By Lori M. Quiller, AFCLC’s Outreach Team
/ Published September 01, 2020
Photo taken in the old city of Rabat, Morocco, in the summer of 2018. Courtesy of Dr. Kristin Hissong.
When you first meet Dr. Kristin Hissong, you learn very quickly not to judge the book by the cover. Her voice is friendly and disarming. She’s engaging and quickly draws you into a conversation on every level. But would you be surprised to learn her specialty is one that has taken her all over the Middle East and North Africa? Yet, she has made it her life’s work and is currently department chair and Assistant Professor of Regional and Cultural Studies, Middle East and North Africa with the Air Force Culture and Language Center (AFCLC) and the U.S. Air Force Air War College at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, AL.
Her passion for the people and culture of the Middle East and North Africa began when she was a young girl who just wanted to learn how to speak French and play hockey.
“I grew up playing ice hockey, and I wanted to learn to speak French, because I was going to play for the Montreal Canadiens, which is a professional ice hockey team based in Montreal, Canada. Yes, I was going to be the first woman to play in the National Hockey League,” Dr. Hissong laughed. “When I got into sixth grade, we had the option of choosing a language to study…French, Spanish, or German. Obviously, I chose French because I was going to play hockey for the Montreal Canadiens!”
By the time she reached high school, while she still loved the game of hockey, her view of the world began to change. For a time, Dr. Hissong wanted to study medicine but realized rather quickly that medicine was not for her.
“I wanted to help people and make our world a better place,” Dr. Hissong said. “But after nearly failing physics and chemistry, I decided I’m not a science person. What I enjoyed were my history classes and my comparative religion classes, and it was like something took hold of me. I had an aha moment!”
That moment led to a bachelor’s degree in history from Union College in Schenectady, NY, followed by a master’s in international relations from the University of Denver in Denver, CO. Finally, she received her Ph.D. in Middle Eastern Studies from the Institute for Middle East Studies at King’s College in London, UK. Dr. Hissong has teaching experience at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels in the fields of political science, international studies, theology, religious studies, ethnicity, and nationalism studies. Dr. Hissong’s current research interests and teaching repertoire include religious and national identities of Middle Eastern and North African communities with attention to inter-faith relations, cultures, nationalisms, gender, belonging, and memory and peacekeeping.
“The first time I ever left the country, I was by myself for a month-long fieldwork research trip to Morocco. There was a photography exhibition of Moroccan Jews who had left for Israel. Until then, the only thing I had heard about Judaism or studied about the history of Jewish people was about the Holocaust. But here I was in North Africa learning about Arab Jews. At that moment, it was like an explosion of curiosity. The more you know about the world, you only realize how much you don’t know. Every time I learn something new, I realize there’s so much more out there that I don’t know.”
Next, Dr. Hissong began to study the Arabic language that would allow her to work more freely in the Middle East and led to a fellowship in Jerusalem.
“Looking back to when I was so determined to learn to speak French when I was going into the sixth grade, it hits me how small my world was. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to know more and more and more,” Dr. Hissong said.
Today, as faculty department chair and Assistant Professor of Regional and Cultural Studies for the Middle East and North Africa for AFCLC, Dr. Hissong works with some of the military’s best and brightest. She reconfigured the Center’s General Officer Pre-Deployment Acculturation Course (GOPAC), which is custom-designed to prepare Air Force general officers for key overseas operational and staff assignments by providing formal, tailored instruction on culture/region with some focus on language/communication skills.
She’s also in high demand to publish and lecture. So far, in 2020, Dr. Hissong has published two books/monographs, worked on two edited volumes, and has a forthcoming journal article. She teaches elective courses and Regional Security Studies courses at the Air War College and participates in lectures for various organizations upon request, throughout and beyond the Department of Defense.
“I’m still to this day learning new things about my area of expertise. It’s like I’m putting puzzle pieces together and falling in love with everything in my area every day!” Dr. Hissong laughed.
551 E. Maxwell Blvd, Bldg 500, Maxwell AFB, AL 36112