Vietnamese woman pursues doctorate for American sweetheart

By Pham Nga   August 3, 2023 | 11:54 pm PT
When Chance Clark hugged Anh Phuong goodbye as he left Vietnam, he thought their love had ended. But she said: "Please wait for a year, I will meet you again in America."

The Hanoi girl Vu Anh Phuong fulfilled her promise after 6 months. When Chance held Phuong’s hand at Chicago O’Hare airport, they officially became lovers. "The moment we held hands, I knew my heart was his," said Anh Phuong, 27, who now lives and works in Indiana of the U.S.

Chance and Anh Phuong first met in Hanoi, 2018. Photo courtesy of Phuong

Chance and Anh Phuong first met in Hanoi, 2018. Photo courtesy of Phuong

Anh Phuong and Chance Clark first met in 2018 when Clark was a biotechnology student at Purdue University (ID) and visited Vietnam with a group of 17 peers through a student exchange program.

Vu Anh Phuong, a third-year student at the Vietnam Agricultural Academy in Hanoi and the chair of her school’s English club, was tasked with welcoming the delegation.

The American student group was divided into two groups for further guidance and Anh Phuong decided to be the tour guide for Chance’s group, saying, "I’ll guide this group, there are more handsome people here!" aloud. Laughter soon erupted, breaking the ice of the first meeting.

While guiding the group, Anh Phuong actively talked with the American students and helped them with questions in case the teachers’ answers weren’t to their satisfaction.

"She was so confident, interesting, and beautiful," Chance said, recalling the first time they met.

Chance also managed to make an impression on Anh Phuong with his smile. Throughout the trip, he was curious about local culture. "When we got on the bus, everyone was sleeping, but he kept on looking outside and asking questions," Phuong said.

When listening to how local agricultural experts and farmers grow their crops, most American students were either indifferent or found it difficult to understand. Only Chance eagerly noted everything down with a pen and paper while actively asking questions.

He asked to add the Vietnamese girl on social media and actively texted her. By his fourth day in Vietnam, they were going out together every night. Chance and Anh Phuong's hearts were fluttering, but he always told her, "I like you very much, but America and Vietnam are too far apart, we can't have a relationship."

When Chance Clark returned home, he told Phuong: "I'm sorry we couldn't be together," and then he hugged her tightly. She told the boy to expect her in a year as she could see the path she was about to take.

Anh Phuong was already intending to apply for a scholarship in the United States. She had recently received the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) scholarship from the US Department of State, as well as numerous full-ride scholarships from the US, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Thailand, and Taiwan.

But she had yet to decide which school and state in the United States to apply to. The appearance of Chance Clark convinced her that she needed to complete her thesis and graduate work in the U.S. before applying for a Ph.D. scholarship to stay as long as possible.

"In the six months we were apart, we texted and called nonstop," Anh Phuong said, "Every second, every minute, I only wanted to hold his hand. That was my motivation to work harder every day."

When she arrived back in the states to complete her graduate thesis, Chance picked her up at the Chicago airport. Anh Phuong spent 5 months in the U.S. working on her thesis from 7 a.m. until late afternoon.

After Anh Phuong successfully defended her thesis in the U.S., Chance spent $5,000 from his scholarship money to buy a diamond ring to propose to her. "I believe she is the missing piece of my life," he explained.

Chance and Anh Phuong attending a friends wedding together. Photo courtesy of Phuong

Chance and Anh Phuong attending a friend's wedding together. Photo courtesy of Phuong

Anh Phuong returned home and continued to apply to doctorate programs in the United States. She applied for the same major at the same school as her now-fiancé as well as four nearby schools. In April 2019, Anh Phuong was invited to pursue a doctorate at Purdue University. She was brimming with joy and immediately called Chance.

"Many people say that Asian women marry American men to get a green card, but I have proven that I came here with my own efforts and abilities," Anh Phuong explained.

Anh Phuong was 23 and Chance was 22 when they married in November 2019. "From the moment we started dating, I told Chance that I will always live in the same house as my husband," she said. "He respected my decision, so I believed he truly loved me."

However, their first year of marriage was full of ups and downs. "You're getting fat these days!" Phuong teased her husband. "And your face has so many wrinkles!"

But Chance didn’t take it as a joke and felt hurt by the criticism.

When Anh Phuong cooked Vietnamese dishes for her husband, he frequently asked things like "is this ingredient correct?" and "is it safe to eat?" which made her feel like he didn’t trust her.

Chance frequently banged his hand on the table when he got angry, and Anh Phuong kept repeating her reproaches. Frustration gradually grew, resulting in conflicts. When Anh Phuong made pho, Chance asked, "Are you sure that’s the right way?"

"Maybe I married you too soon!" she exclaimed, irritated.

Her husband was shocked and smashed a glass of water on the floor.

"I meant to say that the two of us got married when we didn't fully understand each other, and he thought I should marry someone other than him," Phuong explained. She went to sleep in the living room, but that night, both of them stayed wide awake.

Chance apologized to his wife in the morning and promised to be more calm. Anh Phuong was also aware of the cultural differences and her manner of speech was prone to misunderstanding. They sat down and talked, agreed to be honest about their feelings, express themselves clearly, and learn to listen.

As the U.S. was severely short of labor in 2022, the salary of Anh Phuong's industry grew by 40%. Knowing this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, she put her studies on hold to work at a leading biotech firm a 10-minute drive from her house.

Chance would drive his wife to work and then to school every day. At 27, he is about to receive a doctorate with eight published scientific articles. Booth achievements are rare in the U.S. The man values marital fidelity and always divides household chores with his wife.

"Not only is he my ideal life partner, but he is also my idol," Phuong laughed, "After all our efforts, this house, this job is really fulfilling for me."

Despite being an American bride for four years, Anh Phuong has not changed her nationality. She wanted her future child to know that their mother is 100% Asian and that they are the product of Vietnamese and American bloodlines.

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