Alumni Feature: Jeff Harrison

By Jeff Harrison

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I entered Hope College in 2008 and graduated in 2012. I enrolled in a Civil War course taught by Professor Fred Johnson my first semester, loved the discussions I had with my peers in that class, and  knew I wanted to major in history from there on out. As a side note, I recently traveled to Austin, Texas for work and got a beer with a friend I met in that class!

I work in sales at a cybersecurity company in Ann Arbor, MI called Duo Security. Although I did not pursue a career specific to my history degree, I am very glad I studied history at Hope. I made some great friends while involved with Phi Alpha Theta and the program opened doors for good internships at museums in Holland and Grand Rapids as a student. These internships were a great way to learn outside of the classroom and helped prepared me for my career after college.

I remember the grading rubrics in my history classes being very focused on writing, communication and critical thinking skills. There was a learning curve when I first started the program.  By the time I graduated and entered the “real world,” I was very confident in my writing and overall ability to communicate with others via email, LinkedIn, presentations, proposals etc.  Communication is “key” in the workplace: teams and individuals that can communicate well with others, no matter what field of business, are more successful than those that cannot. It seems like whenever I hear about an issue in the office it stems from poor communication between employees, clients or both. Potential customers aren’t impressed by someone whose writing sounds juvenile.

Hope’s history program fine-tuned the skills I need to work well with others in a professional setting. Drafting and reviewing papers taught me a lot about writing style and grammar. Team projects, “mock debates” and discussions we held in class were good practice for presenting ideas and articulating the thought processes behind them. This expertise is used on a daily basis in my sales role.

I encourage you to check out the Phi Alpha Theta organization and the department’s internship opportunities if you’re unsure about whether or not a history major is right for you. The professors are great and the smaller department’s personal touch prepares you for what follows your time at Hope!

  • Jeff Harrison

What Does a Professor Do During the Long Summer Months?

By Dr. Gloria Tseng, History Department

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“Are you on vacation now?” my friendly neighbors often ask during the summer months. True, the academic year ends when I send in the final grades for my classes in May. Then I enter my gardening phase, which is late spring and early summer, when I’m hopeful for the new growing season and before the Midwestern sun demonstrates its full force. Yet, the reading and writing that are integral to the academic life does not cease. In fact, once final grades are in I turn my attention to the writing of conference papers for presentation at two annual conferences usually held at the end of June or the beginning of July.

The Yale-Edinburgh Group on the History of the Missionary Movement and World Christianity holds its yearly meetings at the University of Edinburgh and Yale University, with the two universities alternating as hosts every year. The Andrew F. Walls Centre for the Study of Asian and African Christianity also hosts an annual conference, which takes place at Liverpool Hope University in Liverpool. This has been my yearly ritual for the past eight years or so: almost two months of frantic reading and writing, followed by attendance and presentations at these conferences, and then more (albeit less frantic) reading and writing back in Holland as I continue working on a manuscript on Christianity in twentieth-century China, an ongoing project of mine for a good number of years now. This is the life of a history professor in a nutshell: one never graduates!

I like to write in the quiet of my study at home. My desk is in front of a window that looks out to a big maple tree and my vegetable garden in the backyard, and my computer is in front of another window, which looks out to the street. Sometimes I see neighbors walking their dogs; sometimes I see the mailman making his round. The writing isn’t all that glamorous, but it’s the substance of the profession. The traveling to conferences, especially those on the other side of the Atlantic, on the other hand, is always a highlight of my summers. Presenting one’s work to other scholars—some from both sides of the Atlantic, and others from as far afield as Asia, Africa, and Australia—and learning from them provide a necessary stimulus to my own work. “Iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17).

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This year, however, was special. I did something I had never done before, almost extravagant. The Yale-Edinburgh meeting was to take place in Edinburgh this summer, and my cousin Jon, a newly minted MD, wanted to tag along. We decided to rent a cottage on the Isle of Skye, an island of some 600 square miles in northwest Scotland, for eight days. I persuaded a British friend to take us in a rented car. We experienced the full range of Scottish weather—rain, mist, wind, and two whole days of sunshine. The setting was fit for Wagner’s operas. We hiked up muddy and stony mountain trails where sheep wandered at will. We chatted with an old shepherd whose affection for his beasts was evident. The memory of this shepherd remained vivid in my mind for a long time, for he brought to my mind the One who called himself the Good Shepherd—

The Good Shepherd of Skye

Windswept, silver-grey hair,
Wrinkled, weather-beaten,
A ready smile, rough hands,
Accustomed to labor,
Tattered at the elbows–
“I am the Good Shepherd.”

