ST. CLAIRSVILLE native Ken Holloway was living with his family in Mentor, Ohio five years ago when an unusual proposal was made that soon turned their world around ... literally.
Holloway, a 1988 graduate of St. Clairsville High School, went on to Case Western Reserve University for undergraduate studies in mechanical engineering and graduate studies in operations management. He met his future wife, Rosalind, got married, started a family and set roots in his home state of Ohio.
The Holloways had two sons, Jacob, now 11, and Teddy, now 9. Holloway was working in management at Swagelok Fluid System Technologies in Northeast Ohio and his wife was working for a medical company in Cleveland when, in 2005, her company asked if she would be able to relocate to China to work at their Asian headquarters in Shanghai.
KEN HOLLOWAY, his wife, Rosalind, and sons Jacob and Teddy, from left, feel right at home on the football field, albeit in their far away home of Shanghai, China. Here Holloway coaches his “Red Dragons.”
"When she first brought the topic up, my initial reaction was 'there's no way we're moving to China!'" he said.
At that time, however, the Holloways were focusing on their career development, and the more they thought about what at first seemed like an outlandish proposition, the more they considered their future and the unique opportunity to do something that could benefit them on many different levels.
The thought of moving to the other side of the world seems like a huge step, but they could not grasp at the time the true scope of the life-changing experience it would turn out to be.
"We thought that maybe moving to a foreign country could really help with our personal and professional development," Holloway said.
At the time, sons Jake and Teddy were in first grade and pre-school, respectively. This was a major concern when considering the big move, but the more the Holloways looked into it, the more they were convinced that this relocation to a foreign land was quite feasible.
Months later in 2005, the Holloways found themselves in Shanghai - population 20 million - the urban metropolis of the Peoples Republic of China.
"Shanghai is a very international city," said Holloway. "It's not impossible to get around without knowing the language. But it took us a good six months to get settled in. It probably took a year before things became as normal as they can be living in a foreign land. There's a lot of adjustments to be made."
Ken Holloway was also able to transfer his work duties through Swagelok's industrial supply business in Asia.
"For the first year and a half, I continued to work," he said. "This was going on for almost the first two years there, and it was really challenging. It required me to travel around Asia, and I always found myself on conference calls to the U.S. in the middle of the night, because Shanghai is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time."
As Rosalind Holloway's career continued to present opportunities for her, they decided that Ken could quit his job and focus more on the home front, the kids and their family.
Living in China, the family was able to adjust more quickly for many reasons. For one, the international metropolis of Shanghai has fairly large communities of people from the Western world.
"GM has a huge factory in Shanghai," Holloway said. "That alone brings a lot of people from Detroit and the Midwest there. In fact, my next door neighbor is from East Liverpool, Ohio. Across the street, there's someone from Mentor, Ohio. It's very nice to have that there. It shows you that it really is a small world."
The children attend school where English is the primary language and the curriculum is an American one. Chinese is obviously taught in school, along with other subjects.
The language is nothing like Spanish, French or the other Romance languages, which at least use an alphabet instead of symbols.
"My wife and I took Chinese lessons when we arrived," Holloway said. "She's been able to progress quite a bit, especially since she's always around it at work. Mine is still basic. They call it 'taxi Chinese,' because you basically have the skills to tell a Chinese-speaking taxi driver where you're going.
"The language is very complex."
Their older son, Jake, can read and write at a basic level, and younger son, Teddy, continues to expand his Chinese vocabulary and speaking skills.
"That's a tremendous benefit for them," Holloway said. "They have friends and classmates from all over the world. They're global kids. Their childhood has been so much different than ours. This experience, living in a different culture, is going to set them up so well for the future."
Since stepping away from his job and focusing more on the family, Ken Holloway has become very involved with the kids' school. He plans to begin substitute teaching there in the fall.
A factor that had the potential to add to the culture shock was the fact that Holloway is a self-proclaimed sports fanatic - American sports fanatic, that is. He played many different sports in high school and in college, and continue playing sports and coaching afterwards, as well. In China, he started an American football team and league for the children there and is an assistant coach on the school's baseball team. According to Holloway, the availability of participation in these team sports in China gives the American kids living there a great opportunity to stay active and continue their skills with these sports, which will be helpful when they return to the United States.
