The Foreign Service Journal - October 2014 - page 73

Tony Hornik-Tran is the Regional Security O cer/Security Attaché for Embassy Bratislava. He
previously served as the area desk o cer in the O ce of International Programs/East Asian Paci c
Islands from 2010 to 2012. Since joining the Foreign Service in 2002, he has served in the New York
Field O ce and overseas in Angola and China, with short-term assignments in Yemen, Namibia,
Mongolia and Vietnam. Tony speaks uent Vietnamese, good Chinese, decent Slovak, and very
limited French, Portuguese and Tagalog. He has been married for 21 years and has one daughter.
Refugee to Diplomat: A Journey
was born in Tuyhoa, a small city in Viet-
nam. My father was a high school prin-
cipal and my mother was a home eco-
nomics teacher. My parents gathered
their life savings and paid for my brother
and me to escape to a free country.
Before we left, my father said: “Educa-
tion will be the key to your future success.
Use it to help yourself and others.”
In May 1982, we set out fromVietnam
on a small shing boat with 37 other
people. After ve days and six nights at
sea, we nally made it to a small town
named Mariveles, at the southern tip of
the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines.
We were transported to the Vietnamese
Refugee AsylumCamp in Palawan, and
later transferred to another camp called
the Philippine Refugee Processing Center.
During 11 months at the camps, I met
numerous international organization
workers from all over the world. I was
deeply touched by their generosity, com-
mitment and dedication.
ey were a great
help to my brother and me. I promised
myself that someday I would come back
to help other refugees in need as they had
helped me.
In America, I was placed with an adop-
tive family in Madison, Wisconsin, for
a few years.
is family took me in with
unconditional love, treating me as if I were
their own son and facilitating the transi-
tion to my new country.
I had promised my father that I would
educate myself, so I attended the Uni-
versity of Wisconsin-Madison. I knew
what I wanted to do, but there were many
obstacles along the way, especially since
English was my second language. But I
knew that I could accomplish anything to
which I set my mind.
I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in
social welfare and criminal justice in 1990,
and was recruited by the International
Catholic Migration Commission/Joint Vol-
untary Agency, an organization that assists
uprooted people, refugees and migrants
worldwide. I was assigned to one of the
refugee camps in the Philippines where I
had lived eight years earlier.
As a caseworker, my duties included
counseling and crisis intervention services
for refugees who had a variety of psychoso-
cial problems.
ese Southeast Asian and
Amerasian people had suddenly been torn
away from all that was dear and familiar to
them—homes, jobs, personal dignity and
place in the world. I knew how they felt!
Assisting themwas one of the most
rewarding experiences of my life—espe-
cially since I met my wife there—and I
extended my contract to three years. I
encouraged people to follow their hearts,
as I did, and always remember the impor-
tance of helping your fellowman.
In 1994, I returned to the United States,
settling in San José, California, eager to
continue working with the Vietnamese
community. I also spent six years with the
San José Police Department. Eventually, I
joined the State Department’s Bureau of
Diplomatic Security as a Special Agent in
As a former refugee fromVietnam,
serving in the United States Foreign
Service for 12 years has been a humbling
experience and a privilege. If it were not
for America, I would never have had a
chance to do what I do today.
So I would like to conclude my story
with my favorite line in a famous speech
by President John F. Kennedy: “My fellow
Americans: Ask not what your country can
do for you—ask what you can do for your
RSO Tony Hornik-Tran meets with law students during an o cial trip in Slovakia.
Courtesy Tony Hornik-Tran
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