Notable Alumni

Notable alumni

Abigail Chiu '16

Not all HKIS alumni are graduates of the school -- in fact, given the nature of our school, most aren't.

We have a double twist on that fact and want to give you all an update on an HKIS alumna who hasn't graduated – but who will be returning to HKIS to do so!

Abigail Chiu is currently taking a year away from HKIS to concentrate on her chosen sport of tennis, training in the US at The Advantage Doyle Tennis Academy in Austin, Texas.

The good news is that the hard work is paying off - Abigail is now ranked number six in the United States in girls aged 12.

Before heading out, Abigail was ranked at number one in the Hong Kong 2009 girl’s singles order (aged between 10-12) and once in the US began to rapidly rise up the rankings. Over the summer months alone, Abigail moved up 704 places in the US rankings, taking her from 732 to 28 – more matches later and she had jumped again to her current position at number six in the US!

In May 2010, Abigail was announced as the Hong Kong recipient of the ‘Longines Future Tennis Aces’ award. The prize not only celebrated her up-and-coming status on the court, but also included a trip to Paris to see the ‘French Open at Roland Garros’ and compete as the Hong Kong representative in the Future Aces tournament held there.

Abigail has certainly come a long way since her first taste of tennis at five years old and we look forward to seeing her back at HKIS next year.

You can keep up to date with her latest ranking by clicking HERE.

And you can check-out the latest match results HERE.

Source: HKIS Parent Clifford Chiu, January 2011

Adam Levowitz '87

Adam Levowitz '87 - A World of Music

At HKIS Adam Levowitz ’87 discovered music and the love of his life. DragonTales finds out more...

Adam Levowitz ’87 arrived in Hong Kong from Houston, Texas in 1983 -- the summer after his 8th grade year. He had always been musical -- taken piano lessons, sung in choirs and been part of musical shows, but it was at HKIS that he really started to take music seriously.

"My teachers were a huge influence on me - Bill Kuhn was the Choir Director and became a mentor and friend. Debbie Gibbs was the Drama Director and was very important.”

In the summer after 9th grade, Adam taught himself to play the trumpet. When he returned to school that fall, he was placed in the advanced band grouping.

Little could he have known, but his efforts over the summer to learn the trumpet would pay off in a different way. For on his very first day in the advanced band class he met Janet Dressler, who would later become his wife.

The couple dated all through HKIS and married in 1992, and today have two children, Max (14) and Samantha (10).

Adam’s Band Director at HKIS was Stuart Bonner. It was he who gave Adam his first professional break, playing trumpet in the pit orchestra for the American Community Theater in the show Sweet Charity.

"I was playing third trumpet and was really struggling to keep up with two other terrific players. Remember, I had only been playing trumpet for 10 months.”

Yet later that year, Mr. Bonner had Adam conduct the band at school. “I was totally clueless! I vividly remember seeing Leah Boggs ’86 at the back of the room on the drum set showing me how to move my hands to lead the band.”

In 11th grade, Adam became the unofficial assistant to Bill Kuhn. When Bill returned to the US during the school year to visit his ill mother, Adam ended up teaching his 7th and 8th grade chorus class.

Bill also provided Adam with many opportunities to play professionally, hiring him to play in the Church of All Nations at different meetings and functions.

Upon graduating from HKIS, Adam returned to the US to attend college and studied a degree in music. He then moved to New York and worked as a music director for off-Broadway and regional theater.

From here he moved to be the Artistic and Music Director for a non-profit arts organization outside Houston, Texas for about four years, where we produced concerts, musicals & operas.”

Adam then spent ten years working as a music teacher and band/choir director, and then two years in a Catholic High School in Salt Lake City, Utah. “So there I was, a Jewish music teacher in a Catholic School in a Mormon State,” he smiles.

Every year since 2001, Adam has produced a concert called Now Come The Names - a tribute to the victims of September 11.

"This features two pieces I composed in November 2001. Now Come The Names is a choral piece based on a few lines from a speech President George W. Bush gave at the National Prayer service a few days after the attacks. The other is a setting of all four verses of the Star Spangled Banner. Both pieces are on my website.”

