A Home Away from Home

A proud alumnus of the Harvard College Host Family Program, Max Chen AB ’04, MBA ’08, JD ’10 is giving back to the program and celebrating the host parents who became his second family

Max AB ’04, MBA ’08, JD ’10 and Maggie Chen (right), along with their sons Mickey and Marshall, share a meal with Dan AB ’64 and Joyce AB ’65 Curll

A Home Away from Home

When Tong “Max” Chen AB ’04, MBA ’08, JD ’10 arrived on Harvard’s campus from his home in China as a 19-year-old, he was thousands of miles away from his relatives, but he soon found a second family.

Max joined the Harvard College Host Family Program as a first-year student, where he was matched with Dan AB ’64 and Joyce AB ’65 Curll. The program connects students who are far from home with local alumni, faculty, and administrators who meet for fun activities throughout the year—such as shared meals, museum trips, and athletic events—to help build a sense of belonging as students acclimate to college life.

Dan and Joyce, who met as undergraduates in the Harvard Glee Club and the Radcliffe Choral Society, were longtime hosts in the program and enthusiastic members of the Harvard volunteer community. Max felt a strong connection with the Curlls, who immediately welcomed him as part of their family.

Now, with a generous endowment gift to establish the Dan and Joyce Curll Harvard College Host Family Program Fund, Max and his wife, Maggie, are honoring the meaningful bond they formed with the Curlls while supporting a program that continues to foster connections across cultures.

With this gift, Max hopes to increase the size and scope of the program to serve any first-year students who would benefit, regardless of where they call home. The funding will also enable additional events for host families and students, as well as opportunities for alumni of the program to connect with one another.

Navigating New England

Max remembers a frigid night in Boston when he met up with Dan for dim sum in Chinatown. Noticing that Max was shivering in a thin jacket, Dan took him on a shopping trip to Filene’s Basement to buy him a warm winter coat.

“Dan taught me how to make myself warm in the brutal New England winter,” Max says. “He took the time to provide kindness and care, making sure that I had what I needed to have a comfortable life at Harvard.”

Dan, who majored in East Asian civilizations at Harvard, was a lifelong learner and student of Chinese history and culture—later working as a tour director in China and Southeast Asia, leading over 40 tours in 13 years. Max saw him as a bridge between two cultures.

The Curlls were a steady presence throughout Max’s studies. From frequent dinners around Boston to summer visits at their holiday home in New Hampshire, “they took on the role of being my second parents right away,” he says.

“Max is so special to us, and the Host Family Program was the best alumni activity we were involved in,” says Joyce. “It was a joy to help young people who ended up helping us as much as we helped them.”

Max hopes to inspire other alumni to give back to the host family program, providing more opportunities for host families to help international students adjust to life in the United States.

“When you’re away from your family and in another country, it’s so important to have people like Dan and Joyce to give you advice and support,” he says. “It has made a huge difference in my life.”

Even though I traveled far away to study, I gained another set of parents because of that experience. I benefited from their wisdom all these years. Dan and Joyce are a shining example of host parents. On behalf of all the students they got to know, we really appreciate all they did to help us.

— MAX CHEN AB ’04, MBA ’08, JD ’10

The American Grandparents

Dan and Joyce’s mentorship and guidance continued throughout Max’s life after Harvard.

After graduation, Max moved to New York City, where he met his future spouse, Maggie, when they were both working in investment banking. The Curlls warmly welcomed her like a daughter. When the Chens moved back to Hong Kong, the two couples kept in touch and visited each other often. The Curlls even got to know Max and Maggie’s extended families and invited them to New Hampshire.

Dan and Joyce were also there to help them navigate new challenges, such as the birth of their two children, Mickey and Marshall. “They’re known to our kids as the American grandparents,” Maggie says.

“Max and his family are family to us,” Joyce says.

Continuing a Legacy of Love

In 2021, Dan passed away following a long illness. Unable to pay their respects in person due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, the Chens connected with fellow alumni who had been paired with the Curlls through the host program and held a series of Zoom calls to share cherished memories of Dan.

It was after one of these calls that Max was inspired to give back to the program to honor Dan’s memory, celebrate Joyce, and let the Harvard community know about the Curlls’ impact on generations of students.

“Even though I traveled far away to study, I gained another set of parents because of that experience. I benefited from their wisdom all these years,” says Max. “Dan and Joyce are a shining example of host parents. On behalf of all the students they got to know, we really appreciate all they did to help us.”

Max presenting Joyce with a plaque