Alum inspired to give back to Harvard College Host Family Program that gave him a home away from home 

Max Chen ’04, M.B.A. ’08, J.D. ’10 presents Joyce Curll ’65 with a plaque honoring Dan Curll ’64 and Joyce’s impact on the lives of generations of Harvard College students.

3 min read

When Tong “Max” Chen ’04, M.B.A. ’08, J.D. ’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. 

Chen joined the Harvard College Host Family Program as a first-year student, where he was matched with Dan and Joyce 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 ’64 and Joyce ’65, who met as undergraduates in the Harvard Glee Club and Radcliffe Choral Society, were longtime hosts in the program and enthusiastic members of the Harvard volunteer community. Chen 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, Chen 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, Chen 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 additional funding will also enable more events for host families and students, as well as opportunities for alumni of the program to connect with one another. 

Navigating New England

Chen remembers a frigid night in Boston when he met up with Dan for dim sum in Chinatown. Noticing that Chen 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,” Chen 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. Chen saw him as a bridge between two cultures.

The Curlls were a steady presence throughout Chen’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.”

Chen 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.