A Vietnam-Australia love story

VietNamNet Bridge - Almost 17 years have passed from the day Patrick came to Vietnam when he was a second-year student. Now he has an Australia-Vietnam family with two children.

The first Vietnamese-origin mayor in Australia 

Patrick Griffiths took off the poster on the wall of the RMIT University in Melbourne which calls for students to apply to participate in the student exchange program with Vietnam, and left quickly. The purpose of that act is not to let anyone know about that program.

One day in early September 1996, Patrick held the air ticket to Hanoi. That "cunning” student was, of course, the only candidate applying for the program and was selected. However, at that time he did not know that that is an endless trip to Vietnam.

"I choose Vietnam"

vietnam-australia, love story, thao, patrick 

Patrick received his Ph.D. degree in Vietnam in 2006 (though he had studied in Melbourne) from Prime Minister John Howard on the occasion of Mr. Howard’s visit to Vietnam to attend the APEC Summit. 

In 1996, students of the RMIT University were very excited because for the first time, there was a student exchange program with a foreign country. They would have the opportunity to go to an Asian country to experience the culture, life and participate in community activities. There were two options - China or Vietnam.

"Not many people paid attention to Vietnam. I thought, why do I have to choose China as the choice of the majority. Choosing a country we would have to learn the language of that country. Finally I decided to choose Vietnam," Patrick said. And to make his choice absolute, Patrick wanted to go Vietnam alone.

"I pulled down the advertisement poster on the wall. There was a single candidate, of a single department choosing Vietnam that year. I went to Hanoi during the second year of college," Patrick, who is now the father of two kids, recalled.

The first day in Vietnam, when the car ran from the Noi Bai airport to Hanoi center, Patrick was "shocked" when he saw a lot of red flags, banners, and slogans along the road.

"I've never seen such a red-covered city. At that time, I thought this city was so funny when it was decorated with all red flags and red banners. Oh God! Until later I knew that was the National Day. For Vietnamese, it is a holy day," Patrick said.

The accommodations for international students was a building in the dormitory of the Hanoi Polytechnic University. The three months here were the happy time for Patrick. He had many more friends from the U.S. and other countries. They together learned Vietnamese, taught English and experienced the interesting life.

During this time, Patrick fell in love with a Vietnamese girl. She was a student of the Institute of Foreign Relations in Hanoi. They happened to meet each other through an American friend and they went to a pho restaurant together.

Suddenly seeing a Vietnamese girl, Patrick put on a show to speak Vietnamese. It's terrible when the first Vietnamese sentence that the Australian student said at the time was: "Cho toi mot bat pho chuot!” (A pho bowl with mouse please!) The joke made the Vietnamese girl, named Thao, turned back to stare at this foreign guy!

"In that sudden view, I realized that she was a girl full of energy. And then, I was no longer interested in the American friend. I found of particular interest in the Vietnamese girl," Patrick said.

Patrick sought to extend the exchange program for another three months, in fact, largely because of this new relationship.

When he had to return home to continue his college program, Patrick and Thao kept in touch through handwriting letters because at that time Internet was not available in Vietnam. From mid-1997 to 1998, when Patrick returned to Vietnam, they exchanged more than 30 letters and talked on the phone each two weeks.

Patrick graduated and successfully applied to the position of a media and culture officer at the Australian Embassy in Hanoi in 1999.

In 2000, after four years in love, the Australian-Vietnamese couple decided to hold a wedding. At that time, Thao also graduated from the Institute of International Relations and worked for a project to support ethnic minorities in Ha Giang province of the UNDP Vietnam.

Sticking together

vietnam-australia, love story, thao, patrick

The Australian-Vietnamese family of Patrick and Thao. 

Patrick encouraged Thao to continue studies. Thao went to Australia to study at the RMIT University, major in system technology - a field that Thao thought, if she does not become a diplomat, that job can help here find a stable job later.

However, she could not make plan for her life. When she nearly finished her studies in Australia, Thao collaborated with the American Veteran Foundation in Vietnam (VVAF), an American non-governmental organization that has political prestige in Washington and contributed to the normalization of US-Vietnam relations. Meanwhile, Patrick began to have more opportunities to work for projects of non-governmental organizations in Vietnam.

The two projects that he participated from 1999 to 2003 were related to the field of HIV/AIDS prevention. This work led to the idea that brought Patrick back to Melbourne to pursue doctoral studies at the RMIT University. His research is on the prevention of HIV/AIDS in Vietnam. His research also focused on the social changes taking place in Vietnam when the country transits to a market-oriented economy.

Then he went back to live in Vietnam because Thao’s family and work are associated with this place.

After finishing her studies in Australia, Thao went to the US to get a master degree with a Fulbright scholarship. After that she returned to Vietnam to work for the VVAF. In addition to the technical work, in this environment, Thao developd her forte and passion for diplomatic work.

American and Vietnamese diplomats in Hanoi saw a Vietnamese girl who speaks English very well, who is very dynamic and enthusiastic in the diplomatic activities related to Vietnam and the U.S.

Thao's contribution was recognized by the VVAF and for the first time in the history of this organization, a Vietnamese person was appointed as its chief representative.

For Patrick, the turning point is becoming the manager of the collaborative research program of RMIT Vietnam, responsible for the development of research in the RMIT Ho Chi Minh City. That period marked the development of this university in Vietnam, which originally only focused on teaching. Patrick did this job for two years.

Then he joined the HIV/AIDS prevention projects in some northern mountainous provinces of the UN in Vietnam and then he returned to Australia as the media officer for the Anex organization.

Almost 17 years have passed from the day Patrick came to Vietnam when he was a student in the second year. Now he has an Australian-Vietnamese family with two beautiful children.

The greatest wish in life of Patrick is becoming a university lecturer in Vietnam. "That will happen. It's just the matter of time," said Patrick.

They are satisfied with their lives. Liam and Aimee, two children of Thao and Patrick, now live in Melbourne with his father and grandparents. Thao has won a three-year scholarship – the Endeavour Scholarship, for PhD research at the RMIT. Her research is on the relationship between the pollution of landmines and unexploded ordnances and poverty in the Central Vietnam. She now divides her time between Vietnam and Australia.

The family is waiting to return to Hanoi in the very near future.

Xuan Linh
vietnam-australia, love story, thao, patrick