So today, I decided to take the first step to becoming a foreign service officer by switching my major from bioengineering to Political Science! (Just kidding, sentence included to scare my family.) Although I did learn a lot about the lives of foreign service officers on our visit to the American Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. Before today I had never even thought about the existence of consulates and embassies, much less thought about what they did and who ran them!
So a consulate is to the embassy what a branch campus is to a university. It can’t do everything the embassy does, but it can split the embassy’s workload. For example, the Consulate handles many visa applications. All applicants for either immigration or non-immigration visas must be interviewed. Vietnam is one of the top countries in the world for visa applications to the US, so the Consulate handles a considerable amount of that. The Consulate also does outreach programs, including a lot of education programs. The Consulate provides English language learning materials and information regarding American universities to Vietnamese students curious about studying in the US. The Consulate also hosts informational programs, such as screenings of videos about topics like the importance of air quality or what it is like to be a Vietnamese American returning to Vietnam.
While these programs are wonderful, one may wonder why the US supports them, what benefit we get from helping the Vietnamese people. It all comes back to trade. Vietnam is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Vietnam is becoming an increasingly important trade partner with the United States, and by investing in the economic well-being of Vietnam the US is investing in a more stable trade partner. There are several reasons the US is interested in strengthening its relationship with Vietnam specifically, including its booming economy, its strategic location, and the very high favorability rating of the US there. (93% of Vietnamese have a favorable opinion of the US.) By helping Vietnam, the US is strengthening a mutually beneficial relationship between two nations based on trust and looking toward the future.