This story originally appeared as a blog on the State Department’s DipNote blog on June 13, 2011.
Andy Pham serves in the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.
I'm a Vietnamese refugee. I worked as a teacher and principal in South Vietnam until April 1975. When the North successfully invaded South Vietnam, the civil war ended with a lot of changes to Vietnam and, of course, to my family and my life.
Right after the Vietnamese socialist government took over the whole country, I was sent to a re-education camp for a month, and eventually, forced to become a political convert after 1975.
I continued to work with the new regime, but there were many unpredictable new changes. I could not accept the unexplained pressure, and eventually was advised by the new local communist government to voluntarily leave the job.
After that, I lived in Ho Chi Minh City, doing odd jobs to survive. And then, like many Vietnamese before me, I decided to leave my homeland. I tried to escape Vietnam eight times. Finally in January 1981, my friends and I left our lovely country on a small boat, to seek freedom in a far away land.
The trip took 20 days. We were lost in a swamp, forest, and at sea; three people died in the same trip by gunfire from local border patrol officers. We lost the small engine, were stranded in the gulf of Thailand, and faced pirates seven times before landing in southern Thailand. With help from American Embassy staff, we arrived at the Songla refugee camp in Thailand safely.
I stayed in refugee camps in Thailand for five months, transferred to the refugee transit center in Bangkok for three months, and then went to Galang II, a camp in Indonesia for nine months.
During the time at the refugee camp, I learned English and American culture in the hope that someday I would be accepted for settlement in the U.S.A. I worked as an interpreter for the camp hospital staff until I was resettled on June 15, 1982, by a church in Pennsylvania.
Soon after I settled in America, I attended college, and in May 1987, I graduated with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering.
I accepted a job with the U.S. Navy and then the Voice of America, which was part of the former U.S. Information Agency (USIA). I transferred to the State Department in 1999.
Currently, I manage a large program to support American citizens in the Bureau of Consular Affairs. As a former refugee, and with my technical background, I was deployed to Haiti in February 2010 after the earthquake to support Operation United Response at the Port-Au-Prince airport. I helped to evacuate 16,000 Americans home from Haiti.
I have received a number of honor awards from the Navy, USIA, and the Department of State.
I am happily married with two high school kids and a firm career at the State Department to serve America, which has helped and supported me from the first day I arrived in this lovely country. I accept the U.S.A. as my homeland now.
The proudest moment of my life is the day I became an American citizen through naturalization and obtained the right to vote. America, thank you for your great generosity.
Editor's Note: This blog is one of a series of individual stories by former refugees who are now working for the State Department. The series is part of the State Department's ongoing effort to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Refugee Convention and in honor of World Refugee Day on June 20. Each story reflects an individual's experience and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. government.