The end of the year began a new era — with a swearing-in ceremony in Ha Noi with Director Carol Spahn.
By Steven Boyd Saum
December 30, 2022, was a historic day for the Peace Corps: In a ceremony in Ha Noi, nine Volunteers were sworn in to serve in Viet Nam by Peace Corps Director Carol Spahn. The Volunteers arrived for training in October 2022 and are the first to serve in the country. Working alongside counterparts, they will be teaching English in secondary schools in Ha Noi.
Participating in the ceremony were officials from the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training, including Phạm Quang Hưng and Nguyễn Tiến Dũng, respectively director general and deputy director general of the International Cooperation Department. Melissa A. Bishop, Chargé d’Affaires of U.S. Embassy, also took part, as did administrators and teachers from schools where Volunteers will be co-teaching.
Open hearts and minds: Nine Volunteers, hands raised, are sworn in by Peace Corps Director Carol Spahn at the podium. Photo courtesy Peace Corps
Nguyên remarked on the significance of launching the Peace Corps program, even at a modest scale. The country has a population of over 100 million people; 17.5 million are students. Learning foreign languages, including English, is a priority; the country is shifting from seven years to ten years in English language instruction in school. As a Peace Corps Viet Nam report noted, new competency standards have been set for teachers and college graduates. And Viet Nam’s educational system, like so many, has been grappling with consequences of COVID-19, including remote learning and delayed national exams.
“This swearing-in offers us the opportunity to take a moment from our busy lives to appreciate and recognize the power of human connection,” said Carol Spahn. “As the 143rd partner country of the Peace Corps, Viet Nam is a welcome addition to our global community, and I look forward to seeing how Volunteers and teachers work together to inspire the next generation.”
The Work of Hundreds
For the ceremony, Volunteers wore the ao dai, the traditional Vietnamese tunic. They will live with host families, continue to learn Vietnamese, and integrate into life in their communities. When the next group of Volunteers arrive in 2023, some are expected to work in schools in Ho Chi Minh City as well.
The ceremony carries a historic resonance — a fact articulated by Kate Becker, who served as Peace Corps Viet Nam country director through May 2022: “Peace Corps Viet Nam becoming a reality represents decades of work…and has involved hundreds of people who had a collective vision for the significance of bringing Peace Corps to Viet Nam.”
“Peace Corps Viet Nam becoming a reality represents decades of work…and has involved hundreds of people who had a collective vision for the significance of bringing Peace Corps to Viet Nam.”
Indeed, it has been a long journey already. In 2004, nine years after the U.S. and Viet Nam normalized relationships, Viet Nam formally invited the Peace Corps. Assessments and negotiations of a bilateral agreement took a decade. An agreement was inked in May 2016, during President Obama’s landmark visit to Viet Nam, by then Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet and Viet Nam’s ambassador to the United States, Pham Quang Vinh.
It took until July 2020 for an implementing agreement setting forth the operational plan to be developed and signed. That fall, a Peace Corps Viet Nam leadership team began work in Ha Noi, with recruitment of local staff and U.S. Volunteers beginning in 2021. And now a new chapter in history is being written, with individuals working together in the schools and communities.