American man finds love and career in Vietnam

By Phan Duong   February 24, 2024 | 03:26 pm PT
“Is this the woman of my life?" Jason asked himself, the resounding question ringing around in his head for months.

The only way to know was to leave everything behind in the U.S. and start over from scratch in Vietnam.

Pak Jason, and Hoang Kieu Anh met for the first time at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall of 2016. The Vietnamese girl was immediately impressed with the hard-working Korean-American man. She felt the 150 other students in their new class seemed a bit lazy and were only there to get the piece of paper that said they graduated, rather than to explore their studies and work hard.

Jason and Anh met a few times through a group of mutual friends, but it took them three years, until September 2019, to sit next to each other and finally talk one-on-one.

They went out together one evening, but whether or not it was a real "date" is still up for debate.

However, either way, Jason said it was the first time he had ever met someone so simpatico.

"After that night, we both had a very good impression of each other, but because of our busy study schedules, we drifted apart," said Jason, 24 years old.

Eight months later, they met again on a group trip to New York, right before the first day of their last year at school. During the trip, Kieu Anh and Jason talked to each other non-stop.

"Our energies were so compatible, she is like the shining sun, and I am quiet like the moon, so when we are together we always feel balanced," he said.

Jason and Kieu Anh during the early days of their romance in 2019. Photo courtesy of Jason and Kieu Anh

Jason and Kieu Anh during the early days of their romance in 2019. Photo courtesy of Jason and Kieu Anh

Kieu Anh felt that she had feelings for Jason when he suddenly announced that his mother wanted to invite the whole group to dinner.

At the gathering, when Jason's mother and sister appeared, Anh felt her traditional Vietnamese side making her tense up – it seemed like the formal ceremony for being "introduced to the husband's family."

Two of Jason's relatives also quickly noticed "something shady" going on between Jason and Kieu Anh.

The two maintained a state of "will they or won’t they" until one day while studying, they surprised each other by organically leaping into an impromptu discussion about "us." Each partner wanted to define the nature of their relationship, and they both realized the other one did too.

They decided to become boyfriend and girlfriend, true lovers, while also setting boundaries to make it healthy and sustainable.

The beginning of Jason and Anh’s love was filled with happiness. During the week, the young couple met each other at school, reviewed lessons at the library, and hung out on the weekends. "We wanted to create a lot of good memories from our student days before having to face the pressure of life when we graduate," Kieu Anh said.

Then Covid-19 hit. During spring break 2020, they received notice that their school was switching to online learning. Not knowing that the pandemic would turn out for the worse, Kieu Anh decided to temporarily return to her boyfriend's hometown in California.

Covid-19 became a global pandemic. The couple finished their university degrees at Jason's house, inside of which both of them were now locked, coping with the pandemic situation. Living together, repeating the same monotonous – sometimes cumbersome – routines and schedules day after day made them more prone to arguments. But thanks to such challenges, they also learned that "the language of love includes understanding and compassion".

By the time they had learned how to live together happily, Kieu Anh's visa expired and she was laid off from her company. Other companies that had previously promised her a position also withdrew their job offers.

It was then an extremely difficult but fateful decision: Kieu Anh returned to Vietnam.

"Before, I would have been very worried when we went our separate ways, but Jason made me confident that very soon we would reunite," the woman said.

Kieu Anh and Jasons March 2023 wedding ceremony, featuring an elaborate flower gate. Photo by Hukstudio

Kieu Anh and Jason's March 2023 wedding ceremony, featuring an elaborate flower gate. Photo by Hukstudio

The lovebirds learned to cope with a long-distance relationship. Twice a day, at midnight in Vietnam, and midday in America, they would contact each other. As soon as Kieu Anh was allowed to venture out of her quarantine area, Jason decided to go to Vietnam.

In mid-2021, the U.S. was more open in its quarantine policy, but the Covid-19 pandemic was at its peak in Vietnam. Kieu Anh could return to the U.S. or travel anywhere, but Jason can come to Vietnam for work to see if he can manage to secure a good professional position in his field.

He found a marketing job in a tech company, but it took him half a year with many flights between San Francisco and the Vietnamese Consulate General in Washington DC to secure permission to officially reside in the country..

The American man set foot in his girlfriend's hometown in mid-November 2021 after a 20-hour flight and many Covid-19 tests, before immediately checking into a hotel to undergo quarantine. Because her boyfriend was still getting used to the local time zone, Kieu Anh stopped by the front of the hotel every day at noontime to wave and say hello to her lover from the street to the balcony. The couple exchanged longing glances from a distance of 10 floors.

During this time, Kieu Anh was also looking for a new place to live. When Jason was released from the quarantine area, she cooked Korean dishes for him all day. Jason anxiously waited for the medical staff to take him to Kieu Anh and test again for Covid-19 one last time. At this moment, they were able to give each other a kiss to make up for all the time away from each other.

Jason admitted that life was difficult at first, not because of the language barrier, but because he didn't know where he was going. Besides his girlfriend, he didn’t know anyone else in Vietnam. Many times when he saw Kieu Anh trying her best to help him fit in, he felt like "a burden".

Loving her, he was determined to quickly integrate. After only a week in Vietnam, he decided to take a driver's license test to conveniently drive his girlfriend around because she did not know how to drive – due to being scared of the local traffic.

When he first got used to it, he often confused the local traffic laws with the ones in the U.S. "I don't know the language so I don't understand the signs. One time I was stopped by the traffic police for going the wrong way," he said.

Jason went to work during the day and studied Vietnamese at night. A few months later, he followed Kieu Anh and moved to HCMC, because she thought this city would be more suitable for them.

According to Jason, just as Kieu Anh initially said, Vietnam provided many opportunities to develop his career. After more than a year working in an IT company, he ventured into the more interesting blockchain field. Working remotely and having a group of close friends, both Vietnamese and foreigners, made his life more colorful.

In March 2023, the couple decided to hold a wedding ceremony. The bride and groom's family and friends from all over the world flew to Vietnam to celebrate. On their wedding day, they exchanged specially designed rings: shaped like the Covid-19 virus.

The day that Kieu Anh dreamed of finally came true. Her love was not just pure attraction, but also an unbreakable bond. It was a 7,649-mile-long journey that Jason had crossed to reach her.

"I think it was a very brave decision, also a pretty big sacrifice for love, especially for a guy born in America who doesn't know anything about Vietnam," Kieu Anh said.

The bride and groom, alongside the grooms sister, exchanging vows at their June 2023 wedding. Photo by Hukstudio

The bride and groom, alongside the groom's sister, exchanging vows at their June 2023 wedding. Photo by Hukstudio

In his vows, the groom said that thanks to the love of the Vietnamese girl, he found confidence. During their year of quarantine together, Jason said, Anh taught him to be appreciative and grateful. She, along with her family and friends, welcomed and helped him to become a better person.

"Along the way, you've given me the world and now it's my turn to give it to you 10 times over," Jason said in his groom’s speech at the wedding.

The groom's sister, a literature graduate in America, shared that she had read all the famous love stories, but she believed that nothing could compare to the story that Jason and Kieu Anh were making together.

"What could be more perfect: Boy meets girl. They fall in love and build a wonderful past, present, and future together," she said.

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