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Ian Contival On the Challenge of Transitioning From Chinese to English While Living In Taiwan (Part 1 of 2)

Ian Contival in Taiwan (Photo courtesy Ian Contival)
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In the first of this two-part series, we meet Ian Contival, a Missionary Kid who grew up in Taipei, Taiwan.

For Ian Contival, growing up as a Missionary Kid in Taipei, Taiwan from ages 2 to 17 meant that he was immersed in two cultures.

Contival’s parents, who work for an interdenominational Christian missionary organization called Youth with a Mission (YWAM), enrolled him into a local Taiwanese preschool, so while he spoke English with his parents and three younger siblings at home, his elementary school education was in Mandarin Chinese.

“I think that they [his parents] were there to stay, and they were also trying to just like immerse us in the culture,” he says. 

Ian Contival in Taiwan (Photo courtesy Ian Contival)
Ian Contival in Taiwan (Photo courtesy Ian Contival)

“So by sending even their kids [to a local school], it’s kind of signifying ‘Yes, we are here for the long term,'” according to Contival. “We are trying to be a part of this and not forcing something from the outside.”

CONTIVAL ON SWITCHING FROM CHINESE TO ENGLISH

Switching to an English-language, U.S. curriculum after sixth grade was “interesting,” he says. Contival attended high school at Morrison Academy in Taipei.

By sending even their kids [to a local school], it’s kind of signifying ‘Yes, we are here for the long term.’

“I remember going to bed at like 8:00 at night because I was so tired from completely swapping how I thought, at least in school life because at one point, when I was in sixth grade, I was at my peak in my Chinese I writing and reading,” he says, adding that to this day he still does arithmetic in Chinese in his head.

Switching grammatical systems from Chinese to English was also a challenge for him, especially writing.

“What you’ve learned for a long time was all in Chinese,” he says. “I could speak [in English] with proper grammar most of the time. But there’s certain things that, like when it came to writing, I had no clue. Commas are different and where you put a period is different. So it was a lot of transitioning.”

Taipei (Image via Pixabay)
Image by Markus Winkler from Pixabay

Even though he was a Missionary Kid, Contival’s parents didn’t try and mix us with what they were doing that much. For me, I pretty much only got the perks of it because I had friends. A lot of my close friends were also kids who were missionaries. So we all were going through the same thing. A lot of us went to local school.”

There’s certain things that, like when it came to writing, I had no clue. Commas are different and where you put a period is different. So it was a lot of transitioning.

And it wasn’t just U.S. Missionary Kids that Contival hung out with.

“It was Missionary Kids from all around the world,” he says. “I had some friends that were mixed like Taiwanese and English, I think.”

There was even a Brazilian Missionary Kid Contival made friends with where the two spoke in Chinese instead of English or Portuguese.

“That was fun,” he says. “So it was pretty cool.”

He also had local Taiwanese friends, though: “We would just play like badminton or whatever in the alley.”

UNIQUE UPBRINGING

Image by tingyaoh from Pixabay

While Contival didn’t become aware of the term Third Culture Kid (TCK) until high school, he was still aware that his upbringing was unique.

“You kind of, you know that you’re a foreigner, but then at the same time, you know you’re a special kind of foreigner,” he says. “I knew I was a Third Culture Kid, I think because I knew American culture-ish a little bit and then I knew Taiwanese culture pretty well and especially with the language thing, I’m so thankful that I did local school because I got to be able to speak Chinese fluently, without an accent.”

Being a white kid who spoke Chinese like a local was fun for Contival.

You know that you’re a foreigner, but then at the same time, you know you’re a special kind of foreigner.

“I mean, I had it good because I’m obviously a foreigner in Taiwan,” he says. “But I sounded Taiwanese. So they would like be really nervous when I first approached them and I’d just like, blah, I speak Chinese. And they’re like, they’re always shocked most of the time, especially when I first got there, like when we were first there.”

Check out Part 2 tomorrow, where Contival talks about the culture shock of moving back “home” to the United States.

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