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U.S. Embassy Vientiane gets its first Lao American diplomat

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Forty years after thousands of refugees left Laos to settle in different countries across the world, a new generation of the Lao diaspora is redefining their relationship with their heritage and motherland. LLOTP sat down with Stacey Phengvath, a second generation Lao American who became the first non-military Lao American to serve as a U.S. Foreign Service Specialist at the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane. At her post, Stacey not only represents the U.S. government, but a unique segment of the Lao American experience.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your family.
My parents fled Laos as refugees in 1975, and I grew up listening to their stories. It’s amazing how their story telling created a motion picture in my mind; while I wasn’t personally there, I could feel the pain they went through years ago. When I was born, my family moved to Danbury, Connecticut and struggled to make ends meet in a subsidized housing community. It was their experiences as refugees and their hardships in America that piqued my interested in entering public service.

Can you tell us a little bit about your career path? How did you get started in this field and how did you end up in Laos?
I started with the U.S. State Department as an intern during my senior year of college and was then hired on as a civil servant for a year. Afterwards, I joined the U.S. Foreign Service and served at U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv, Israel and U.S. Consulate General Shenyang, China.  The opportunity to work for Ambassador Clune came to me as a surprise; I never thought I would work in Laos.  I interviewed and competed against other candidates in my field, but having a Lao language background was helpful in the Ambassador’s decision making. When he offered me the position, I did not hesitate to accept.

Lao American diplomat Stacey Phengvath poses with U.S. Ambassador to Laos Daniel Clune (left) and Dr. Jill Biden, educator and wife of Vice President of the United States Joe Biden (right), at a U.S. Embassy Vientiane function.

Lao American diplomat Stacey Phengvath poses with U.S. Ambassador to Laos Daniel Clune (left) and Dr. Jill Biden, educator and wife of Vice President of the United States Joe Biden (right), at a U.S. Embassy Vientiane function. (Photo credit: Stacey Phengvath)

What do you currently do? What’s your favorite part about your job?
I am the Office Management Specialist for the Office of Ambassador Daniel Clune at the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane, Laos.  My day depends on the Ambassador’s day. Most days I am in the office responding to emails and reviewing correspondence. I also attend diplomatic functions, conduct professional development trainings, and participate in speaking engagements. The best part of being a diplomat is facing issues up front and working together to solve them.  I saw this first hand when I traveled with Ambassador Clune to Phongsaly province. We met with the World Food Program (WFP) and Akha and Phunoy villagers, and observed how much of an impact the U.S. funded WFP school lunch program had on the children’s school attendance.  I can personally relate to the Akha children as a recipient of a similar school lunch program in America.  Seeing these programs making an impact in the field underscores why I love my job and why I am proud to represent the United States abroad.

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Stacey celebrates Lao New Year at the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane. In her current position, she has the unique opportunity to observe the cultural traditions of her Lao heritage while representing the U.S. government abroad. (Photo credit: Stacey Phengvath)

What’s it like being a Lao American living and working in Laos, the birthplace of your parents?
Living in Laos is surreal. When I talk to the Aunty at the grocery store, or when I shop for silks at the morning market, I feel a sense of home, as if I have known this country before through the stories of my parents.  As I walk along the Mekong River to the temples in the heart of Vientiane, I often wonder if those were the same places my parents had walked before me.  It must have been heart breaking to leave a place they called home, but 40 years later, it feels like we’ve come full circle.

Outside of work, what’s been your favorite thing about Laos?
There is a new food delivery service in Vientiane, which is fantastic after a long day of work. I can order delicious Lao food on a website and it arrives at my doorstep in thirty minutes. After living in two countries and being unable to fully express myself, I also love being able to communicate everywhere I go. Finally, it’s also been an amazing experience just traveling throughout the motherland. While riding up the windy roads to Phongsaly, I reflected on the beauty of our country. I said to the Embassy driver, ban hao ngam nor? Our country is beautiful, isn’t it? And it’s true! It is just breathtaking.

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View from the mountains near Phongsaly. (Photo credit: U.S. Embassy Vientiane Facebook)

-Leslie Chanthaphasouk, lchanthaphasouk@gmail.com

35 Comments

  1. Very nice to read this report with no suggestion of past antagonisms. This placement, plus the many Lao-Americans who come to visit, and often invest through relatives, really does mean there is no place for bad feelings in the 40th year of regime change. (Be nice to clear up those cluster bombs, though!)

    Dr Robert Cooper (ex-UNHCR, ex-British Embassy, now resident in Vientiane)

  2. Anonymous says

    Is there a FB page or Instagram where I can follow Stacey’s perspectives as a Lao-American? Also, any recommendations for FB or Instagrams with similar view points?

