American Finds First Job in Vietnam

As part of our occasional series on "Americans abroad," we profile a young Vietnamese-American woman who chose to start her career in television news with state-run TV in Hanoi.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And now, as part of our occasional series, Americans Abroad, NPR's Michael Sullivan reports from Hanoi on one young woman who is pursuing a career in television news in an unlikely place.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN reporting:

Straight out of school with a degree in broadcast journalism, Louisa Wyn(ph) faced the classic new grad dilemma: Take an entry-level job at a small station in a small marker far from the bright lights of the big city, or try something different. She opted for column B and wound up at communist Vietnam's state run television network VTV.

Ms. LOUISA WYN (Journalist, VTV): It wouldn't be your most conventional route, I would say no.

SULLIVAN: Nor was it a route she'd envisioned taking. In fact, she'd more or less decided to give up on finding a job in TV, and to go to law school instead. But then she and her brother came here on vacation to the country where her parents grew up. And while in the capital, Hanoi, Louisa asked a family friend to let her know if he heard about any TV jobs here.

Several weeks later, back in Seattle temping as a paralegal, she got the call. VTV wanted her resume, and a few weeks after that, she was sitting in the VTV Director's office in Hanoi for her interview.

Ms. WYN: I was under the impression that he's going to tell me what this job is going to be all about; the possibility of me coming here and working. But, he wanted me that afternoon to go out and get some little photographs so that they could make up an entry pass for me to get into the station. And then I would start that Monday.

SULLIVAN: She needed a little more time than that, of course, and went back to Seattle to tie up loose ends before coming back to Hanoi and her new job late last year. VTV started her off slowly, to see what she could do. They quickly figured out she could do plenty.

(Soundbite of VTV audio clip)

Ms. WYN: Hello and welcome to VTV News. I'm Louisa Wyn. The ongoing Tenth Congress of the Vietnam Communist Party…

SULLIVAN: Louisa, the only foreigner in her department at VTV 4, now anchors the English language news there twice a week. She also has her own talk show and edits copy for the English bulletins; all this, in addition to her regular duties as a culture reporter.

Ms. WYN: Had I been in the U.S. and I was doing the same thing, I'd gotten into a small market, I would still be a general reporter. I would still be covering the accident on I-5, or a cat show.

SULLIVAN: Louisa and her brother were born in the U.S. after their parents, like many other Vietnamese, fled Saigon in 1975 as the war drew to a close. They eventually settled in Seattle, running a popular Vietnamese restaurant there. The war, Louisa says, was never an issue for her growing up--never talked about in her family. Her parents, she says, preferred to focus on the future, not dwell on the past.

Ms. WYN: The kind of environment that I grew up in didn't revolve around why they left. If we talk about Vietnam, if we talk about being Vietnamese, we talk about culture. You are Vietnamese; let's learn the language. You are Vietnamese; let's observe these traditions. Let's observe these customs. They don't talk about this war. They don't talk about any kind of suffering or anything like that. It just wasn't.

SULLIVAN: Her Vietnamese is fluent, though a little strange to a northern ear. And on a good day, she says, she can pass for someone from the south. From Saigon, for instance, where things are a little more western. Louisa says she's had to tone down her American-ness, her directness, a bit in an effort to fit in better in a society where people are more reserved and more deliberate.

But she says she has been warmly received by her work colleagues and by Vietnamese, in general, up to a point. Hers is the lament of many Viet Q, or overseas Vietnamese.

Ms. WYN: Overall I'm comfortable. I have no qualms. I haven't run into any kind of conflict or anything like that thus far. You know, in terms of work, in terms of social life, everything has gone pretty smoothly. But I am the American. I am, you know, I'm Vietnamese, yes, I can speak their language, I look Vietnamese, but to them I am the American. I am the Viet Q.

SULLIVAN: Louisa says she isn't worried how it might look on her resume to have worked for state-run television in one of the world's last communist countries. The experience she's getting, she says, is far more important.

She originally envisioned staying in Hanoi for six months to a year. That year is almost up, and she's not at all concerned.

Ms. WYN: I can't even begin to try and set another timeframe, another, you know, checkpoint where I'm like, all right, it's that one year mark, what am I gonna do now? I'm in no hurry to leave.

SULLIVAN: Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Hanoi.

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