on the bilateral relationships that we serve than the launch of a much needed upgrade of our Chancery in Wellington, after several years of effort.

Paving the way for the next 175 years of diplomatic engagement in New Zealand.

Breaking ground.

Built in the mid-1970s, the Chancery sits just meters from a large and dangerous fault line but does not meet modern earthquake codes. Plus, the Chancery is configured and outfitted for a prior century, predating the internet and wholly insufficient to support the greater, more diversified demands placed on the now larger Mission staff in our busier, more complex era. Sometime in 2016 a ribbon will be cut on a safer, larger, more functional, and more user-friendly facility, without our having moved out or otherwise interrupted our work.

I can think of no better way to celebrate this 175th anniversary of American diplomatic presence in the territory now called New Zealand, or to conclude my tenure as Ambassador, than to lay a stronger, more flexible foundation for the 175 years ahead.

*  *  *

You likely see why I consider 2013 to have been an exceptional year, a high-octane mix of engagement, celebration, reflection, future investment, and institution-building worthy of the dynamic, historic, highly relevant relationships that America shares with New Zealand and with Samoa. We pushed the pedal to the metal when I arrived in 2009, and I am pleased that each year since then has surpassed the one before it.

Click for source.And we’re still accelerating …

… and we’re still accelerating.

I am confident that the steep upward trajectory will continue to accelerate in 2014. Plans are already in place for a series of exciting events including the first-ever Hawaiian Pavilion at the 2014 Pasifika Festival … our inaugural LGBT youth leadership conference on the margins of the Auckland Pride Festival (with youth coming from Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, the Cooks, and other Pacific island nations as well as New Zealand) … our next Project Revolution social media thought leaders conference …

… our second annual USA Universities Expo … another Future Leaders of the Pacific Conference (planned for Apia and timed to coincide with the Small Island Developing States conference in Apia) … our annual Connecting Young Leaders conference for the sitting Ambassador’s student advisers … more construction projects including a physical monument to historic N.Z./U.S. security cooperation … a regular series of high-level Franklin Salons … and much much more.

And of course, the next Ambassador will certainly have a few things to add to the mix in his inaugural year. It’s going to be a busy, dynamic, substantive, exhilarating, impactful, warm, gratifying, uplifting, thoroughly marvelous 2014 defined by continuity and pleasant surprises … so stay tuned. I know I will.

DH Sig


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Near the end of each year I like to do a countdown of the greatest hits of the past 12 months as a way of pondering and celebrating prior efforts before jumping into the new projects ahead. I always enjoy assembling the Top Ten list, but 2013 posed a couple of special difficulties. First, this 175th year of American diplomatic engagement in the territory of Aotearoa has been one of the busiest and most exciting periods in that long history of relations between our two societies, which makes choosing just ten highlights very difficult. Second, this will be my final year-end musing as Ambassador, which makes the enterprise bittersweet.

A few of our featured icons.

A few of the American icons featured at our 2013 Independence Day receptions.

Among the impactful efforts that would easily have made the list in prior years but got edged out this time around were our exuberant, super-hero themed American Independence Day events, the visit of Attorney General Eric Holder in May, deployment of NASA’s SOFIA airborne telescope in Christchurch, our joyous tour of Samoa with the Harlem Gospel Choir, Dancing Earth’s inaugural trip, commemorations of the 70th anniversary of Eleanor Roosevelt‘s visit to New Zealand …

… the launch of the American Ambassador Award for Best Social Impact at the inaugural Film Raro Festival, the Arizona Diamondback baseball clinic in Eden Park run by superstar Paul Goldschmidt, the launch of Hawaiian Airlines service between Auckland and Honolulu, bringing the NASA Space Apps Challenge to Auckland University of Technology, and, of course, celebrating the 175th anniversary of the opening of the first American consulate in 1838 in the Bay of Islands.

Click for image source. Hawaiian soars above Oahu en route to New Zealand.

Hawaiian soars above Oahu en route to New Zealand.

