Trần Thị Thu Hương and Nguyễn Phùng Quang come to East Germany to study and get their PhDs. Both complete their academic education at universities in Dresden. It was in Vietnam, however, that they got to know each other.
University at 18
In 1971 Nguyễn Phùng Quang is 18 years old when he starts studying electrical engineering in Dresden. In Hanoi he has already spent six months learning German, and now he directly begins to study at the TU Dresden. Two more students from Vietnam are in his class. The three of them always share the front row so as to understand everything as clearly as possible. They are assisted by senior German students, who act as their tutors. With their help, they overcome initial difficulties and can later use their expert knowledge to help others, Quang remembers. He still cultivates the friendships he made during this time.
Like all international students, Quang lives in a student residence. He likes the city of Dresden, but is fully focused on his studies. After four years, he successfully graduates with a degree in electrical engineering and completes two internships in GDR companies. In 1976 he returns to Vietnam.
Wedding in Vietnam – Research in East Germany
Trần Thị Thu Hương and Nguyễn Phùng Quang meet in Hanoi, get married and in November 1979 their son Duc Viet is born. When he is seven years old, his mother has the opportunity to study for a PhD in information technology at the Dresden Hochschule für Verkehrswesen (University for Transport, HfV). These are still early days for computer technology, and processors and communications technology are non-existent in Vietnam. Hương explains that at that time, likewise in Germany, there were only first-generation computers as well as first simple software programs.
First she studies German in Hanoi for nine months. Then she travels to the East Germany by herself. After another five months of German lessons in Chemnitz, she begins her work at the university in Dresden. There she also learns the programming language Pascal. Hương now researches the topic of “packet-switched technology”. This is a completely new field, not only for her.
Nguyễn Phùng Quang remembers graduation day at university. Trần Thị Thu Hương talks about her first time in Germany.
Friendship and family
During the first months Trần Thị Thu Hương misses her son very much. It is during this time that she establishes first friendly contact with Sabine, a colleague who works in the same university project. Through a Vietnamese co-student of her husband she meets Elli Zimmermann. On weekends, the single older woman invites the student to visit her at home in Merseburg. A close and affectionate relationship develops. Hương calls her “my German mother”. The connection never breaks, and until her death in 1993 Elli types long letters to Vietnam.
She loved me like my own mother, I felt cherished and protected.Trần Thị Thu Hương, Hanoi 2021
After two years, in June 1988, Trần Thị Thu Hương can bring her son to the GDR. She is very happy, but still is a full-time working mom. By chance she meets family Dittloff. The parents have twelve children of their own, one daughter is in the same class as Duc Viet. Mrs. Dittloff. simply welcomes him into her family like one more child. From now on, Duc Viet regularly spends the afternoons with the German family. Therefore he learns German very quickly and can keep up well at school.
Trần Thị Thu Hương tells how she managed to solve the childcare problem. Nguyễn Phùng Quang explains how the son’s name was chosen.
Family life in Dresden academia
In September 1988, Nguyễn Phùng Quang returns to the GDR for a second time, this time as a doctoral student at the TU Dresden. Shortly after his arrival, the couple celebrates its tenth wedding anniversary. Some university colleagues organized cake and flowers as a surprise. Most contacts and friendships emerge in the couple’s university environment. Particularly close are the ties to Sabine S. and her husband. The friendship between the families persists over the years. When Duc Viet later also studies in Germany, the family supports him during his whole time as a student.
Trần Thị Thu Hương and Nguyễn Phùng Quang talk about family life and successful graduation from university.
PhD during a time of change
In 1989 Duc Viet is sent back to his family in Vietnam to allow his parents to focus completely on their work and exams. The couple’s research work coincides with the political transition in Germany. This means uncertainty, but also new opportunities and new professional impulses from the West. Nguyễn Phùng Quang’s first visit to West Berlin is to the library of the TU Berlin.
Many fellow students drop out during this uncertain time. But Trần Thị Thu Hương manages here doctorate work anyway. In only three years she successfully completes her PhD in February 1990. She then returns to Vietnam. There she works in the telecommunications department of the Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Corporation and helps to build Vietnam’s first data transmission network.
In 1991, Nguyễn Phùng Quang receives his PhD too, and then works as a development engineer in Metzingen. Three years later he returns to Dresden, habilitates and teaches as a private lecturer at the TU Dresden. Since 1999 he is a university lecturer at the TU Hanoi.
In 1992 Trần Thị Thu Hương and Trần Nguyễn Duc Viet return to Germany. Hương completes postgraduate studies at the TU Dresden and works as an IT consultant in Hanoi as of 1999.
Trần Nguyễn Duc Viet studies electrical engineering at the TU Dresden and now works as a project manager in Ho Chi Minh City.
Prof. Dr. Phạm Quang Minh conducted the interview in Hanoi in 2021.
Text: Julia Oelkers
Research and research protocol photos:Trần Bảo Ngọc Anh
Video edting concept: Julia Oelkers