A few years back, Adam joined the US Army as a trumpet player with the 257th Army Band in Washington, DC. The highlight was playing for President Barack Obama at the Southern States Ball in January 2009, which was quite a thrill and an honor.”

"I even did ten weeks of regular Army Basic Combat Training (Boot Camp) with guys half my age (I turned 41 in November). It was a challenge, but I enjoyed it. The training is the same regardless of your job. I was toe-to-toe with young men who are destined for combat zones.”

Today he is teaching choir and AP Music Theory at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology outside Washington, DC.

The school was rated number one in the country three years in a row by US World News.

"We are singing at Carnegie Hall next week which includes the world premiere performance of a new choral piece I composed called Magnificent,” Adam says proudly.

Adam keeps in touch with Debbie Gibbs, Bill & Kris Kuhn - through Facebook. He hears from many people from the class of 1987 and recently made contact with Jeanette Black. “Of course, I am married to Janet Dressler and her sister Ann was at HKIS.”

Contact Adam at: 

Source: DragonTales Volume 13 Summer Edition 2010

Andrew Yip '06

HKIS Scholarship student Andrew Yip '06

In October 2008, Andrew Yip ’06 traveled from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon to Washington DC to receive his scholarship to the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia. This was the latest trip in what has proven to be an epic adventure for Andrew, during which he has picked up several scholarships along the way.

His first scholarship was awarded by HKIS when he was selected as the recipient of the Annual Fund Merit and Need-Based Scholarship from among 200 of his peers on the Summer Program for Gifted Talented Local Students. Andrew joined HKIS for grade 12 and completed his education at the school. Prior to this Andrew had been studying at a local English Medium of Instruction School in Hong Kong.

He describes studying at HKIS as “exciting.” “HKIS American–style curriculum and approach to education gave me the flexibility to select my own courses and to set my own goals.”

Philip Yip, Andrew’s dad and HKIS security guard, says the HKIS scholarship started his son along the road to success. “At HKIS he was able to build the foundations to grow and go from strength to strength. The school helped him to develop his self-confidence and taught him how to work smart. He has and continues to build on this learning much to his own personal success.”

Recognizing his potential, HKIS counselors encouraged Andrew to apply for university scholarships to US universities. And he was successful – on graduating from HKIS, Andrew learned he had received a scholarship to Lewis and Clark College, where he has been able to further test the waters and discover what motivates and interests him academically.

“In my first year I focused on music,” says Andrew, who is a keen organist and former Church of All Nations player. “In my second year at Lewis and Clark I changed focus from music to Economics.” Now in my third year I am shifting my focus towards Mathematics. I am also taking some courses in the Computer Science Department.”

He finds all four disciplines – music, economics, math and computer studies – similar. “Each requires careful analysis on the subject matter as well as interdisciplinary reasoning.”

Andrew is still active in playing the organ on campus and in church services at a nearby Lutheran Church. He will complete his studies at Lewis and Clark in 2010 before taking up his latest scholarship place at KAUST. The new University opened this year and is dedicated to inspiring scientific achievement in the Kingdom to benefit the region and the world.

“I received the KAUST Discovery Scholarship for current undergraduate students (junior or above) in Science and Engineering related fields. The application process included an online application, essays, and an interview with the officers from the University,” says Andrew.

He says KAUST is established upon four major interdisciplinary research centers. “I am most interested in projects related to behavioral modeling - I love economics, Artificial Intelligence, and applied mathematics in engineering.”

Andrew is one of just 60 students in North America to receive a scholarship to KAUST. What’s more, this scholarship covers tuition and living expenses for his two remaining years at Lewis and Clark.

“This is a great relief,” says Andrew, who has been working on campus as a tutor and teaching assistant to support his living. “Now it’s not all about money anymore. I can focus more closely on the academic work and research that really interests me, and attend academic conferences and present papers with fewer financial constraints.”

Philip says his son is a good example of the Annual Fund in action, and how the work the fund makes possible often lives on long after its beneficiaries leave HKIS.

