Julie Ho

Julie Ho, College of Business student from Baker

When student Julie Ho joins the ranks of Montana State University alumni this spring, she will travel to Cambodia for the first time to see where her parents grew up.

It may not be a common post-graduation, pre-job trip, but the senior business major from Baker is eager to learn more about her Cambodian heritage.

Ho's parents immigrated to the United States in 1980 as Cambodian refugees, and Ho thinks it's important to visit the country. "It tells a lot about a person. I can't wait to experience where they grew up," she said. She's also excited to visit her aunt and other relatives, whom she's never met, and to travel at the same time in Vietnam and Taiwan.

Landing as Cambodian refugees in a small community in the southeast corner of Montana might seem like an unlikely place to find success, Ho wrote in an essay earlier this year, but her family has thrived in Baker.

"My parents had nothing (when they moved to Montana) and now we're all doing well," Ho said.

Her father works as a custodian at the high school, and her mother, who was pregnant with their first child when the couple left Cambodia, holds a management position at a local Chinese restaurant.

Though they had to leave family and friends behind, it was a relief to escape the violence in Cambodia.

"It was just as bad as a lot of the mass killings you hear about," Ho said.

Ho's parents moved to Baker after a church and a couple there sponsored them, and the families have remained close over the years. "I consider them my grandparents," Ho said. "Every family reunion they've ever had, we've been invited to."

She considers herself lucky to have been brought up in Baker. Still, she said, there were challenges.

Communicating with her parents has always been difficult because of a language barrier, since Ho's parents did not teach their children to speak in the couple's native Chinese.

"I can tell my parents are thinking in Chinese. Something is always lost a little bit in translation," she said. "That's a hard thing to overcome."

"I asked Dad later why he didn't teach us Chinese, and he said he wanted us to be American, " Ho added. "He had no idea how valuable it would be to be bilingual in Chinese now."

Ho and her two older siblings all worked hard during high school and each graduated at the top of their classes, she said.

Their work paid off. Ho's older brother now holds a job with the government in New Mexico, and her older sister teaches English in Taiwan.

The youngest, Julie Ho was recruited for the 400 meter hurdles and came to MSU on a track scholarship. Though injuries prevented her from continuing on the team beyond her first year - she had surgery on both of her knees at the same time - she said she has fully funded her college education through scholarships and student employment.

She's also made her mark on campus through numerous leadership and volunteer positions. From serving for two years as a freshman orientation leader to volunteering to read to kindergarteners and mentoring gifted children, Ho has been an active participant in the MSU and Bozeman communities. She's received numerous awards for her accomplishments, including being named a Rotary Student of the Month.

She loves the area for its beauty as well as the friendly and supportive community, and she enjoys horseback riding, tae kwon do, hiking and road biking in her free time.

But Ho hasn't limited her backyard to Bozeman during college.

A semester-long exchange program in Galway, Ireland and a five-week internship in Tokyo whetted Ho's appetite for international travel.

"When people say studying abroad can change your life, it's so true," she said. "It was so big for me."

Now, she's looking forward to traveling to Asia and then moving in June to Huntington Beach, Calif., where she has a prestigious two-year position lined up at Boeing.

As part of the company's Business Careers Foundation Program, Ho will spend two years rotating through six different positions at Boeing, including finance, accounting, contracts and procurement.

"It's part of an intense employee development and training program," she explained.

Law school is a possibility down the road, and she'd also like her career to involve international work and traveling.

For now, though, Ho is relishing the opportunities that are just a few months away.

"It's going to be big to see where my parents grew up," she said. "I accept where I've come from. I'm 100 percent American with Chinese blood."

By Anne Pettinger, MSU News Services