Golden scholarship supports WWU's new Chinese language and literature major

At Michigan State University in the heady days of mid-70s America, Jim Golden, like many other college students, fell for the mesmerizing words of the Beat poets, especially those of Gary Snyder, whose translations of ancient Chinese poetry fired Golden’s imagination. “Snyder brought to his translations such an immediate, vibrant modern English,” recalls Golden, “that I thought, ‘Wow! I’d love to do this with classical Chinese poetry and short stories: bring them to the modern day!’ I especially enjoyed the individualism inherent in the poetry, the emphasis on finding your way on your own.” He studied modern and classical Chinese language, literature and history as an undergraduate at MSU – majoring in English and minoring in Asian Studies – and as a graduate student at the University of British Columbia. And though he ultimately chose not to pursue a literary career, Golden’s immersion in Chinese literature and language has been at the core of his 30-year business, Golden Harbor Commodities, Inc., an import-export trading company built on robust personal ties with individual suppliers throughout China.

“I never took a business course,” says Golden whose nuts-and-dried-fruit business – he is a primary supplier for Costco – takes him to China several times a year. “I learned it all by the seat of my pants. But I think what’s made me and this company successful is that I was able to make friends with my suppliers overseas. I murdered the language half the time in China, but they appreciated the effort that I was making; they liked the fact that I had an understanding of their culture, their history and their literature. It opened a lot of doors and helped me make a lot of friends and business acquaintances over there. They respected me because I respected their culture. Best of all, we could enjoy each other.” And, as Golden notes, to not study Chinese culture and language – especially for someone with an eye to conducting business on a global level – “is to ignore a major chunk of the world’s population.”

The recently established Golden Family Scholarship offers an annual award, the first in support of Western’s brand-new major in Chinese language and literature. When it was established in 2014, 23 students selected the major; its first six graduates celebrated commencement in June 2015. It marks a key turning point in Western’s growing presence as an educational institution on the world stage, and embodies part of the significant and thoughtful educational approach on Western’s part that Golden and his wife Rebecca have developed respect for over the years.

Golden, who has also supported Western’s baseball club and Chinese-language students, has a son at Western as well as a daughter who is a recent graduate. Both, he notes, thoroughly appreciate their WWU experience. “I was always impressed by how much my daughter loved Western and how she threw herself into her classes. Now my son is enjoying his time there – it’s been good for both of them. And,” adds Golden, whose business also takes him to Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand, “I like Bruce Shepard, his international background and his commitment to cultural diversity.”

While Golden embraces the importance of structured business studies, he stands by his experientially-earned understanding: while solid business training is a critical tool, so is having insight into the people you’re working with – or planning to work with. “The advantage of making the effort and showing genuine interest in others’ culture,” he says, “cannot be underestimated. Real, true mutual respect – the kind you only get by gaining an understanding of your colleagues’ circumstances and lives – is a critical component to success in business – and in life.”