As for Andrew, he is always interested to hear about happenings at HKIS from his Dad and teachers. He is still in contact with other alums, including Will Watson and Chris Tang who also study at Lewis and Clark College.

“I am in contact with Jeremy Nelson who is at the nearby Reed College. For friends not in the region, I keep in touch with them through MSN and Facebook. It is always great to hear the latest updates on their academic progress, travels, and when they plan to visit Hong Kong,” he says.

He says he remains thankful to teachers and staff members at HKIS, “For without them and their inspirations, nothing could have happened. I also thank HKIS for caring about me so much even after my graduation.”

Source: DragonTales Volume 10 Winter Edition 2008

Charles Watson '09

Since leaving HKIS, Charles Watson has spent a gap-year in Nepal and more recently Ghana, working to develop a low power-consumption computer to provide increased learning technology for students where the power supply is unstable, difficult to access, or non-existent.

Charles has directed his efforts in two directions: developing a computer powered from a 12-volt DC battery source that can be charged when mains-power is available or via solar panels; and preloading the computers with Ubuntu Linux and educational content in both English and Nepali.

Charles has met with businessmen from INGOs and NGOs, manufacturers and suppliers in his quest for parts to build his computers, and has already provided 35 machines, twenty of which were delivered to a school in Nepal in December 2009.

One ‘next step’ is to pursue a sponsor/developer to champion the sourcing of low power LCD screens for his computers that would reduce their power requirement even further. Charles working on the 35kg tubular lead-acid battery In addition to the hands-on immediacy of building and delivering his computers, Charles is also endeavoring to ensure his work continues long after his gap-year work is finished, by building interest and relationships with local Nepali businessmen.

DragonTales caught up with Charles and asked him some question:

How do you spend a typical day?

Most of the work I’m doing on the ground is finding ‘the perfect school’. The computers are quite valuable, and it is key to find a school which won’t use them inappropriately. I want hese computers to be doing what they do best – providing students access to computer-based learning. It would be a real shame if I donated three or four computers to a school, and they ended up being sold at the market, or if the school administrators used them just for office work. A lot of what I do is meeting people, visiting schools, networking, things that ensure we will find the best schools to help.

I will usually spend a day with the students and teachers, showing them the basics of how to use a computer, as often they have never used a computer before.

What were the main problems you encountered in Nepal & Ghana? How did you overcome them?

The biggest problem I encountered was trying to get the computers into the country. I had these donor-funded computers which were to be used in schools and not sold for profit. I had letters from donors, from the recipient schools, months of email exchanges proving this was not for profit, yet at every step we’d have to pay tax, driving up the cost of the computers.

While I was building the computers there were problems. In both Ghana and Nepal I’d be working one moment and the lights would be out the next. I realized pretty quickly in Nepal that I would need to run them on solar-powered batteries.

You mentioned that the projects will continue to run even without your presence, how is this possible? What arrangements do you have in place?

In Nepal, I stayed with a friend of high school teacher Mr. Friedericks. I showed him the computers and software inside and out. Now that I’m gone, he has the contact information of all the hardware manufacturers where he can get this specialized equipment, plus the information on how to build the computers. Since leaving Nepal, I’ve been forwarding emails to him from people who want to buy the solar powered computers.

Secondly, the computers are designed using locally available parts – unlike the One Laptop Per Child project, where the parts are proprietary. If the RAM in one of my computers breaks down in a school in Nangi village, they can get a replacement in a nearby town – they don’t have to wait two months for a container ship.

Why service and why now when most of your peers are off to college?

My parents often ask me the same thing! I’m very glad that I took this gap year, on a personal level as well as an educational one. Before taking this gap year, I wanted to study photography, as it is another huge hobby of mine (you can see the photos I’ve taken over the course of the gap year on my website, www.charlesparkerwatson. com). After working on my senior project, I saw how applicable this technology was in schools around the world, and I wanted to work on that. Although there is certainly a service component, it seemed like a mix of real-world experience, a test of my abilities, and even a chance for fun: I’ve always loved traveling, and I knew the project would be a great experience and a way to balance photography and computer science.