A life of wanderings,
Tales waiting to be heard–
T’was to men such as he,
The angles first announced,
“Glory to God above,
And peace to man on earth.”

Lord, grant me eyes to see,
Thee in this humble man,
My Redeemer and Friend.

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This summer I brought back with me the memory of my unexpected encounter with the Gospel message on the Isle of Skye. I was humbled and moved as never before by the mystery of the Incarnation.

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Student Feature: Joshua Kam

By Josh Kam

2016-07-31_15.17.59Every college freshman has a Dreaded Question. The sort of thing your roommate’s mom asks almost before you’ve shaken hands, that the Michigan-friendly cashiers on 8th Street will ask to start conversation.

What’s your major?

But whatcha gonna do with a major like that?”

“Are you dating?”

“Like, I know you’re not white, but like, what’s your . . . heritage?”

For me, my Dreaded Question has been the same since the first grade: “Where are you from?”

A hard, simple question. And frankly, I’m never really sure how to answer. Does my new friend want a fact sheet of my life history? Do they just want to know we have something in common? Or do they want to really know me as a person? Lord knows. Which elevator speech do I make?

I’m a third-culture kid. Yes, like Cady Heron, but minus the seamless assimilation. I’m someone who has grown up in between countries, between languages, and between cultures. I’m not only American. I’m not only Malaysian. I’m somewhere in between: a third culture.  I was born in Montana, in the shadow of the Rockies, to Malaysian Chinese parents (which is, colloquially, kind of like being both Polish and Jewish. One’s a nationality, one’s an ethnicity).  I grew up both in Montana and in Malaysia, and have spent most of more life flapjacking between the languages, cuisines, and cultures that have now become my identity.

We spoke English at home, but when R-rated family gossip was involved my parents switched to Cantonese. My mother’s family spoke Hokkien and English, but when I went out to a supermarket in Kuala Lumpur, we spoke Malay or Mandarin. But even English is a weird stream to navigate for me. When I’m in Michigan I find myself sliding into a creamy, nasal dialect of standard American English, but when I’m in Malaysia my diction takes on a rather British-Commonwealth color. And so it goes.

But back to the Dreaded Question. I never know what to say. How much do they want to know? If I reveal that I am “the Other,” will I only ever be the Other in our relationship? If I only mention what we have in common, will they ever understand me when we don’t have values or childhood cultures in common? More often than not, I say, “Montana,” and smile breezily. It’s not a lie. I’m just not sure which truth you’d like to know.

Which also perhaps explains why I’m a history major.  It’s my answer to my Dreaded Question. It’s a way of plugging into the many, many voices of my Pasts. It’s a way of connecting the dots, and finding continuity in a story that’s been unfurling literally since records began. And TCK or not, we all have many pasts, and heritages that inform who we are. We “just” as Americans have political roots in the North European Protestant work ethic, in the Pagan Greco-Roman classics, and a cultural inheritance from all the peoples who have stumbled on our hunk of land between Spain and China.  That’s a lot to unpack all by itself!

The point is, we are the stories that have made us, and my major is about keeping those stories intact and relevant. Taking history at Hope has forced me to really evaluate the stories I tell myself, to weigh them in beside the many, many stories that built me. Under a history scholarship, I was even able to further my love of travel and my desire for origins, studying abroad in Athens, Greece, the heart of Western Civ as we know it.  This summer, I conducted research on a swashbuckling Malay epic at the University of Michigan. Again, it’s all about connecting the dots, of piecing together identities, times, places, loves, and memories. And no matter where you’re from, knowing your story grounds you. It’s a versatile, portable, marketable asset. It’s a life skill everyone needs. And Hope has been a huge part of that journey for me; the road is long but I am grateful.

Love,
Josh Kam