Despite the overwhelming temptation, I decided against a Top Forty-Seven List because that just would not have had the right resonance. So, after a great deal of thought, anguish, and revision, what follows is my Top Ten countdown for the very special year now rapidly drawing to a close:

10.  Benjamin Franklin Salons

This year we launched a new program to assemble small groups of experts to share perspectives with each other, brainstorm, discuss common ground, and deepen understanding on particular issues of importance. Named after one of my American heroes, Benjamin Franklin, the series is among our most dynamic and impactful projects of the past four years. Thus far I’ve hosted salons on topics such as oceans health, civil society capacity-building in Pacific island nations, intellectual property, and social entrepreneurship.

Click for source.Benjamin Franklin’s legacy endures in this statue in Paris

Benjamin Franklin’s legacy endures in this statue in Paris.

Usually held at the Residence in Wellington or the Consul General’s home in Auckland, each salon brings together 12 to 15 experts and interested persons from a great diversity of perspectives and positions for an extended lunch discussion. For example, our oceans health salon included not only scientists and environmentalists but commercial fishing executives, journalists, and a poet. All of the salons have been interesting, dynamic, useful, and – despite the weighty topics – much fun.

I think that Ben would be pleased. One of history’s greatest polymaths and America’s first Ambassador, Franklin was dispatched to Paris to persuade the French king to recognize the young American nation and assist us in our Revolution. Denied access to the French court for an extended period, Franklin began regularly hosting salons that brought together French scientists, writers, philosophers, clergy, and politicians to discuss the big issues facing the two countries, thus building understanding that greatly benefited both societies. In my view, he invented public diplomacy and saved our Revolution.

9.  Our new Digital Studio

Another highlight of the year was the opening of our new Digital Studio in what had been the Embassy’s library for the past 40 years. Fully outfitted with alternate sets, full-wall green screen, and high-grade digital equipment, the space is now being heavily utilized for content creation for our social media platforms as well as taping interviews and features for other uses, livestreaming, multilocation hangouts and collaborations, audio/video podcasts, graphics, and more.

Interviewing CEO of Genovation Cars Andrew Saul in the Studio

CEO of Genovation Cars Andrew Saul is interviewed in our Studio.

Creating the facility was the most impactful manifestation this year of our commitment to developing and employing new diplomatic tools and approaches. As I’ve discussed before, we have positioned Embassy Wellington as a bit of an idea lab for 21st Century Statecraft because embracing change allows us to engage with Kiwis, Samoans, and others in a more expansive way, to have more meaningful conversations, and to be more effective in our work.

Thus far, dozens of visitors and local luminaries have shared their observations and ideas in front of the cameras, including Minister of Women’s Affairs the Hon. Jo Goodhew, NASA astronaut Marsha Ivins, Victory University Wellington Student Association President Rory McCourt, community resilience expert Daniel Aldrich, Lise Edwards of Gender Allies, visiting think tank and corporate leaders, and many of our Fulbright Scholars and IVLP alumni. And we’re just getting started.

8.  First Nations International Visitor Leadership Program

Although the study tour won’t actually occur until 2014, I have to include on the 2013 Top Ten list an exciting exchange program that we developed and planned over the course of this year. We will be sending six young Maori entrepreneurs and business leaders to the U.S. for three weeks next March to meet with American Indian and Alaskan Native business leaders and to experience firsthand the diversity and richness of American first peoples’ cultures, tribal structures, and economic enterprises.

Click for image source.Solar Project at Ho-Chunk Incorporated in Nebraska.

Among the planned stops on the itinerary are the extensive green energy and other enterprises of the Winnebago tribe in Nebraska.

Organized within the framework of the International Visitor Leadership Program, one of my favorite State Department exchanges, the itinerary will include visits to energy projects in Arizona and New Mexico, tech and investment companies in Washington State, a diversified international economic development enterprise in Nebraska, and large-scale commercial fishing operations in Alaska, all owned and operated by first peoples tribes. The study tour will end in Washington, DC with policy discussions at various agencies and the Embassy of Tribal Nations.

Our travelers will be Ngarimu Blair of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, Toa Greening of Te Huarahi Tika Trust, Gina Rangi of Tuaropaki Trust, Paki Rawiri of Tainui, Lisa Tumahai of Ngāi  Tahu, and Jamie Tuuta of Te Tumu Paeroa. My hope is that they will return to New Zealand with valuable new relationships, business networks, and ideas that will help expand, deepen, and enrich the relationship between our two societies and among the first peoples of our two countries. If successful, I hope that this will be just the first of an ongoing series of similar networking projects.

