By Rachel L. Dahl, ‘01
ON a sweltering day last summer, 15 BYU students were thrashing through the Vietnam jungle. When the sweaty and mud-plastered group arrived at a small village outside Ho Chi Minh City, a throng of villagers stared bashfully. But the children quickly overcame their shyness when they saw that the strangers were carrying candy and colorful balloons.
Joy Hsin-Hua Kong, ’01, an information systems major from Houston, Tex., was one of these BYU students. Last summer she spent three weeks with the Asia Business Study Abroad Program, touring businesses in Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Beijing. Kong says, out of all the people she met, the microcredit entrepreneurs in Vietnam made the deepest impression.
“We went to the poor people in Vietnam, and there were kids everywhere–poor but just so happy,” says Kong with characteristic thoughtfulness. “Vietnam was a huge eye-opener for me.”
And Kong isn’t exactly what you’d call sheltered. Born on the island of Singapore–a cultural melting pot–she speaks fluent Mandarin and English and knows some Cantonese. When she was in third grade her family moved to New York City. Not only did the move transplant Kong halfway around the world, it resulted in a situation any child would dread–school on Saturday.
“In America, my sister and I have always gone to Chinese school and Chinese dance class on Saturday. It was my mom’s way of keeping our culture,” Kong laughs. But retaining her rich heritage–her mother is Taiwanese and her father is Cantonese–is something she is now grateful for.
With dual citizenship in Singapore and the United States, Kong feels comfortable in both Chinese and American cultural settings. Her hobbies are as diverse as her background: she enjoys playing the piano, she tutors her friends in the art of wielding chopsticks, and she often volunteers at the Missionary Training Center. She teaches and performs Chinese dance with the BYU Asian American Association, and she loves to make her favorite foods–steak and sushi.
During the Asia Business Study Abroad Program, Kristie Woodland Seawright, ’77, director for international business in the Marriott School, noticed Kong’s ability to interact comfortably with people from many cultures. Seawright, a five-year veteran of the program, recalls a tour in Beijing with a Chinese businessman and his wife, who didn’t speak English.
“Joy went with his wife to make sure she wasn’t left out,” Seawright says. “That showed a lot of maturity–and she was the youngest one on the program.”
Joan Warner Young, ’63, director of the undergraduate program in the Marriott School, also traveled with the student group last summer. She says Kong was an asset to the program even during the planning stages. On her own initiative, Kong used contacts in Singapore to arrange a visit to the Singapore Housing Authority. And while in Asia, Young discovered Kong was good at building relationships with everyone–Vietnamese children, business leaders, and the other students on the program.
“I think the fact that she’s kept her Chinese heritage has been really positive for her,” says Young. “She has that wonderful characteristic of being able to sense what’s appropriate in the right place. No matter where we were, Joy was able to mingle with the people and really make an impact.”