Sons & Daughters - Central grads are home from Hong Kong

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Kirby, Xavier and Ryan Jipp have recently returned from an extended period of living in Hong Kong.

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor

The American novelist Thomas Wolfe was wrong when he famously wrote, “You can’t go home again.” Of course, you can. No matter how far you journey you can always return to the community that helped raise you and to the people who are waiting to hear about your travels.

Over the next several weeks, the Register will publish stories about some of our sons and daughters who left here to explore other parts of the country and world. We’ll tell you where they went and what they did when they got there. We’ll talk about their challenges and triumphs. We’ll cover topics ranging from language barriers to coping with homesickness. But most importantly, we’ll share their thoughts on how growing up in a close-knit community surrounded by family and friends gave them the self-confidence to leave—and the desire to come back.

The first in this series is the story of Ryan Jipp and Kirby Hillesland Jipp, who started their married life on the other side of the world.

 Before they said “I do” to each other, Ryan and Kirby said “We do” to an incredible adventure that took them nearly 8,000 miles from their Northeast Iowa roots. The Central graduates, who wed in late 2012, spent the first three-plus years of their marriage in Hong Kong and China.

“The day after graduation (from Milwaukee School of Engineering), I went to China, and that continued every three or four months,” said Ryan. “Some of the people I worked would say things like ‘You know, you could move there.’ Well, someone looked into it and soon after that the decision was made.”

The son of Lon and Deb Lindenberg, Elkport, Ryan is an electrical engineer with Milwaukee Tool Company. He relocated a few weeks after the couple was married. His bride, the daughter of Steve and Ann McCorkindale, Mederville, followed a bit later.

Ryan worked in the Chinese province of Doung Guan, where he lived in a factory dorm during the workweek. Kirby lived in Hong Kong, which the couple decided would offer a more comfortable environment. 

Unlike Ryan, Kirby didn’t have a job waiting for her. That was a source of concern given that she’d just completed six years of study at Marquette University where she earned an advanced degree in physical therapy.

“I learned it would be possible to work there if I got a transfer of license,” said Kirby, “but, as it turned out, the process wasn’t as easy as it sounds. There are two medical colleges in Hong Kong so to give their own graduates opportunities they make it difficult for ex-pats to get jobs there. My application was rejected six times before it was finally approved.”

While wading through pre-employment red tape, Kirby was also learning how to navigate life in one of the world’s largest cities. Hong Kong has more than 7 million residents. Like many living in the heart of Hong Kong, the Jipps did not own a car. They relied on public transportation or walked to their destination.

“If I had to get one thing—like a small item to fix something around the apartment—well, that would pretty much be my day,” Kirby said. “You couldn’t just hop around the city. You’d have to go from place to place looking for exactly what you needed. And then you had to carry everything home. Shopping for groceries was never just one trip.”

To answer the questions of their large extended family back in the U.S., Kirby started a blog. Like Kirby herself, it’s straightforward and articulate with great touches of humor. As the couple’s lives became busier, the blog served as a journal of their travels. They made the most of their time abroad by visiting as many different places as possible.

“Hong Kong is a great location for travel,” Ryan explained. “It’s a one- or two-hour flight to four or five different countries. We started out with a list of places we wanted to see but the longer we stayed, the list grew.”

The Jipps also started a family while living in Hong Kong. Their son Xavier Michael Jipp was born there August 11, 2015. Having a baby didn’t slow the couple’s’ travels. In all, Kirby and Ryan visited 10 countries; Xavier was with them on seven trips, including one to Cambodia when he was just a month old.

The Jipps returned to the Midwest in early December and now make their home in Milwaukee where Ryan continues to work for Milwaukee Tool. They had an opportunity to remain in Hong Kong but both felt it was time to come home. And while the decision might have been easily made, leaving was harder than they both expected.

“We made really good friends there,” Kirby said, “people we celebrated holidays with and vacationed with. It was hard to say good-bye not knowing when or if we’d ever see them again.”

Admittedly, the Jipps traveled farther from home than most Northeast Iowans. Still, they say, they can understand why people remain in the area their entire lives, as some of their former classmates have done.

“This is an incredible place,” said Kirby. “We both feel that we got a great start in life by growing up here. We had good educations and we learned to value things like family, friends and neighbors. Never did we dream when we attended junior prom that we’d be spending our first wedding anniversary in the Maldives. We were given some amazing opportunities and I think that all we learned growing up here was part of the reason we felt brave enough to do some of the things we’ve done.”

Editor’s note: If you know someone who might be a good candidate for this series, contact Register editor Pam Reinig at or (563) 245-1311.

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