7.  Connecting Young Leaders Conference

It should be no surprise that our annual Connecting Young Leaders (CYL) Conference hits the list again this year. You just cannot beat the extraordinary energy, enthusiasm, excitement, and intellectual ruckus when we bring my student advisers from New Zealand’s various universities together for a long weekend of networking, policy discussions, and leadership training. I plan my year around Connecting Young Leaders, and it is always one of the most instructive and valuable events that I attend.

With several of my student advisers at the opening reception.

With several of my student advisers at the opening reception.

This year’s conference was the biggest and best to-date, with more than 80 of New Zealand’s top students and more than a dozen impressive speakers and workshop leaders convening at the University of Otago in Dunedin. The program included particularly dynamic break-out sessions on topics such as youth involvement in local government, establishing and running a charitable organization, sustainable development, the role of media in effecting change, and protecting heritage and cultural values.

As I’ve said before, perhaps what makes me happiest about my time as Ambassador is how well our student programs have put down deep, vibrant, authentic roots and spread to other Embassies. You can’t genuinely understand and embrace a society without engaging its youth, and I’m delighted that we have now firmly focused our attention on the future rather than just the past or present. It’s an investment that will greatly enrich both of our societies. I very much look forward to reading about CYL conferences for many years to come.

6.  Pacific Armies Conclaves (PACC & PAMS)

The United States and New Zealand have a long and distinguished history of working together to make the world a more stable, secure, and free place. Over the past four years we have together reinvigorated our security cooperation by conducting humanitarian and disaster relief exercises, restarting regular strategic dialogues, and celebrating touchstones of our shared history such as last year’s 70th anniversary of the arrival of American military forces in New Zealand during World War II and this year’s 70th anniversary of key exercises by U.S. Marines here before determinative battles in the Pacific islands.

New Zealand Defense Minister Coleman welcomes General Odierno to New Zealand.

Defence Minister Coleman welcomes General Odierno to New Zealand.

In 2013, we jointly hosted in Auckland both the 8th biennial Pacific Armies Chiefs Conference (PACC) and the 37th annual Pacific Armies Management Seminar (PAMS), with an agenda focused on collaboration in peacekeeping operations in a United Nations context. The chiefs of army and other senior officers from 32 nations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans region attended, including U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno and Commanding General of the U.S. Army in the Pacific General Vincent Brooks.

The American and Kiwi military co-hosts led multilateral discussions with our regional counter-parts on issues of humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, training for unit interoperability, and coordinating and expediting operational and tactical logistics during emergency situations. There was a full and productive exchange of perspectives, dynamic brainstorming, and the networking that seeds life-saving collaboration. PACC and PAMS were unequivocal successes, demonstrating the wisdom and value of our renewed security engagement.

* * *

Please stay tuned. I’ll continue the countdown in a couple days.

DH Sig

The next stop on our extended tour of great places to visit in the United States is the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, where I was born and raised. (Also birthed in the Keystone State, I might add, were the American Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. It is also where America’s first ambassador Benjamin Franklin launched his career, so I’m in great company.) To provide an insider’s perspective on navigating the many attractions that our State has to offer, I have enlisted my colleague Dorothy Mayhew, a 9th generation Pennsylvanian.

* * *

Welcome to Beautiful Pennsylvania

by Dorothy Mayhew

What I love about my home State, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (or “PA” for short) is that it really is a microcosm of the United States as a whole – a beguiling mix of past and present, of the familiar and the little-known, of subtle nuance and grand gesture. Come to Pennsylvania for its glorious history – ever since its founding back in 1682, it has played a crucial role in the political, social, and economic development of America – but stay for its modernity, its natural beauty, its arts … education … sports … excellent food … spirit of tolerance … in short, for a boundless variety that reflects America itself.

Click for image source.Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

Independence Hall, where the die was cast.

Click for image source.Tobyhanna State Park in the Poconos.

Tobyhanna State Park in the Poconos.

Click for source.Public art in Philadelphia – the City of Brotherly Love.

