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Profile of the Week: SOC Technology Manager

Chen works with students in the convergence studio to produce shows such as the Rambler Sports Locker (Photo by Tyler Langan).

Jamason Chen’s office is tucked away in the back of the convergence studio. There are no windows. It has a predawn atmosphere to it even when it’s almost noon. The walls are painted a bold red, and the place is decorated with framed photographs and old cameras and typewriters on shelves against the wall.

Two large, framed  prints from photographer Danny Lyon hang proudly behind his desk. Lyons covered the Civil Rights Movement and other historical periods. The photos above Chen’s desk are from his collection “The Bikeriders,” which depicted outlaw motorcycle riders. The prints are both signed, and one reads, “For Jamason — Let’s go to China!”

The two met in Minneapolis in 2001 when Lyon had an exhibit. They talked and had dinner, and Lyon’s mentioned he wanted to go to China. They met again the following year in upstate New York and Chen knew he would take him. Three years later, in 2005, they went to China for a photography festival together. According to Chen, Lyon returned six times and produced a photo book from his trips.

Chen is the manager of technology at Loyola’s School of Communications. He has overseen the operations in the convergence studio in room 101 of SOC building since 2009. Working with Dean Heider of the School of Communication and Information Technology Services, Chen designed the studio from scratch, as he saw fit.

“Basically, I grew up with the studio,” Chen, 53, recalls.

Born in Shanghai, the largest city proper in the world, Jamason developed a passion for art at a young age.

“When I was about 10 years old, I learned painting,” Chen said. He then switched his interest to technology and studied computer science. “But in my mind, I was always interested in technology and art, specifically visual art. So that’s why I moved to the film industry.”

The film industry in China was very far behind other countries in 1994. All media was controlled by the Chinese government, and Chen realized he wouldn’t have a lot of room to advance if he stayed. After he graduated from East China Normal University in Shanghai he knew he needed a change.

“I thought, ‘okay, that was my dream, but it looks like I have no way to realize my dream in my life,” Chen said. “I thought I needed to seek a new challenge. So one opportunity was in Singapore.”

Chen left for his new job in a new country to work in digital and electronic film production.

Because much of the population in Singapore is Chinese, Chen didn’t think there would be much culture shock in his new city. He was wrong.

“First I assumed culturally it would not be that different,” he said. “But when I moved there and started working I realized actually it’s totally different.”

English was the most common language in Singapore. Technology manuals were in English, books were in English. Even clients he worked with spoke English. But Chen was able to learn quickly and he lived in Singapore for over four years working in broadcast before he moved to the U.S. to earn his masters degree at the University of Minnesota where he would face his greatest culture shock.

“It’s kind of like dating — the girl and the boy — you think, ‘Ah, we’re human beings we know [each other],’ but when you start dating you realize that it’s a totally different world,” Chen said. “Like Mars and Venus; like East and West. It’s not just the language itself. The cultural whole thing is different.”

Chen’s friend described the difference to him that China and the U.S. are as different as two countries can be politically, socially, culturally, historically and linguistically. The difference in cultures can only be understood by going to either China or the U.S., Chen said.

“A lot of Chinese watch sitcoms. They watch ‘Friends,’ they watch old American sitcoms. They can even use the language, the slang,” Chen said. “But when they come here, just like me when I came here, I thought, ‘Oh yeah, the classroom. I’ll have classmates from around the world,’ but when I started dealing with real Americans, I realized a lot of things. The whole mentality is different.”

When Chen thinks about his hometown of Shanghai, China, he misses the cuisine the most.

“I think it must be food,” said Chen. “Because a lot of the time people think of food as just food, but actually food carries the culture everywhere.”

“The culture is just like a computer system, like an operating system,” Chen said. “You have a Mac, you have a PC, you have Windows, You have Apple,” Chen said. “Actually, the core code is the same, but we always forget the core code. We always see the surface.”

Julia Lieblich, a journalism professor in Loyola’s School of Communications, likes to go to Chinatown with Chen and talk about everything from politics to artists they know.

“He’s very warm, he’s very caring,” Lieblich said. “I think he brings that to faculty members and also the students.”

Lieblich said his caring nature became apparent when he offered to come over to her house to fix her computer, although she declined, saying she “destroyed it before he could save the day.”

When Chen moved here, he didn’t have any family in the States. His mother is nearly 80 years old, and she still lives in China, and his son is in graduate school studying genetic molecular biology in Sweden. He reads a lot, and he watches a lot of movies, especially independent films.

“I feel to tell a story truly is a remarkable thing, to communicate between different cultures,” Chen said about movies. “It touches people from everywhere, whatever language.”

Every year Chen goes back to China to visit his mother. He said he prefers to go in the summer or early fall because the weather is nicer during those months.

One of the qualities Lieblich likes most about Chen is his humbleness.

“He’s a very private person,” Lieblich said. “He’s very warm, but it’s rare that he talks about himself.”

Although Chen enjoys his privacy, Chicago felt like a good fit for him because he loves living in cities.

“The city, for me, is always the most familiar place I can play with like a playground,” Chen said. “I’m not quite sure if I lived in the suburbs I could survive. I would probably get lost.”


  • written by tlangan1 on May 4th, 2013
  • posted in News Editing

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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.