In Part 2 of this series on Missionary Kid Ian Contival, he talks about the culture shock of moving back “home” to the United States after having lived in Taiwan since the age of 2.
While living in Taiwan, Ian Contival and his family would visit the United States about every two years “to see family, eat American food and buy a ton of clothes and candy,” he says with a laugh.
Moving back “home” to the U.S. at age 19 (his parents and three younger siblings are still in Taiwan) was something of a shock for Contival, who now lives in Fort Collins, Colo., where he works as a barista and attends community college.
“I was pretty fortunate with my transition because I came here during January of 2020, and so COVID happened like two months afterwards, like the shutdown and whatnot,” he says. “So I think my culture shock was also mixed with just general shock for everybody. It was kind of like camouflaged a little bit.”
“I’m pretty sure I had it [culture shock] good,” he continues. “I definitely think I’ve realized there were certain things like the fluff that people do sometimes when it comes to communicating here, I wasn’t used to that.”
One thing Contival — who works in the service industry — noticed was how people in the U.S. interact when shopping in stores or coffee shops:
People like in stores in Taiwan just kind of like greet them, do business and then like, ‘Thanks for coming.’ In the States you’re like, ‘Oh, how’s it going,’ stuff like that. And at first, I don’t know, in my head I’m like, ‘With that question, you’re not actually trying to know how I’m doing.’ It’s just formalities and I didn’t like that. It’s little things like that I realized that were my difference in culture that I just didn’t really connect with. So I was just kind of like a little bit pissed off at everybody while I was [manning the cash] register.
Learning U.S. pop culture references are also something Contival has had to deal with.
“It’s like, yeah, there’s certain things I’m just not gonna get. If there’s pop culture references, old movies, those are all things that I’m like, yeah, you’re probably gonna have to fill me in on that one,” he says with a laugh.
CONTIVAL AND HIS CAREER GOALS
Growing up abroad has led Contival to want to pursue a master’s degree in counseling.
“At first, I wanted to do some stuff in music and I realized it probably could just be a hobby rather than like a career, because I wasn’t really taking it that seriously. And then counseling was brought up and I was like, well there’s something in my heart that kinda clicked,” he says.
“I think the more I’ve interacted with people, the more I’m like, yeah, this could be something I could do,” he adds. “And I definitely think people who have grown up third culture, like as Third Culture Kids definitely, there’s certain things you just kind of bypass sometimes, and you can just connect. Especially when it comes to moving and there’s certain things I know I can connect to people with, even if it’s not like necessarily in the same, like exact same way.”
COLLECTIVE VS. INDIVIDUAL
Moving back to the U.S. after living in Taiwan for 17 years also helped Contival note the differences in cultures between the two countries.
“I’ve become more of an individual person, like individual versus collective culture, like Taiwan’s,” he says. In Taiwan, “we’re a collective unit, you work within that. And then the States is definitely more individualized.”
“And so, you’re learning how to be your own person,” he continues. “I got the collective aspect down because that’s where I grew up, and now I’m learning how to become my own person, thinking for myself and things like that.”
CONTIVAL ON STRENGTHENING HIS FAITH
That dichotomy between the collective and the individual has helped Contival strengthen his own personal faith.
You’re learning how to be your own person.
“With that all meshed together in like a spiritual sense, it’s just really helped me know more about myself and with that, connect to the Lord because of that,” he says.
For a grown-up Missionary Kid, moving back to the U.S. “was a massive transition,” Contival says, where for some it can be the cause of a loss of faith. Not for him, though.
“Moving to the States, that’s kind of what happened to me,” he says. “I’ve been holding on to [my faith] because it is something that’s constant and if you do have a relationship with the Lord, you see Him help you through life stages. So yeah, that’s definitely been something I’ve held onto. And I think moving here, it’s you either go one of two ways: You choose to either continue to try and follow Him or not, and you have to make a separation. You can’t be lukewarm, especially when it’s massive transitions.”
“So moving to the States was a massive transition, and so I chose to continue with the Lord,” he says.
When asked what is a lesson he learned as a Missionary Kid when coming back to his “home” country and adapting to U.S. culture, Contival says there is value in every culture.
“Go into it looking like that and then things become a lot more appealing and easier,” he says. “And if you’re choosing to move somewhere, you are going to be letting go of certain aspects of yourself.”
Moving to the States was a massive transition, and so I chose to continue with the Lord.
Being OK with that and learning to be OK with bringing in things that you might not necessarily like at first “because it’s just how you were brought up, but you can learn to like it if you choose to” is also important, he adds.