Following the experiences of the Yenching community around the world as they confront the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Academy interviewed Quoc Anh Tran, alumnus from the 2nd cohort, about his work as a Communications Officer for the WHO in Vietnam and how his time at Yenching shaped his views and career.
Although Quoc Anh had wanted to be involved in public health since working for a non-profit surgical project in Hanoi in 2016, personal circumstances led him to settle into public health as a career. Quoc Anh says, “My dad was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. In addition to chemotherapy, my dad needed to rely on antibiotics for bacterial infections, but his body would resist many of the strongest antibiotics the hospital had. As a result, he remained extremely weak during the course of his treatment.” Quoc Anh’s father was not the only person with antibiotic resistance, as he recalls. “I met many people like him in the months he was there, and I always wished I could do something to improve his condition, as well as the condition of others like him.” When Quoc Anh learned that WHO Vietnam was looking for a Communications Officer for Antimicrobial Resistance, he had no hesitation in applying for the post.
As a Communications Officer, Quoc Anh’s main roles are developing and implementing a communications package aimed at changing the community’s behavior regarding antibiotic consumption. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, he has also been on the Incident Management Team, and most of his tasks now focus on COVID-19. Quoc comments, “At the moment, I am helping to debunk fake news and delivering evidence-based information about the pandemic to the community. My team and I have also been working closely with the Ministry of Health to produce audiovisual materials about COVID-19.” Since beginning his work at the WHO in Vietnam, Quoc Anh advises prospective applicants to acquire hands-on work experience. He urges them to “consider every experience and not take anything for granted.” He adds, “You want to thoroughly research the organization you would like to join to set your expectations. What you hear or see about them may be very different from what the reality is.”
Quoc Anh became a Yenching Scholar after hearing about the programme whilst studying abroad in Belgium. “Growing up, I had always been fascinated by Chinese culture but I did not seriously think about studying in China until I was on exchange at the University of Leuven. As I took classes on development cooperation and international relations, I was drawn to development stories from China and could not stop thinking of how they could be applied to Vietnam. The University of Leuven was also a partner of YCA, so when I heard about YCA there, I knew that YCA was a great opportunity that I should not miss.”
He credits his time in Beijing at the Yenching Academy for helping him to mature professionally and personally. He reflects, “What I learned at YCA has proved to be a reliable foundation in my career. The course ‘Theory and Practices of International Organizations’ taught by Professor Ha Wei gave me an insight into the UN system, while I grew professionally through my internship experience at Xiaomi for my current work.” He also notes that the international diversity at YCA was unparalleled. “If my exchange year in Belgium set a foundation for my international outlook, my two years at YCA brought it to a new level. Even now, my YCA friends still provide me with tremendous support and help me become a better person.” He offers current scholars this advice: “Make as many friends as you can and try to explore China as much as possible. Two years will go by in the blink of an eye and you want to leave the program with no regrets.”
Besides the professional development which occurred at YCA, Quoc Anh still remembers his time with friends at YCA fondly. “One of the most memorable experiences was the field trip to Xi’an in my first year. That trip not only broadened my knowledge of China’s ancient history, but it also helped me bond with my classmates better. Spending a week together in a city that most of us had not been to before, we really learned a lot about each other. That trip was so fun that my friends and I still talk about it when reminiscing about our YCA experience.”
Looking to the future, Quoc Anh is contemplating broader horizons in the field of public health. He says, “After working in Vietnam for some time to solidify my professional experience, I may apply for an overseas assignment. Everything is still up in the air though, and I still need to see the impact of my work here first.” Regarding the current situation, he hopes for the safety and solidarity of the YCA community around the world. “Please stay safe during these difficult times. We shall get through this pandemic soon and when it is over, I cannot wait to see all of you.”