    • My facebook is private but I do recommend following the U.S. Embassy Facebook. You just might see me on there!

  3. Anonymous says

    Very excited to see and read some experience and opinion of the young laoamerican. Please keep up the good work.
    Somsy Camvan

  4. Congratulations Stacey!. As a Lao Veteran at the age of your parents, I am very proud of your successful diplomatic career. You are a role model for every young Lao Americans. You must be very proud to have an unusually wonderful chance as an American diplomat to share all available forms of assistance to the people whose origin was the same as your parents and most importantly you are now standing inside your parents’ homeland. You are now within a circumstance to dedicate with goodwill and compassion to heal the wounds that Lao people had expected for so long . Wishing you well, and that our Lord Buddha bless you with Good Health, and greater success in your career.
    Chantho Vorasarn
    -Former RLAF Major,
    -Retired High School Teacher,
    -Presently living in Pinellas Park, FL

    • Somnuk says

      Are you Chantho Vorasarn who was one of my classmate at Savannakhet in the 60s?

      • Yes Sir, please call me at 727-310-8155 or email me to chanvrs@hotmail.com. Very eager t0 contact you. I am now living in Pinellas Park, Florida.- Last night just met Voradeth Diddhavong (Singer) in Florida. Si c’est Somnuk Ban Thouat, donc nous sommes ete camarade de la classe de Seconde du Lycee de Savannakhet en 1960. C’etait deja plus de cinquante cinq ans que nous sommes separes. Where are you now? Please contact me immediately.
        Chantho Vorasarn.

  5. Bounprasong Kensy says

    I would love to go my mother land Laos. I grown up in Laos. I came to USA when I was 13yrs old in 1986.

    • Dear young Lao American generation You have been on the land of opportunity where you

      Dear young Lao Americans. You are among the luckiest young Lao resettling in the USA , the world richest, most powerful and most modern country. You’re guaranteed to have a successful life if you put education as your first priority. Spend your leisure time in the library instead of wandering around without a plan for the future. Every where in the USA you can find world richest libraries where you an draw handful of knowledge to promote your educational level. In the USA we believe on the concept of ” YOU EARN WHAT LEARN”. Dear all young Lao generation, don’t let this golden opportunity fly away from your hands. I always love and respect the high potential of all Lao younger generation and I am very proud of you all.
      Chantho Vorasarn
      Former RLAF Major
      Retired High School Teacher
      Pinellas Park, FL, USA

  6. Khampha says

    Congratulations on your prestigious position as a Lao diplomat. How exciting it is for you to explore the land that you’re connected with through your parents. I hope that you’ll have plenty of opportunities to interact and be the hope and role models for Lao children and youths. We are extremely proud of your professional achievement and commitment to Laos.

  7. Annie Viengrouthasane says

    Congratulations Stacey! I am LaoAmrerican who’s living in United for 25years had similar family background as yours. All I want to say is You’re an a role model for young LaoAmericans and mind opening for elder generation. To bridging the gap between the two countries. Please keep up a good work. So many talented peoples like you are highly in demands to help making world peace. Thank you Stacey for continuing improving education system.

    • Thank you Annie. If someone hadn’t showed me the way before, I would not be where I am today. I’d like to be that person for someone someday.

  8. ຂໍສະແດງຄວາມດີໃຈ ນຳການ ໄດ້ຮັບ ຫນ້າທີ່ໆມີກຽດ ຂອງເຈົ້າໃນເທື່ອນີ້. ການທີ່ເຈົ້າໄດ້ຮັບເປັນພນັກງານອັນສຳຄັນນີ້ ນອກຈາກຈະສະແດງເຖິງຄວາມສາມາດອັນປະເສີດຂອງເຈົ້າແລ້ວ ຍັງໄດ້ສະແດງໃຫ້ໂລກໄດ້ຮູ້ວ່າ ໂອກາດເປັນຂອງທຸກຄົນ ໃນລະບອບການປົກຄອງແບບປະຊາທິປະໄຕທີ່ແທ້ຈິງ. ຂໍໃຫ້ເຈົ້າຈົ່ງກ້າວຕໍໄປເພື່ອນເປັນຕົວຢ່າງໃຫ້ເດັກນ້ອຍລາວເຮົາໄດ້ມີກຳລັງໃຈ ແລະເພື່ອພິສູດໃຫ້ໂລກຮູ້ວ່າ ທຸກຄົນເຮັດໄດ້ຖ້າວ່າ ເຂົານັ້ນມີໂອກາດ.

