[US to Lower Mekong 2012] Southeast Asia, Comparing and Contrasting (Adam Miller)

My trip to Vietnam and Thailand with the American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL) will forever remain a defining moment in my understanding and appreciation of the cultural, political, and economic relationships between the United States and our long-standing and emerging partner states around the world.  It was truly an amazing experience to be able to engage in dynamic and insightful discussion with both in-country public and private leaders regarding the complexities of the relationship between their country and the United States.  Further, the experience was enhanced through being able to also engage in such discussions with my attending counterparts from across the political and geographic spectrum.

A facet of the trip that I found to be most memorable (and fortunate) was that of the functional construction of the governments of both Vietnam and Thailand, as they relate the United States, for the purposes of our engagement with officials and private sector leaders in both countries.  As one of the few remaining communist nations, Vietnam is seeking political stability in a rapidly changing world, while simultaneously attempting to manage a growing and unpredictable market economy.  Thailand, on the other hand, is one of the United State’s oldest allies, and is trying to balance an increasingly tenuous political situation as the constitutional monarchy’s reigning royalty succession questions present an increasing sense of unpredictability to this nation’s political future.  The differences between the two nations approaches to political, cultural and economic questions are magnified both in comparison to each other and that of the United States; these extreme differences made the trip a true learning experience and emphasized the unique and necessary work of the United States Department of State as the world becomes smaller, but the complexities become magnified and present more pressing concerns for all countries to manage.

I am also grateful for the ability to have conversed and learned from our Department of State, both in Washington D.C., as well as in both Vietnam and Thailand. From Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (more familiar to me as Saigon, as I found the locals still call it), and from Bangkok to Krabi, the Embassy staff was incredibly knowledgeable, skilled, and perceptive, and made our trip an unforgettable learning experience.  The work done by this group of amazing people on behalf of the American people is truly inspiring and will remain a personal point of inspiration for the rest of my life.

Finally, a tremendous thank you to ACYPL and my fellow travelers for making this trip a true “once in a lifetime” experience – I cannot say this enough.  I was fortunate to have traveled with some of the most intelligent, interesting, and intellectually curious people I have ever met – and for this I will remain eternally grateful.  From our outstanding escort to my counterpart travelers, the trip was completed by those who attended, and the organization is due a great deal of credit in this regard.  We received much support from those who remained in Washington DC, and I thank them as well – we couldn’t have made the trip without all of you.

In conclusion, the trip has solidified what I felt upon being selected – a sense of honor for being able to represent our country to those abroad, learn from able and dedicated colleagues, and further understand the cultural, political and economic dynamics of the world’s states.  It is through this learning process that we advance peace and prosperity both at home and abroad, and thus fulfill the amazing and necessary global leadership mission undertaken by the United States of America.

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