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Coming Home

A local couple who lived for many years in China return to the home they love here

Article by Eileen M. McNamara

Photography by Vivien Stembridge, Heather Colp

Originally published in Glastonbury Lifestyle

For nearly 17 years Heather and David Colp lived and worked in Southeast Asia. David, an architect and construction manager, and Heather, an interior designer, worked for American interests abroad, largely in Japan, Taiwan and China.

It started in 2004 when the company Corning called and offered the Colps a short-term contract to help with a new factory it was building overseas. 

“Within a month we had packed up our lives and moved to Taiwan. That lasted 17 years,” Heather says. “We worked between Taiwan, Japan and China in different cities.”

They were so comfortable living and working overseas that they raised their two sons there after Heather returned home to the U.S. each time to give birth to them. The family learned Mandarin, and the two boys, Jai, who is 9 and Quin, who is 7, went to school in Taiwan and China. 

In January of 2020, the family was living in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, a commercial hub near the coast, when they started hearing about an outbreak of a respiratory illness in Wuhan, located about 420 miles north of Guangzhou. 

 “Toward the end of the month, we started hearing rumblings that this could be pretty serious.

And then, suddenly, the city of Wuhan shut down. We were worried about getting trapped in Guangzhou and we decided to fly out. We each grabbed a bag and some important documents because we figured we’d be back in a couple of weeks.”

Their ride to the airport, Heather adds, was surreal. 

“I’ve described it to people as being in something like the Twilight Zone.” 

 The family was used to seeing people in masks because they were commonly used in China well before the Covid breakout but seeing people in hazmat suits along their ride to the airport was jarring, she says. 

“We were stopped at a toll booth that led to the airport highway where officials and workers would take our temperatures. At that point, we had no idea how bad it was going to be and in the back of my mind I thought maybe we wouldn’t make it out.” 

“I was really scared that we would wake up in the morning to take our flights but the entire city would be shut down,” Heather adds. 

“We got home safely, but then we got trapped here in the U.S. for months. When I got home I told my family and friends ‘It’s coming here, it’s only a matter of time, so get ready. And then in March, it started hitting here in the U.S.”

After spending a few months here David needed to return to work and after a great deal of paperwork, got permission to return to China. Heather and the couple’s two boys remained in Glastonbury. 

“That was a tough day because when David left and we had to say goodbye we didn’t know when we’d see him again.”

 Like other parents, Heather home-schooled the boys through Zoom meetings with their teacher back in Guangzhou, though the 12-hour time difference was a constant challenge. 

David was able to return at the end of September of 2020 but his job was still in China so he and Heather decided they should all return to China so the boys could continue their online schooling there and the family could stay together. 

“My husband still had a job to do, he was in charge of a project and we didn’t want to be separated any longer.” 

She said they weren’t worried about the Covid outbreak in China because the country had been in lockdown for a month.

“It (Covid) actually wasn’t that bad because there was so much control over there.

They shut down the entire country and within a few months, they had it contained within the city of Wuhan so I wasn’t concerned for our health or our safety. If anything, we joked it was the safest place on earth because they had it covered so well.” “Fortunately, when we arrived in Wuhan, they had in-person classes. They were 2-3 times throughout the year and a half we were in Wuhan and then we switched to online school if the positive cases went up.”

The family remained in China until last June when they decided to come home for good. 

“We wanted the boys to get rooted here and I wanted to go back to work. I had stopped working when I had my first son at 37 and I missed my job. I said ‘It’s time to go back and plant some roots.’ ” 

She started her own interior design business, Colp Design and Consulting LLC, which offers commercial interior design and consulting services. David returned with the family in June but had to leave temporarily in late August to China to complete a job there and returned permanently to Glastonbury in mid-December. 

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that none of us will forget. We will forever cherish the opportunity to immerse ourselves into different cultures.”


 

Within a month we'd packed up our lives and moved to Taiwan. That lasted 17 years. We worked between Taiwan, Japan and China in different cities. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that none of us will forget. We'll forever cherish the opportunity to immerse ourselves into different cultures.” - Heather Colp

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