    • Stacey says

      ເປັນຄຳອວຍພອນທີປະທັບໃຈທີສຸດ ຂໍໍຂອບໃຈທີໃຫ້ກຳລັງໃຈໃນຂໍ້ຄວາມນີ້

      • Vanmala Phongsavan says

        Congratulation to your wonderful and very important position to your successful education life for you and your family especially entirely for all of us Lao-Americans.

        Your journey to Laos and have an important post with your knowledge and experiences will be great appreciated not just for Lao-American, but for all Americans as well. May I extending this is the most sincerely to you and best of luck with my best regards.

  9. Koumkham Inthavong says

    je m’excuse d’écrire en français. Je pense qu’actuellement la France est au top des actualités suite aux derniers évènements des terroristes.
    Toutes mes félicitations à Stacey et ses parents pour les fonctions que vous vous occupez actuellement. Je pense que c’est un rêve pour tous les lao d’outre mer de pouvoir retourner un jour à la patrie mère et de contribuer à son développement. Vous aviez parlé de la Province de Phongsaly d’où je suis originaire cela me touche beaucoup.
    P.S : Tous les lao d’outre mer de ma génération qui ont fait des études secondaires au Laos ont certainement appris et comprennent bien la langue française.
    Merci et bonne continuation

  10. sebastian says

    Congratulation my friend,i am also sponsoring a lao girl to study in a college in luang prabang.

    • Anonymous says

      Stacey, congratulation for your post & you are the lucky Laotian American that able to go back to help our mother land. Please keep do a good work. Hope to see you and Ambassador in December. Ai Khamphoui Manyseng

  11. Anonymous says

    Good job Trecey.
    do your best to help your motherland to become prosperous nation like USA

  12. Somphong phomsamouth says

    You are a sample of lao new generation in
    USA ,or new lao foreigner
    Help lao country to be back to demomocracy

    Congratulation mam

  13. Anonymous says

    Congratulation Stacey! I am very proud of you so much as the one generation who tried to be success with your dream. I hopefully you’ll have a good opportunity in Laos with your motherland. Good Luck.

  14. What a great story of accomplishment. Stacey, you are living my dream! I actually left Laos when I was 2 and came to the U.S. I wanted to pursue dentistry but didn’t get accepted into dental school. My backup was to join the government and go work in Laos as a U.S. citizen. I even got my Masters in Public Adminisatration because I was getting ready to do what you are doing. But a great opportunity came up so I am now working for a global dental company as a product manager. I may end up in Laos eventually as I want to start up a non-profit to educate and help Lao people on proper oral healthcare. Congratulations, again! Good luck!

  15. Kodkeo says

    Congratulations Stacey! for being the great idol for the younger generations of Lao-Americans. Hope you can contribute to a better American-Lao friendship and help people in Laos prosper in many ways.

  16. Sambaidee Stacey!
    All the Lao American community and friends celebrate your appointment as a diplomat at the US Embassy in Vientane. My husband, Jack Huxtable and I served in Laos from 1965-1975 with USAID. During that ten year period we were assigned to rural Savannahket Province in three places-Dong Hene, Phalane and Lahanam. After Savannakhet we served in Vientaine, Sayabury, Ban Houi Xai and Luang Prabang. We had the privilege of adopting two Lao chidlren from the That Kao orphanage in Vientaine. Now we return to Laos every year in January and February. We would love to meet you the next time we’re in Vientaine, probably February, 2016. We’ll try to contact you when we know our dates.

  17. Margehux and any visitors to Laos, and of course Stacey. When in Vientiane downtown drop by the ‘Book-Cafe Vientiane’ bookshop on Heng Boun Road (Haysok near the Cultural Hall) to catch up on Laos. Many things are now published and printed here and are cheaper and some things are only printed or distributed here (since Laos is not a major interest in the book world).

  18. Anonymous says

    First of all congratulations. You are in the right place and the time. Please help if you can. Those whom we left behind to suffer from the seret war in Laos. Thank you.

  19. Femi Akinyemi says

    This is one of those inspiring stories that America is made of. It is only in America that you can rise to your full potential regardless of your past heritage. Who would have thought the daughter of an immigrant would eventually serve the Country of her parents as an American diplomat. This is good role model story for all immigrants in the USA. Keep up the blog and good work Stacey.

  20. PAO SAYKAO says

    To Dr Robert Coper

    As Obama has just announced $90 millions over the next 3 years to clear those UXO.

    I remember in 2010, when I was in Vientiane, I did announce over $2 millions from Australia toward this UXO issue.
    Just a point interest, how much and/or what Vietnam has done in this issue??

  21. Bountao phontiya says

    I want to study in USA , you are good person who can take me to have chance to reach there ? please look for scholarship for me as possible as .My name is Mr.Bountao Phontiya i live in Oudomxai provine Laos My phone number is 020 99978847

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