Chris Mueller, B.A.’09

Telling People’s Stories

By Nick Muscavage, B.A.’16

Chris Mueller always knew he wanted to travel the world, but he did not realize journalism would be his means of doing so until he attended UAlbany.

Chris Mueller interviews a Vietnamese refugee
Chris Mueller interviews a Vietnamese Montagnard refugee in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in May 2015. The man fled Vietnam because of alleged political and religious persecution.

Currently based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Mueller has been living in Southeast Asia for the past six years, working as a reporter and editor. He was inspired to become a journalist during the summer between his freshman and sophomore years at UAlbany when he took a trip to New Orleans to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. “After seeing all this destruction, and poverty, and people’s lives just being turned upside down, I wanted to do something where I could tell people’s stories,” recalled Mueller, who returned to UAlbany to major in journalism.

His path to Vietnam also came in a roundabout way when he took a trip to India after graduation. “I think most people have the desire to travel and see new things,” Mueller observed. “I worked through college, and I was lucky to have enough money to go overseas for what I’d thought would be a short trip.” He never left.

Mueller went to India on a three-month journalism visa, landing a few small writing gigs, but he focused mainly on exploring. Once the visa expired, Mueller had to journey to Nepal to renew it. From there, his desire for travel grew. He ventured about, eventually ending up in Vietnam.

About three months in, Mueller started working for a locally run recent start-up, Vietnam Heritage. He was an editor at the magazine for six months, training local writers and simultaneously working as a stringer for Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Mueller next wrote for the English-language magazine Asia Life, working his way up to the position of editor – a post he held for two-and-a-half years. Later, as an associate editor at Cambodia Daily, he reported and worked with journalists to develop stories and translate them into English.

Though an experienced journalist, Mueller acknowledged that reporting can still be challenging because of Vietnam’s press-freedom laws – or lack thereof. “It’s very, very difficult here,” he noted, explaining that all media in the country are state controlled. Only members of the Communist Party are permitted to publish, subject to a rigorous censorship process.

Additionally, when reporting on his own, Mueller must use a translator to communicate with people who do not speak English.

Even though he is far away from his alma mater, Mueller still sees the familiar purple and gold from time to time. “There are a couple of UAlbany alumni out here, actually. … It’s not an uncommon thing [to meet them randomly]. Every once in a while, I’ll see someone walking by with a UAlbany sweatshirt or something.”

For now, Mueller is working as a freelance editor while chipping away at long-term articles in the hope of publishing some eventually. He doesn’t picture himself leaving Vietnam anytime soon; “I do plan to stay in the region for the foreseeable future.”

As is the case in the journalism field elsewhere, “it’s getting harder and harder to make a living in our industry here,” said Mueller. “But as Southeast Asia continues to become one of the most important and influential regions in the world, good journalism will always be in demand.”