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Vietnam: REI’s new “Country-In-Law”

Updated: Jun 9

by Randy Vernon, Resident Team Leader, Vietnam

Alyssa and Thang at the An Hoi (engagement) ceremony


Virtually every visitor, including our short-term volunteers and resident staff, agree that Vietnam is extraordinarily beautiful and the Vietnamese are extraordinarily winsome. One of our staff, Alyssa (née Meyer) Lai recently took a significant step beyond the norm, though, when she married one of these winsome people, saying “I do” during a beautiful ceremony in Hanoi early in April.


Alyssa’s affection for Vietnam developed several years ago when she came to conduct agricultural research as part of an internship sponsored by REI and Iowa State University. “After completing my internship, I knew Vietnam had a special pIace in my heart and that I would eventually return to Vietnam,” Alyssa says. Soon after, she graduated from Iowa State in Dairy Science and Global Resource Systems and began her career in agriculture at Cargill, a world-renowned company focused on food production.


During that time Vietnam was never far from her thoughts. After working for a couple of years, she approached REI to ask what possibilities might exist for her to return to Vietnam. She was told she could help with the English Biology curriculum at a Vietnamese university, with an eye toward teaching and working in agriculture down the road.


Alyssa stepped off the plane at Noibai International Airport in Hanoi for the second time in August 2018, ready to serve, eager to learn. She was immediately greeted by the faculty and staff of the Biology department from the Hanoi National University of Education, and soon after began settling into her new roles of teacher of English and student of Vietnamese. She was not expecting, however, what awaited her in the person of Thang Lai.


Thang was a young theology student whose orbit intersected Alyssa’s growing circle of friends. “When I first met Thang, I knew he was a very lovely and deeply joyful person, but I have to admit that I was more focused on challenges such as learning to cross the busy Hanoi streets, and figuring out how to buy food at the local market. A relationship was not something that was even on my list of concerns.” Over time, that changed for both of them. As the relationship deepened they both sought counsel. Is this a good idea? What about the cross-cultural challenges? What about raising children? As the questions came, so did the increasing conviction that yes, these challenges were real, but could all be met.


Alyssa with close friends at the An Hoi Ceremony


And so on April 3, 2021 Alyssa and Thang were married. Happily, many friends, both Vietnamese and expatriate, were able to attend. Less happily, due to COVID-19, Alyssa’s parents and other family members and friends were not able to participate in person. Thankfully, the wedding was streamed live on Facebook for far-away family and friends, and a reception in the US is planned for a later date.


Alyssa and Thang at their wedding ceremony on April 3


What’s next? Alyssa will be working on her Master’s in Agriculture Education, aiming to contribute to the development of Vietnam’s agricultural sector as a continuing staff member of REI. Thang will shortly be finishing his studies and will be taking on a leadership role in a local church.


Through Alyssa and Thang’s union, we at REI see our already deep ties with Vietnam going even deeper. We have been partners and friends for many years, but now we see ourselves as family! Thus it is that we now count Vietnam as our “country-in-law.”


Congratulations, Alyssa and Thang! May you be happy and productive together, as you continue building people to build nations!



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