Will you go to college – if so where and to study what? Where do you see yourself settling?

Yes, although I will not go next year. This gap year taught me how little I really know in the field of computer science, and I’d love to learn more. I reapplied to colleges and was accepted in a few Engineering programs with a major in computer science, but I will take one more year on this project. I feel that in the next year, I can really sow the seeds for long-term success on this project.

How has the support of Ken Koo ’79 helped drive this project, who else encouraged you?

The support of the HKIS community and my fellow alums Ken Koo and Lincoln Chan has been so amazing. This project was originally going to be just six computers paid for by myself working a summer job, but the donations and help from the HKIS community pushed that number up close to one hundred. It’s been incredible how willing people have been to help and turn this idea into something tangible.

Mr. Friedericks set me up with my host in Nepal, and his interim group further helped out. There was a student-led group to Nepal (separate from the interim) which went over Chinese New Year, they also brought computers into the country. Marcia Barham, a lower primary music teacher, helped me find a host family in Ghana. That’s not even including the many donors I met through the HKIS community who actually paid for the additional computers I’ve been distributing in the recent months. The support of the HKIS community has been so integral to the success of the project. Thanks everybody!

Are you missing your family, how do you deal with that?

Not just my family, but my friends, and Hong Kong itself. Thankfully, I’ve got the blog which really helps me stay in touch with people – I feel as if I’m talking to people face to face when I write the blog. I try to update it as often as possible, and I love it when people comment on the blog or email me. In both Nepal and Ghana I always had people to talk to, both in English and my fledgling Nepali and Ewe skills. Learning at least a few phrases in the local language is also important: yesterday I had a (somewhat basic) conversation with someone on the bus in Ewe, which made me feel at home.

How HKIS helped to shape you?

HKIS opened up the world. I think the thing HKIS does best is showing students that the world is out there. You look around your math class and you see people from all over the world. You look around the high school Humanities office and you have teachers who have spent a sizeable portion of their careers working at a school in a country whose name you cannot even pronounce. Plus,there’s PEAK week in middle school and the Interim program in the high school. I would not be talking to you from Ghana right now if it weren’t for these experiences I received as an HKIS student. The school makes a real effort to show students that there is life outside of Hong Kong, and that had a huge impact on me.

Can alumni support your project –how?

Definitely! If you want to get in touch with me so I can explain the project better, you can send an email to, or visit my website. Alumni and people in the HKIS community in general have so much to teach me, and guidance from alumni who often have experience in what I’m trying to do is very important. Additionally, the computer labs I’m setting up are paid for in part by donors from the HKIS community, which of course has really helped turn this project into what it is. Finally, if alumni are connected to a rural school without access to electricity, I’d be happy to hear from you – perhaps we could work something out.

Where do you envision yourself five years from now?

Graduating from college! After that, I’d really like to put what I learned in university to use and think about continuing this project. As I mentioned earlier, I’ll be formalizing this project into an NGO and working to continue the project throughout college, even if the amount of time I can spend on administering the project drops to an email or two per week. After college, I could imagine returning to work on this project for a few years – it definitely has wide potential throughout the world, as many places throughout the world will not have access to electricity for decades to come.

Contact: or

Source: DragonTales Volume 13 Summer Edition 2010

David Begbie '94 and Joshua Begbie '96

David "Biff" Begbie '94 and Joshua Begbie '96 - Bob Christian Alumnus / Alumna of the year award recipient 2008/2009

We are in constant amazement that our lives can be used to serve. In all honesty, never in a million years, would either Josh or I have imagined we’d be doing the jobs we are doing now. David (known as “Biff” during my HKIS days), a noisy dude who enjoyed drama, accents, cultures, and public speaking; Josh, a ‘thinking man’ with a knack for math, science, and systems thinking – both of us wanted to use our skills to help people, but neither of us really knew how.

Looking back over the last few years, however, Josh, with his partiality to anything in a spread sheet, continues to harness this into transforming communities through good business. He works full-time with Crossroads’ efforts to practice and share about fair trade, and also helps the boards of various Asian Fair Trade bodies. Recently joining him on this extraordinary life journey is his lovely wife, Emma, a pediatric speech therapist whom Josh married in April 2012, and their decidedly small, but cute, puppy Dudley.