Public art in Philadelphia, the “City of Brotherly Love.”

Pennsylvania is located in the Northeast of the United States, bordered by (running clockwise from due north) New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, and finally by Lake Erie. With about 13 million inhabitants, it is the 6th most populous State in the Union. In three vertical sections (each running roughly northeast to southwest) the State’s diverse topography is determined by first the Ohio and Allegheny Rivers in the west, running off from the Appalachian Mountains and the northern tip of the Alleghenies; then through the rich agricultural central heartland of the Ridge and Valley Province; and finally through the Piedmont plateau region east of the Susquehanna River.

The principle cities of Pennsylvania are all to the south: Pittsburgh in the west (population 300,000) is the State’s industrial (and more recently high-tech) heart; Philadelphia in the east (population 1.5 million) provides its historic Colonial-era soul; and between the two, the political capital Harrisburg (population 50,000), is said by some to house the brains.

Map. Click for image source.

The first inhabitants of the State were Native American tribes including the Delaware, the Shawnee, the Erie, and the Iroquois. William Penn established the colony of Pennsylvania under Royal Charter from King Charles II in the 1680s as a haven of tolerance for his fellow Quakers. “Philadelphia” is a Greek word meaning ”the city of brotherly love,” and initial relations with the local peoples were good. In fact, for much of its early history, Pennsylvania was notable for its spirit of religious acceptance and ethnic harmony.

That religious tolerance lives on today, exemplified by the large “Pennsylvania Dutch” communities such as the Amish and Mennonites, the Moravian community in Bethlehem, the Ephrata Cloister, and the Harmony society in Ambridge. (To clarify a common misconception, “Dutch” is actually a corruption of “Deutsch,” many of these religious groups being German in origin.)

Click for image source.Pennsylvania Dutch country.

In Pennsylvania Dutch country.

Pennsylvania was one of the 13 original colonies but has always carried an air of the frontier, being the only colony not enjoying direct access to the Atlantic seaboard. The Second Continental Congress came together to sign the Thomas Jefferson-penned Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 at what is now Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Eleven years later the same building hosted the Constitutional Convention, presided over by George Washington, where James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, et al drafted the U.S. Constitution. No wonder Pennsylvania has been nicknamed the “Keystone State.”

Founded in 1682, my home town of Philadelphia (or simply “Philly”) was the capital of the United States from 1776 to 1800. From Benjamin Franklin Parkway with its flags of every country, to Rocky Balboa running up the Museum of Art’s steps, to Boathouse Row on the Schuylkill River, to City Hall topped with a statue of William Penn, there are many iconic views of the city to enjoy.

Click for image source.Philly from the Schuylkill River.

Philly from the Schuylkill River.

Click for image source.The famous Benjamin Franklin Parkway – home to Philadelphia’s cultural treasures.

The famous Benjamin Franklin Parkway, home to Philadelphia’s cultural treasures.

Philly is the 5th largest city in the U.S., and more than 20% of its residents speak a mother tongue other than English. There are strong Italian, Irish, and Jamaican communities, and the city really is a collection of distinct, culturally rich neighborhoods. It is this diversity that fuels a diverse economy of over US$ 380 billion a year, with healthcare, banking, and ICT fueling continuing growth.  Of course, tourism plays its part — the Liberty Bell Center National Park alone gets 2 million visitors a year!

Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park is the largest landscaped urban park in the world, at over 10,000 acres, and was the site of the first World’s Fair held in America, in 1876. The city has a rich cultural and artistic tradition (thanks in large part to Benjamin Franklin). It has the most public of art of any city in the U.S., best exemplified by the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, a long-standing anti-graffiti project through which convicted taggers maintain the city’s public art.

Click for image source.Philadelphia’s world renowned Liberty Bell

Philadelphia’s world-renowned Liberty Bell.

Click for image source.Just one of Philly’s many eye-catching murals.

Just one of Philly’s many eye-catching murals.

Click for image source.The Thinker at the Rodin Museum in Philly.

The Thinker at the Rodin Museum.

