“In the north, people told me I sounded like a southerner, and in the south people told me I sounded like a northerner,” he recalls. “It was mostly bicycles back then, there weren’t very many motorbikes.”
The period where Osius was first posted in Vietnam was the beginning of a new relationship between the two countries. It is a relationship that has delivered astonishing and unforeseen gains in the two decades following the normalisation of relations and the lifting of the U.S. trade embargo.
Now Osius has returned to a different experience. Not only is Vietnam a vastly altered place, but he is also the United States’ official envoy at a pivotal point in the bilateral relationship, with a landmark comprehensive partnership laying the groundwork for closer political, economic and strategic ties that would have seemed highly unlikely just 20 years ago.
“For me it’s a dream come true to be back,” he said. “I served here from 1996 to 1998 and I speak the language, so it’s like a coming home. And it’s wonderful to be here now to lay the foundation for a new relationship.”
That new relationship is founded on nine pillars of cooperation laid out by Presidents Sang and Obama in 2013, ranging from education to the environment. Ambassador Osius says his job is to make this ambitious vision a reality.
“I’ve been asked by President Obama to deepen this partnership. To make this partnership, which has a framework, real. I want to see a deep relationship on education, on trade and economics, on human rights, on security, the environment, science and technology and health.
“I believe we’re developing a joint vision of what the next 20 years could look like. It’s not just my vision, it’s Vietnam’s vision, it’s one that we’re developing together.”
Osius is also bringing a 21st-century approach to diplomacy, with a strong focus on connecting with Vietnam’s youth through social media and regular speaking engagements at local universities. Such efforts have paid off handsomely, earning him nearly 12,000 Facebook fans since arriving in December last year.
“The fact that we’re engaging with thousands of young people on Facebook, that wasn’t possible before. Now the internet means that people are much more open in their discussions, in their engagements with each other about what kind of future they want to have.”
For a country with still evolving attitudes towards sexual diversity, Ambassador Osius says Vietnam has been very accepting towards him, husband Clayton Bond and their two young children, Tabo, 16 months, and Lucy, born earlier this year.
“I’m the first out gay U.S. Ambassador in East Asia. That was something that just wasn’t possible a few years ago,” he says.
“When I joined the foreign service, that was not the case. Now it is and I can have a husband and two children and come and serve in this country that I actually know very well. I can be judged based on my merits and my ability to do the job, not based on what my family looks like. That’s a new thing and that’s a powerful thing.”
Osius also wants his family immersed in Vietnamese culture as much as possible, with the aim that his children will forge the same bond he has with Vietnam.
“We have these wonderful Vietnamese people [working with us] who are kind of part of our extended family and adore our children,” he says. “Our children will speak Vietnamese first and I’m very happy about that.”
With an impeccable 27-year-long career in the U.S. Foreign Service, Osius has served postings in Jakarta, New Delhi, Bangkok and Manila. This focus on Asia was deliberate and something he planned from day one.
“Asia is where it’s happening,” he explains. “I made the decision at the beginning of my entry class that I was going to spend my career in Asia. I’ve never looked back, and I’ve never been sorry.”
But it’s Vietnam, he says, that will always be his second home.
“For me it’s a dream come true. What I love about this country is that people are so hospitable and warm and welcoming. I’ve loved it more than any other place I’ve served.”
Ted Osius will be addressing festival-goers at the ASEAN Pride festival on Jun. 20. Sponsored by the U.S. Embassy and organised in conjunction with CAMA, last year’s event saw 5,000 people pass through the doors of the American Club in Hanoi. As well as providing some great live music, the festival aims to raise awareness of LGBTQ issues in Vietnam. To read more, go to http://wordvietnam.com/news-latest/briefings/asean-pride-2-0