“Biff”, on the other hand, is still continuing to use his random skill-set (if such is indeed the correct term for what he has!), overseeing sets designs, training, and facilitation of the experiential simulations which immerse companies, schools and individuals into the plights faced by those in need. For him, the greatest joy of now having seen almost 100,000 participants go through these programs is watching participants engage with issues they may never have dreamt of exploring before. David is accompanied by his stunning wife, Liz, who also serves on the full time team at Crossroads, and their two small, studly little boys: Callum (3) and Conway (1).

Life continues to roll, but both Josh and I remain grateful, that in the midst of it all, our lives can offer a little respite to a world in need. We had thought that, to serve, we had to become like Mother Theresa. Wonderfully, though, we are learning that her principles can be outworked in a business suit, theatrical costumes, and in a thousand other ways when hearts are willing.

“We can do no great deeds, only small deeds with great love.” – Mother Theresa

For more info about the Begbies' receiving the Bob Christian Award in 2009 - click here.

Source: DragonTales Winter 2012 / 2013


Derek Kwik '86

Catching up with Derek Kwik '86

In 2006, HKIS alumnus and extreme athlete Derek Kwik ’86 started to pen his first motivational book: Kwik Fix. For every month thereafter, when his friends asked “when is the book going to be published”, he confidently replied, “next month”.

Derek says the running joke among his friends is that Kwik Fix is a motivational book published by an unmotivated publisher. Written in 2006; published in 2009.

"Go on, you can laugh,” he says. “I have been laughing for nearly three years, and crying.”

Despite the delay in publication, no one would consider Derek anything other than driven, focused, motivated, and an inspiration to others. What’s more, “catching up” with him would prove to be quite difficult. Why? You would have to run across six deserts, two jungles, and a mountain.

While not a professional athlete, he has logged over 7,000 kilometers in training and international competition.

Derek is the first Chinese in the world to have run across the four most extreme deserts: the Gobi Desert (highest), theAtacama Desert (driest), the Sahara Desert (hottest) and the South Pole (coldest).

Further, he balances this with a successful career in finance and motivational speaking to schools, corporations, and government and professional organizations.

People find Derek’s experiences inspiring, and he loves sharing them with others, especially children.

"I want young people to pick something they never thought they could do yesterday, and do it today. I spend my time helping others overcome their obstacles by sharing stories about how I overcame mine.”

Personal achievement aside, at the heart of each of Derek’s endurance marathons has been a cause that means much to him: the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). He has run over 1,000 kilometers raising money for SPCA and donates any profits from his speeches to the organization.

The proceeds from Kwik Fix will also go to benefit SPCA. He describes the book as “An inspirational book about Derek, Jamie (his beloved dog who passed away in 2006) and all those who have shared his life.”

"It is also a book about my epic adventures across some of the harshest and most inhospitable places on the planet.”

"It is an encapsulation of all my emotions – my highest high, my lowest low and the priceless lessons that I have learned to assimilate into my daily living within an urban concrete jungle.”

The book is available at retail outlets throughout Asia, and in North America in limited quantities. To obtain a copy you can also contact Rebecca Ngan, SPCA at Upon receipt of a cash donation, a complimentary copy of KwikFix will be mailed to you.

Source: DragonTales Volume 12 Winter Edition 2009

Emily Ma Richardson '93

Alumni Challenge Special - Emily Ma Richardson ’93

We caught up with Emily Ma Richardson ’93 as she remembers her times at HKIS, inspirational service trips and how an appreciation of Asian culture brought her back to Hong Kong. Emily takes up the story...

My closest friends are from HKIS. Even though we went our separate ways for college, we eventually reunited – whether during my time in Washington DC or New York. What amazes me is now I’m back in Hong Kong, I’m closer to them more than ever. It was December 2010 when I married in London and was I so touched by the number of HKIS friends who flew from all corners of the world to be by my side – a truly globetrotting group of friends!

