American man’s love heals a broken Vietnamese heart

By Pham Nga   May 11, 2024 | 03:08 pm PT
When she first talked to Dillon Andrew, Hoang Thi Thoa had just lost a pregnancy, divorced her cheating husband, and was saddled with VND1 billion (US$39,347) in debt.
Thoa and Andrew on a trip to Tam Dao, November 2023. Photo courtesy of Thoa

Thoa and Andrew on a trip to Tam Dao, November 2023. Photo courtesy of Thoa

"There is nothing good left for me," said Thoa, 33, of the central province of Nghe An.

Thoa had gotten married at the age of 26. But after having to end her pregnancy when she was four months pregnant, she found out her husband had been cheating on her, and then the company they had founded together failed and left her nothing but debts.

"I felt I had lost everything," recalled Thoa, who now resides in Hanoi. "My life was at a dead end. I dwelt on negative thoughts."

But she decided to stand up and committed to do everything she could to repay the debt, starting burying herself in work. She worked at an import-export company, served as a freelance content writer, and started training to become a recruiter, a vacancy that requires high English language proficiency, which Thoa didn’t have at the time.

When she surfed the internet for learning tips, Thoa was told that the easiest way to learn English was to make friends with Westerners. Following the advice, she installed dating apps on her phone, sent friend requests to multiple users living in the U.K. and U.S., only to be ignored when she said she was living in Vietnam.

Not until early 2020 did Thoa get a response from Andrew, an IT engineer.

The two texted back and forth, but Thoa gave up the app after a while since she quickly became discouraged by her broken English, and was so occupied by her work.

But her text messages and profile picture were enough to linger in Andrew’s mind, all the way on the other side of the ocean. He worried when he did not see any reply from Thoa, especially when the Covid-19 pandemic hit and started worsening. So, he kept texting her.

Time heals wounds

More than half a year later, Thoa re-opened the dating app and saw Andrew’s messages.

"He had been texting me regularly, worried that I died of Covid, and asking why I did not answer," said Thoa.

Both amused and touched by a stranger’s concern, she texted back, and explained herself. From then on, the two chatted every day. Thoa shared honestly about the challenges of her life, and made it clear that she was using the dating app not to find a boyfriend but to learn English instead.

Having heard of many scams on social networks, Andrew was cautious. He was afraid that she could be faking a story to trick him into handing over his money. But he still talked to Thoa, and said he was willing to teach her English. In their first video call, Andrew taught her the English alphabet.

Seeing that Thoa a true hard-working student and not trying to swindle him, Andrew started to open up to her. He said that he was the child of divorced parents, so he understood a little bit about what Thoa was going through. And the two began to bond.

After a month of conversation, Thoa sent him a pack of tea, a thermal shirt, two bamboo cups engraved with their names, and a set of bamboo cutlery engraved with the English names of the fruits he taught her. Andrew sent her back a four-leaf clover, a stuffed tiger, and a box of makeup powder.

Such gestures from both sides touched each other’s hearts.

But Thoa still refused to take a stranger on the internet seriously enough to have a romantic relationship with Andrew. She asked to be just friends. Then for a year, the two spoke only occasionally.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

After working so hard that she finally paid off all her debt, Thoa felt empty inside, as though she no longer had any purpose in life to guide and fulfill her. At the same time, Andrew felt tested by time, and realized how much he missed the woman from Vietnam.

He decided that what was barring them from understanding and trusting each other was language and distance, not a lack of feelings. In Sep. 2022, he decided to fly to Vietnam. His mother sent Thoa a bracelet, while he brought her a bag of raisins - her favorite snack.

"Seeing her at the airport, I felt as if I was in a dream," he recalled. "She looked much prettier in person than in the pictures."

The two traveled together as friends around Hanoi and to the coastal city of Da Nang and the northern city of Ninh Binh.

After hearing Thoa’s life story in person, Andrew believed everything she had told him was true. It helped that she had never asked him for any financial help along the way.

One morning in Da Nang, in the middle of a long discussion about the struggles of Thoa’s life, Andrew suddenly burst into tears, which confused Thoa.

"I regret not coming to Vietnam sooner to understand you and make up for what you went through," he explained.


Thoa remembers enjoying the fact that Andrew would always ask her how she was feeling when they spent time together. She appreciated that he was willing to do things she wanted to do that he wasn’t that into, such as taking pictures and visiting seafood restaurants.

She also began to feel that Andrew wasn’t hiding anything from her, which made her feel safe. To Thoa, a woman once married to a man who never allowed his wife to touch his phone, which was the most important thing.

When what their hearts wanted made itself clear, the two lovers began to think about their future. In April 2023, Andrew once again returned to Vietnam to visit Thoa and meet her family.

Thoa’s parents were initially apprehensive watching their daughter fall in love with a foreigner. However, they felt affection for Andrew when he immersed himself in local culture: he slept at Thoa’s brother’s place, ate Vietnamese food, acquired a Nghe An accent, and always treated older people with honor and respect.

"More importantly, Andrew cared about my daughter’s feelings," said Thoa’s mother.

Andrew and Thoa at their wedding ceremony in Vietnam on April 19, 2024. Photo courtesy of Thoa

Andrew and Thoa at their wedding ceremony in Vietnam on April 19, 2024. Photo courtesy of Thoa

In Oct. 2023, Andrew traveled to Vietnam to register their marriage. Earlier that year, he and his mother rushed to buy and complete the interior of an apartment in Hanoi as a birthday gift for Thoa.

Because Thoa did not want to change her living environment, Andrew decided to live half the year in Vietnam and half the year in the U.S. This became a challenge for him, since he often gets tired as he is not used to the climate in Vietnam and has to work from midnight to early morning. Despite that, his heart never wavered. He would cook and eat breakfast with his wife before going to bed each day.

"He always shows his gratitude when I cook, so he does it as a way of giving back," said Thoa.

The Vietnamese woman said that her husband was easy to please, "like a child," and this helped her think more simply and learn how to let go of her overthinking.

Above all, Andrew’s love made Thoa believe that despite all the turmoil and chaos, there were always good things waiting for her. The wound that she thought would never heal began to no longer hurt. The belief in love and happiness that she thought she had lost was now beginning to fulfill her again.

"Now I have a life partner by my side from morning till night," she said.

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