Connecticut College Magazine · Spring 2010


students try belly dancing at an international lunch last semester. Photo by Bob Handelman.

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In the Company of Royalty

In the Company of Royalty
Trang´s position often entails diplomatic assignments with heads of state — such as Queen Margrethe II of Denmark.

Nguyen Quynh Trang ´03, the College´s first Vietnamese graduate, launches her diplomatic career

By Lisa Brownell

In 1999, Nguyen Quynh Trang ´03 was a bright and industrious 17-year-old who had just graduated at the top of her class from one of the best schools in Vietnam.

Traveling to a college half a world away was a journey into the unknown: Studying in the United States was almost unheard of among her peers, and, on top of that, she had never in her life left Hanoi.

Earlier that year she had met Connecticut College Professor of Government William Frasure, Professor of Economics Don Peppard and two students on the College´s first Study Away/Teach Away program in Vietnam.

The headmaster of the school summoned Trang and a few other students to meet the visitors and fill out applications for a scholarship offered by Connecticut College. Not knowing that the meeting was an interview, Trang had no time to be nervous, and that first impression she made was a lasting one.

“I remember very well and am still moved today recalling when Professor Frasure came to give me the acceptance letter,” Trang says. “He showed me the pictures of the College and explained to me what a different part of the world it was going to be.”

She describes that day as being beyond her wildest dreams, one that changed her life forever.

The reality of the college experience lived up to its advance billing. Trang loved the beauty of the campus, the warm welcome she received as the first student ambassador from her country and even the freshness of the air compared to that in Hanoi.

An economics major, Trang took many courses with Professor Edward McKenna, and recalls his enthusiasm and willingness to meet with students after class.

She was inspired by the research of economics professors Peppard and Rolf Jensen — they studied Hanoi´s “basket ladies” and showed the important role that these street vendors play in the informal economic sector of the city — and she wrote an honors thesis on the subject.

About six months after graduation, in 2003, she was invited to Australian National University in Canberra to present the findings of this study.

Trang joined the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program on Applied Economics and Public Policy, a joint program between Harvard´s Kennedy School of Government and the University of Economics in Ho Chi Minh City. The program is meant for mid-career professionals in Vietnam, and it was an honor to be selected right out of college.

For two years she worked with The World & Vietnam Report, the weekly newspaper and media agency of Vietnam´s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as assistant to the editor-in-chief.
She was appointed director of the economic policy research division of the Economics Affairs Department last year.

“There is a good blend here between economic policy research and putting ideas to work,” says Trang, who helps prepare economic reports for the prime minister.

Among other international conferences, her department is organizing the first East Asia Economic Summit in Vietnam in June.

Meeting Nobel laureates, diplomats and scholars can be a daily part of her job. Denmark´s ambassador to Vietnam personally asked Trang to be the escort interpreter for Queen Margrethe II during the Danish state visit to Vietnam in November.

Keeping up with the queen´s large delegation and ambitious travel schedule required a whirlwind of activity and fast learning curve, but Trang sees it all as valuable experience for her diplomatic career.

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