Mel Schenck

Growing up in Montana, USA, I would never have made it my dream to live in Viet Nam or anywhere else. I had no interest in places beyond Montana, except perhaps Scandinavia where most of my ancestors came from. My undergraduate years were at Montana State University, and I would have been happy to begin my architecture practice in Montana. I definitely did not want to live in a large city.

But thanks to the U.S. Navy, I lived in Saigon for a year in 1972 managing construction contracts to Vietnamese construction contractors. It is the prime event of my life. I fell in love with Viet Nam because of the people I worked with, and it is a very beautiful country. Saigon at that time had much of the same industrious energy that it has in abundance today. And I came to love the intensive life of the big city. So I vowed to return to Viet Nam some day to participate in the building of the country.

In the interim, I settled into the profession in San Francisco, accumulating good experience while growing a family. I never lost track of my dream to return to Viet Nam, but it was definitely delayed by the needs of the family and house, and the value of my network and position in San Francisco.

After my daughters had begun their careers, I felt I had reached my peak in San Francisco. I knew it was time for a big change. The opportunity came in 2005 to join an American real estate development firm with the prospect of projects in Viet Nam. This was a big change in itself, moving to the owner's side of the table.

We were not successful for the first couple of years in Viet Nam, but I learned much about what it might take to succeed. After dissolving that firm's legal presence in Viet Nam, I joined a real estate development firm that had succeeded in achieving an investment permit for a very large resort project on the south-central coast. We accomplished a detailed master plan and infrastructure plan for the site, and we are now constructing roads and utilities as well as model villas.

I will remain in Viet Nam indefinitely. I love the young energy of the people here, especially in Ho Chi Minh City. I love the modernist architecture for houses that Vietnamese architects have developed in southern Viet Nam over a 60-year period. It is exciting to be here in an emerging market country that has much work ahead to achieve its enormous potential.