Ambassador Kritenbrink Remarks: Fulbright 25th Anniversary Reception

Saturday, December 9, 2017
Melia Hotel, Hanoi

It’s a pleasure to welcome you this evening to celebrate a true milestone in the U.S.-Vietnam relationship: the 25th anniversary of the Fulbright program in Vietnam.

First, I’d like to thank the President of the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam Mr. Nguyễn Vũ Tùng for joining us this evening. It’s an honor to have you here.

We have Senator James William Fulbright to thank for the Fulbright program, and he once said: “We must dare to think ‘unthinkable’ thoughts. We must learn to explore all the options and possibilities that confront us in a complex and rapidly changing world.”

In 1992, when the first Fulbright program was launched here, the United States and Vietnam were still three years away from reestablishing diplomatic ties. It was truly a complex and rapidly changing world then and the Fulbright program dared to forge ahead by laying the groundwork for the strong partnership we have today. Educational exchange continues to contribute to the U.S.-Vietnam relationship in countless ways and at so many levels. I’m sure that many of you here can attest to that personally.

It’s amazing to think that we began with just the Vietnamese Student Program, sending the country’s brightest to the United States for Masters’ programs in political science, business, communications, and education, among others.

And now, after 25 years, Fulbright Vietnam offers 15 exchange programs that send Vietnamese students, scholars and teachers to the United States and brings American students, scholars and teachers to Vietnam. It is a program that in many ways mirrors the scope of our bilateral relationship, building slowly to a solid foundation that continues to strengthen and grow.

So tonight we celebrate not only Fulbright’s 25th anniversary but also the nearly 1,300 Vietnamese and Americans who have participated in a Fulbright Vietnam program. It is an impressive list: Deputy Prime Minister Phạm Bình Minh, Minister of the Ministry of Education and Training Dr. Phùng Xuân Nhạ, and Secretary of the Ho Chi Minh City Party Committee Dr. Nguyễn Thiện Nhân.

And, when it comes to Vietnam’s Fulbrighters I am most struck by their desire to put their experiences into action. Such as Madame Đàm Bích Thuỷ, now serving as the President of the newly established Fulbright University in Ho Chi Minh City. And the two young Americans, Kyle Witzigman and Vincent Pham, who came to Vietnam as English Teaching Assistants, but are also now working for Fulbright University.

Another great example is Nguyễn Thanh Tâm, an LGBTI activist who started the first Pride event in Vietnam and co-founded the Work with Pride Campaign to engage the corporate community to support LGBTI equality in the work place.

And earlier this year our most recent cohort of Vietnamese Fulbright Students, led a career orientation session for nearly 180 youth in Hanoi just prior to departing for the U.S. to begin their studies. They shared career tips and lessons learned from their Fulbright application process that will, I hope, inspire more Vietnamese to apply.

There are many more examples I could share. You know firsthand the impact of the Fulbright program on your own lives, on those whom you met during your exchange, and on those you’ve met and worked with upon returning to Vietnam.

You also know well that the exchange experience does not end when your program concludes. As Fulbrighters, you can continue to foster dialogue with your colleagues, students, friends and family to provide a better understanding of our countries’ views and values. This helps us to work better together to address common concerns.

Whether it’s been 25 years since your Fulbright experience or just a few months, I encourage you to continue to share what you have learned with those around you. I also urge you to stay connected with us, either through the U.S. Embassy or our Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City.

I’d like to conclude with a poem by Chế Lan Viên, “Khi ta ở, chỉ là nơi đất ở, Khi ta đi, đất đã hóa tâm hồn,” which means “while I’m here, this is my homeland, after, it becomes part of my soul.”

You are a living testament to that idea. Through the richness of your own experience, you strengthen our bilateral relationship in a meaningful and profound way.

Thank you for being here tonight, for your commitment to the Fulbright program and for your contributions to the U.S. – Vietnam relationship. I’m honored to stand with you this evening to celebrate 25 years of success – and to look forward to many more.

Please join me in a toast. As the saying goes: once a Fulbrighter, always a Fulbrighter! Here’s to another 25 years!