July 10, 2020 marked the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam (Vietnam), a relationship that has expanded since the end of the Vietnam War and the reconciliation between the two countries after that conflict. Educational and cultural exchanges in particular have grown, with nearly 30,000 Vietnamese studying in the United States and over 1,000 US students in the 2017/2018 school year studying abroad in Vietnam. Vietnam is also celebrating its 25th anniversary with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year and 2020 marks the third time that it has held the ASEAN chairmanship.
With this anniversary as a backdrop, the Peace Corps and Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training signed an agreement, making Vietnam the 143rd country that will host Peace Corps volunteers since the Peace Corps was founded in 1961. The historic first class of Peace Corps volunteers will begin their service in Vietnam in September 2022 and focus on English education. This announcement is the culmination of negotiations that began in 2016 between the United States and Vietnam to expand the Peace Corps to Vietnam after the signing of the Peace Corps Country Framework.
The Peace Corps has a rich history of volunteers serving in the Indo-Pacific, with a combined 16% of volunteers serving in the region (11% in Asia and 5% in the Pacific Islands, respectively). Currently, the Peace Corps has volunteers serving in 10 countries in Asia, including five of Vietnam’s fellow ASEAN members: Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar (Burma), the Philippines, and Thailand. Vietnam will be the seventh ASEAN nation to host Peace Corps volunteers (Malaysia hosted volunteers from 1962-1983; Brunei, Laos, and Singapore have not hosted volunteers). The COVID-19 pandemic has put the travel of Peace Corps volunteers on hold until safe conditions permit their return.
Sarah Wang is a Programs Coordinator at the East-West Center in Washington.