(L-R) Ingrid (Wong) Yates ’92, Liz (Longley) Komosa ’93, Michelle (Chang)
Song ’93, Gene Song ’93, Emily Ma Richardson ’93, Kate (Marshall)
Huntington ’93), Lisa Ting ’93, Angela (Lee) Sullivan ’93, Tiffany Yip ’93.

I attended HKIS from the middle of Grade 6 until graduation and I have fond memories of many teachers: Mr. Larkin, who I was fortunate enough to have for two years; Mr. Ewing, who made reading the classics so much more enjoyable; Mr. McCarthy, whose classes involved being a former US president for the day, and to Mr. Eichert, whose biology class involved dissecting animals that frequently made appearances on top of the statue at the school entrance! The teachers at HKIS had an amazing ability to brighten up the most challenging of topics and went to extraordinary lengths to engage students across a range of classes. This dedication and encouragement gave me such a solid background and prepared me so well for college – it enabled me to step up in the real world.

What I also enjoyed about HKIS was that education stretched from the classroom to the great outdoors. What other school offers such enriching experiences, from skiing in Japan to hiking and rafting in Nepal to meeting Mother Teresa in India? These trips sparked an interest in Asian studies and prompted me to spend a college semester studying in India and Nepal and eventually move back to Asia.

I was a keen swimmer and member of the field hockey team and was lucky enough to travel to Taipei, Singapore and Japan, representing HKIS. I’m not sure how Ms.Duncan-Laird continually summoned the energy to motivate and manage us all, but she did, and we were the best hockey team in Hong Kong during that time. Being part of a team was invaluable experience and this, coupled with having the opportunity to travel to far-flung destinations in Asia, instilled a sense of maturity, adventure and camaraderie – strong foundations that help me today. I enjoyed 12 years in the hotel industry across the US and Asia, focusing on sales and marketing. In 2010 I decided it was time to leverage this experience and set up my own company – Flaunt Boutique (, an online destination for luxurious and unique lingerie.

L-R Angela (Lee) Sullivan ’93, Tiffany Yip ’93, Emily
Ma Richardson ’93, Liam Richardson, Lisa Ting ’93,
Kate (Marshall) Huntington ’93, Michelle (Chang) Song ’93,
Gene Song ’93

I had always talked about having my own business and having returned to entrepreneurial Hong Kong I decided the time was right. Since moving back to Hong Kong six years ago, I have wanted to give back to HKIS in some way, and now I know how I can – I would love to mentor those who are interested in starting their own business by sharing my challenges and successes. Eventually I would love to offer summer internships opportunities for those interested in understanding the operations of an online retail store.

My years at HKIS gave me the confidence that anything is possible. It was the amazing teachers, the multi-cultural students and the abundance of activities available that made me feel that my choices were endless.

Get in touch!
Alums can contact Emily via

Source: DragonTales Summer Edition 2011

Jason Ing '99

HKIS Grad Goes 'Nuts' - Jason Ing '99

Ever wonder what unusual ventures HKIS graduates embark upon? Some take more traditional paths, others more uncharted. How about a graduate who has delved into the world of coconuts? Jason Ing, HKIS ‘99, with his father, entrepreneur Alex Ing, and two friends have started a coconut water company called Jax Coco, and Jason believes his time at HKIS has prepared him well for the ups and downs of the start-up world.

Jason was born and raised in Canada until the age of 13, when his father relocated back to Hong Kong for work. Jason started 9th grade at HKIS adapting to the international and third-culture atmosphere. Though many friends moved away during his high school years, he learned to embrace the sometimes transitory environment and view it in a positive light as it taught him to make the most of the present and value the time he had with teachers and friends.

Eventually his father started his own business, as did his mother, and he cut his teeth helping with the different family businesses, ranging from renewable energies to cosmetics. After attending the University of Toronto’s Trinity College where he studied English, Psychology and Cinema Studies, Jason went to Beijing for a year to solidify his Mandarin skills, knowing that China would be a big part of his business future.