Ken Holloway himself has also played softball in China, which has given him the opportunity to visit and play in several countries throughout Asia, including Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Korea and other countries.
The family has also been able to travel across China and beyond. Ken's mother, Pat Holloway, comes to visit quite often. In fact she has visited seven times over the past five years and is planning an eighth visit.
The Holloways have seen the Great Wall of China, cruised the Yangtze River, marvelled at the Xi'an Terracotta Warriors, visited Beijing and experienced the unique cultures in several different parts of China.
According to Holloway, visits to the smaller Chinese villages are among the most interesting experiences, mostly because the people there rarely have an opportunity to come in contact with "foreigners." Oftentimes, the folks from the villages gather around the children to smile and take pictures as if his boys were "rock stars," he said.
Every summer, the Holloways return to the United States to visit family and friends. Because of her job, Rosalind cannot stay as long as Ken and the boys, but she makes sure her return trip includes a week in the middle of July. Ken and Roz make it a point to be back for Jamboree In The Hills, which in itself is a reunion for many - especially St. Clairsville alumni.
"You miss your family and friends when you're over there," Holloway said. "But the typical international work assignment is two to three years. We've gone beyond that. Right now, we feel that China is our home. We have a dog there, and all of our belongings. While we're visiting here, we're living out of suitcases."
When the Holloways make return visits to America, they not only catch up with family and friends, but also get to enjoy the bounty of the Western world that just isn't available overseas. Ken said they have spent a lot of time just gawking at the wide selection of items available in the grocery aisles of stores like Riesbeck's.
"There are so many choices at the grocery stores here," he said during his most recent visit to the states. "Over there (in China), you usually have only one choice of each 'imported' item, and it's usually expensive."
Driving is also a luxury. In a city like Shanghai where there are so many millions of people, getting behind the wheel just doesn't seem safe - particularly to a Westerner.
"That's another adjustment when you're just not able to drive there," Holloway related. "It really cuts down on your flexibility to do things."
Getting back behind the wheel here in America, Holloway said he sometimes feels like he's driving in Shanghai.
"It really looks like chaos on the streets over there," he said, "but a Chinese friend of mine says he sees harmony when looking at these huge masses of traffic flowing together.
"Still, I think I get some dirty looks sometimes when I'm driving back home."
During the U.S. visits, they travel around, attend sporting events, do some vacationing and just enjoy their time here. The boys also take part in sports camps in Wheeling when they are in the Ohio Valley.
"They like the small town fell, and I think it's good for them," said Holloway. "But living in Shanghai for the past five years, they think Cleveland is a small town!"
Technology has also helped the Holloways adjust to life in China while still maintaining roots in America. Because of the international community in Shanghai, Holloway said the presence of the communist government isn't really felt. Because of the government control there, he has to rely on some unconventional methods of utilizing the Internet to stay in contact with friends from the United States through Facebook and other sites. He uses a Slingbox to watch sports, noting that his sister keeps a devise in her basement in Columbus that via computer allows him to view NFL games and other sporting events on the other side of the world. That way, he is able to keep up with the Browns, Indians, Buckeyes and his other favorite teams.
Holloway and his sons plan to return home to China early next week. Long-term plans are in the works, however, to return to the United States for good. They've already begun looking at neighborhoods in the area around Nashville, Tenn., where his wife's current employer is based.
"I'd say we will probably be back within the next year or two," he said.
To this day, the Holloways are still making adjustments to their daily routines because of challenges brought on by living in a foreign country. When they return, they expect to be faced with a whole new set of cultural challenges.
"We're expatriates," he explained. "We will have to go through repatriation. When you have lived abroad and do come back, a lot of people struggle. There are some major adjustments people have to go through."
Holloway said the six-week summer visits to the states will certainly help the family be better prepared for their readjustment to American life.
"My perspective, personally, has changed," he said of the overall experience. "When I see someone from a foreign country lost at the airport, obviously not knowing the language, I want to help them. I've been there. I know how they feel.
"I see people who are reluctant to move away from their home towns for some of the same reasons I was reluctant to move to China. But in the long run, a big change like that can really benefit them. In order to grow personally and professionally, people have to step outside of their comfort zones. You have to do things that aren't easy to do.
"Initially, I thought that there was no way we could move to China, but in hindsight, it's been great for us. We're global people, and that's really a great thing."
Ayres can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.