Other cultural highlights of Philly include The Rodin Museum and the Barnes Museum. Perhaps less high-brow, but no less important, are Philly’s contributions to national culture through food and sports. The city is the proud home to the Cheesesteak, soft pretzels, scrapple, Wawa hoagies, Tastykakes, cheesecake, cream cheese, and Yuengling Beer – and if some of these are new to you, I encourage you to try them all – just not at one sitting.

Harrisburg, the State’s capital since 1812, lies in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. The site had long been an important Native American trading center, and as canals and riverboats were developed, the city grew into a major transportation hub, allowing the agricultural produce of the Valley and Piedmont to get to markets. It was also a setting-off point for westward-bound pioneers.

Click for image source.The State Capitol at Harrisburg.

The State Capitol in Harrisburg.

Harrisburg’s Capitol Building is a stunning example of Colonial Revival architecture, and it would have been all-the-more impressive rising up above the pastoral simplicity that marked the city in the early 19th century.  When in Harrisburg, the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts, with its 3 stories of exhibits, galleries, and theaters, is a must-do family destination. Every January, Harrisburg hosts the huge annual Pennsylvania Farm Show, the largest free indoor agriculture exposition in the United States.

Near Harrisburg is Hershey, PA, known as the sweetest place on Earth. You can visit Chocolate world and get a chocolate tour, ride the roller coasters, or just take a selfie standing at the intersection of Cocoa and Chocolate Avenues. It’s worth a visit simply because the entire town smells of chocolate!

Click for image source.Hershey, PA: The sweetest place on earth.

Hershey, PA, The Sweetest Place on Earth.

Pittsburgh sits in the southwest of the state at the intersection of the Allegheny and Monangahela rivers, and has a very different history from Philadelphia in the east.  The city’s roots are firmly blue-collar, in production refining the oil from the world’s first oil wells and forging the steel from which the modern, industrial U.S. was built. Pittsburgh gave us industrial magnates such as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and H.C. Frick. A byproduct of this industrial period is the philanthropy of those titans, of which the city’s Carnegie Museum is world-class example.

Pittsburgh’s industrial might and strategic location also attracted the headquarters of many large companies, Gulf Oil, Sunbeam, Rockwell, and Westinghouse among them. For much of the 20th century, the city stood behind only New York and Chicago as a corporate center. As manufacturing jobs have decreased since the 1980s, Pittsburgh has reinvented itself as a high-tech hub, helped by the philanthropic legacy of those industrial titans. The city’s great libraries, research centers, and more than 68 colleges and universities generate a huge number of start-ups.

Click for image source.Known as the City of Bridges, ‘The Burgh’ has a world-beating 446 river crossings.

Known as the City of Bridges, “The Burgh” has a world-beating 446 river crossings.

This leads me to one of Pennsylvania’s signature traits – its fantastic commitment to education, in many ways a byproduct of its Quaker roots. The State has over 260 tertiary schools.  The University of Pennsylvania (‘UPenn’) was founded in 1751 by Benjamin Franklin and 24 other trustees as the Academy and Charitable School in the Province of Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania State University (“Penn State”) has its main campus of more than 45,000 students in central PA’s Happy Valley University Park, as well as 22 affiliated campuses throughout the State hosting an additional 47,000 students (giving it a total population great than that of Palmerston North!).

Click for image source.A home game of football at Penn State’s Beaver Park Stadium, which can seat 110,000.

A home football game at Penn State’s Beaver Park Stadium, seating 110,000.

And it’s not only with such academic and sporting powerhouses as Penn State and UPenn that students are spoiled for choice. PA also offers other top-ranking colleges such as, in the west, Carnegie-Mellon, Duquesne, and the University of Pittsburgh (and its famous Medical School, where one of the great public health breakthroughs of the last 100 years occurred in 1955, when Jonas Salk developed a working polio vaccine). For those who like the Philly side of the State there’s Temple, Swarthmore, Villanova, Bryn Mawr, Drexel, and Haverford; or Dickinson, Franklin & Marshall, Muhlenberg, and Elizabethtown for those seeking a smaller town environment.

I would be remiss if I didn’t note that Pennsylvania is a sports lover’s dream.  And not only do we have a team in every professional sport, but we often have two in each!  With football, it’s the Philadelphia Eagles (or “Iggles” to fans like me) and the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The Steelers, it pains me to say, have been the more dominant in recent years (with Samoan Troy Polamalu helping get them to the Superbowl).

