Ambassador Kritenbrink Remarks: Fulbright Reception

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Hilton Hanoi Opera Hotel, Hanoi

It’s a pleasure to be here with you tonight to welcome the new year. Thank you for coming during this busy time of the year to meet with your Fulbright community in Vietnam. Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!

This year we are celebrating 25 years of U.S.-Vietnam diplomatic relations. We have come a long way together. Today, our nations are trusted partners with a friendship grounded in mutual respect.

But before we established bilateral ties – three years before, in fact, in 1992 – we established the Fulbright program. This more than anything tells you how important this program is to us, and to the bilateral relationship. It is part of the foundation on which the last 25 years has been built.

We started small – in 1992, we sent just 18 students on the Vietnamese student program. The student program continued, and in 1998 the U.S. scholar, U.S. student and Vietnamese scholar programs were added. Then came Fulbright specialists, English Teaching Assistants, Foreign Language Teaching Assistants, and on and on.

Today, Fulbright Vietnam offers 15 exchange programs that send Vietnamese students, scholars and teachers to the United States and bring American students, scholars and teachers to Vietnam. It is a program that in many ways mirrors our bilateral relationship – built slowly and steadily, purposefully, toward creating the close relationship we have now.

As of today, 746 Vietnamese and 648 Americans have participated in the Fulbright program. Every year, we hear of more successes, and every year we are ever more proud of what our Fulbrighters have achieved.

This year, Vietnam’s first independent, not-for-profit university, aptly named Fulbright University Vietnam, broke ground on its permanent campus, celebrated the graduation of its first cohort of Masters in Public Policy students, gained U.S. accreditation for this program, and welcomed 113 incoming freshman students to the inaugural year of its undergraduate program. It’s now wonder that this fantastic university is led by one of our very own Fulbrighters: Thủy Đàm.

Have any of you had the opportunity to read the book Gần Như Là Nhà? It was edited by Fulbright student Trung Trần with numerous other contributors from the Fulbright family. This book takes a deep look at Vietnam’s Y Generation, as they grapple with the big issues — who they are, and who they want to be — in today’s Vietnam.

Finally, I want to recognize former Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Quy Nguyen. Quy’s passion for teaching was kindled during her time as a Teaching Assistant at Michigan State University, where she taught classes of American students who, on the first day, only knew one word: “phở”. At Michigan State, she encouraged her American students to use technology to connect with her Vietnamese students back home. They would tell stories about their everyday lives – half in English, half in Vietnamese – and many of them are still connected. Not only that, Quy lived through a Michigan winter!

Exchanging success stories like these is just one part of what brings us here together tonight.

As you all know very well, 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 two countries’ views and values. This helps us to work together more effectively to address common concerns.

Speaking of that – I have two requests for each and every one of you:

1) Help us find new talent: A dismaying number of young people in Vietnam think they are not qualified for Fulbright programs. They think applying for Fulbright is futile – they know the caliber of people this program attracts – the people in this room! It must be intimidating. But this country does not lack talent, and we continue to want the best and brightest to be Fulbrighters. So please – each of you identify a future Fulbrighter. Answer their questions, help them through the application process, and give them encouragement. The result will be a stronger Fulbright cohort and a better Vietnam!

2) Stay connected with us: Whether you just joined the Fulbright family or your Fulbright experience was 30 years ago, 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. If you are not yet involved in the alumni community, please talk to a member of my team.

Part of the Fulbright ethos is giving back and joining a worldwide community. We need your help as we continue to grow this relationship, and look forward to the next 25 years. We’ve got a full slate of activities for the celebration of the 25th anniversary of U.S.-Vietnam relations. We want your ideas, and we want you to celebrate with us!

Thank you for joining us here tonight, for your commitment to the Fulbright program, and for your contributions to the U.S. – Vietnam relationship. It’s an honor to celebrate with you all the many successes of the past, and to look forward to an exciting new year together!

Please join me in a toast. As the saying goes: once a Fulbrighter, always a Fulbrighter! Happy New Year!