Click for image source.NZ Maori All Blacks perform the haka before their game against the USA Eagles in November.

NZ Maori All Blacks perform the haka before their game against the USA Eagles in Philly in November.

In baseball, it’s either the Phillies or the Pirates. For the ice hockey fan, you can support the Philadelphia Flyers or the Pittsburgh Penguins. And then there’s the 76ers (basketball), and the Philadelphia Fight (Rugby League). In fact, the first American Cricket Club was founded in Haverford, PA in 1834, and you can still catch some lovely cricket each spring!  I should also mention the Philadelphia Union, our city’s soccer team, who kindly lent their stadium just last month to the visiting NZ Maori All Blacks in a sold-out game against the USA Eagles.

If sports are not your thing, don’t worry, because Pennsylvania abounds with beautiful scenery, huge tracts of uninhabited and unspoiled land, and a plethora of outdoor activity of the non-contact kind. In fact, approximately 1% of the State is dedicated to parkland. PA has a total of 120 State and National Parks, more than any other State except for the much larger Alaska and California. And admission to all of PA’s parks is free of charge.

Click for image source.Memorial at Gettysburg National Military Park.

Memorial at Gettysburg National Military Park.

Some of the parks, like Gettysburg, are best-known for their role in history. Others offer remote wilderness, and yet others are an easy stroll from the nearest road and rest stop. Many are a mix of the two, examples of the diverse ecology in which Pennsylvania abounds.  Hiking, hunting, fishing, horse-back riding, mountain biking, or just plain picnicking with the family – all are part of PA culture, and you can do them all without having to travel much from where you happen to be.

To the east of the Pennsylvania Dutch country are the Pocono Mountains and Big Pocono State Park, which are beautiful, serene, and famous as a honeymoon destination. They offering hunting, fishing, skiing, swimming, and general scenic relaxation.  The larger Poconos area has seven state parks and 17 game lands in which hunting is permitted.  To the east they are bordered by the stunning Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

Click for image source.Elk spotting along Elk Country Scenic Drive.

Elk spotting along Elk Country Scenic Drive.

Along the Pennsylvania stretch of Lake Erie, shared with a few other States and Canada, hosts the beautiful Presque Isle State Park. Often listed as one of the best spots for bird-watching in the United States, Presque Isle has an ecological center as well as a monument to the role of Lake Erie in the war of 1812.

Among Pennsylvania’s many other must-see parks is Cooks Forest State Park, which is home to the largest old-growth forest east of the Mississippi. It is regularly listed as one of the top 50 most beautiful parks in America.

Click for image source.A tip of Presque Isle.

A tip of Presque Isle.

Click for source. A typical autumn in the Poconos.

A typical autumn in the Poconos.

Click for source. Deep in Cook Forest State Park.

Deep in Cook Forest State Park.

Photo credit: Arnab Banerjee (http://www.arnabbanerjee.com) Part of the Delaware Water Gap.

Part of the Delaware Water Gap.

It is the diversity of PA which makes it such an endlessly fascinating place to live or visit. From steel town Pittsburgh (which despite its hard-edged image is consistently voted one of America’s “most livable” cities), through the scenic beauty of the rolling, pastoral Piedmont and the rugged Alleghenies, to the historically-charged Philadelphia, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania really does have something to offer everyone. Come see for yourself.

- DM

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I couldn’t agree more with Dorothy, although I would suggest that you visit as well the non-Poconos part of Northeast PA to enjoy the historical sites and rolling hills of the anthracite coal country where I was born and raised. Stop for a while in Mahanoy City, just off Interstate 81 south of Hazleton (which is on the map Dorothy included near the beginning of her article) and say hello for me. Being a Friend of Dave’s might get you a beer or two in several of the bars in town.

Because of its central (i.e., “keystone”) position among our eastern States, Pennsylvania is an easy trip from New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Washington DC, Virginia, and other locations that we’ve featured in earlier articles. For more information for what to see and do when you get to PA, please visit the State’s official tourism website www.visitpa.com or the Pennsylvania pages on the general tourism website Discover America.

DH Sig