About a year ago, Jason and his father met a couple, Max and Jane Gottschalk, who had recently moved to Hong Kong. At dinner, the talk shifted to their shared love for coconut water. They wondered why there wasn’t a homegrown coconut drink company in Hong Kong, despite the proliferation of coconuts in the region. Their chemistry clicked and the four decided to start their own coconut water company, called Jax Coco. The Jax name comes from a compilation of the founders’ names: Jane, Jason, Alex, and Max. The team envisions their coconut water becoming a prevalent part of people’s lives – as prosaic as drinking regular water – but with additional health benefits. Seeking to produce a product that could reach different sectors of the market, the Jax team decided to bottle the water in stylish glass bottles, in addition to the widely used tetrapaks for easy travel.

Jax Coco aims to become a renowned lifestyle brand in Asia and worldwide. Jason loved his time at HKIS and appreciates the wonderful teachers and friends he had at school. Learning how to learn, how to ask questions, and how to work as a team has played a critical role in his development as a person and professional. “HKIS really encourages individual growth with a focus on tolerance, community, and appreciating one’s journey,” said Jason. Dragon Tales wishes Jason all the best in his ventures. And if you are curious about what he does in his spare time, he still plays the drums with an HKIS faculty jazz band, so look out for him at school events! Jax Coco will be holding a charity hike event around Tai Tam Country Park and the HKIS field on February 17, 2013, so join in with your energy and thirst!

Get in touch
For more details about Jax Coco and the charity hike, visit

Source: DragonTales Winter 2012 / 2013

Jonathan Mueller '94 and Eric Mueller '96

Onward and Upward for Jonathan Mueller '94 & Eric Mueller '96

For Mueller brothers Jonathan ’94 and Eric ’96, HKIS journeys inspire outdoor education and space adventure...

Jonathan has never forgotten the three years he spent at HKIS Elementary School from 1983-86. “The diversity of the student body and the exposure to different cultures at HKIS was unbelievable. I would never have gotten this experience had I not attended HKIS,” he says.

His daily interactions with fellow students from all parts of the world motivated the young Jonathan to look through maps in his classroom to figure out where all his classmates were from.

"Students would give reports to the class on their country,” he says. “I will always remember

a report on Chad in Grade 2 from one of my classmates. Prior to his presentation, I had no idea that Africa even existed, let alone that there was a country in it with the same name as one of my friends.”

It is also the people that Eric remembers most. One clear memory is of the Interim trips he went on during his HKIS high school years (1994-96). “These were real bonding experiences with teachers and friends,” he recalls.

Eric fondly remembers joining an aviation themed Interim in his Junior year at HKIS. “That was my first time in a helicopter; it was so much fun. That Interim I learned what it means to actually work in the aviation field, rather than what it’s like to study the field. It gave me the motivation to do the latter.”

And powerful motivation it proved, because Eric went on to study a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at Princeton University. He credits that Interim with sustaining his interest in aerospace engineering during the less than glamorous problem sets he encountered in high school and University.

After graduation, he moved to the San Francisco Bay area and took a job with NASA at the Ames Research Center. “Getting into NASA involved a lot of luck. Having worked for NASA since 2000, I still don’t fully understand how they hire new people,” he laughs.

According to him, he got lucky, because his boss came to Princeton and wanted to meet with students. “He interviewed me and other students for the one opening his NASA team had, and I was successful.”

Eric, right, and Jonathan - during a trip to Macau in the 1980's

Jonathan followed a less conventional, but equally impressive track from study to career. He attended the University of Virginia, graduating in 1998 with a degree in Asian Studies and Economics. On graduating he worked as a management consultant in Chicago and then in sales and corporate strategy for a technology company in the San Francisco Bay Area.

However, after five years, he realized that his heart was not in the corporate world; rather it was in education and the outdoors, a realization that was cemented during a six-month sabbatical he took in-between jobs to hike the Appalachian Trail, a 2,160-mile trail that runs from Georgia to Maine.

Soon after this sabbatical in 2003, Jonathan took the plunge, followed his heart, and said goodbye to the relative financial security of the corporate world. He then moved to Tanzania, where he spent nine months volunteering in business development and microfinance.

He describes his time in Tanzania as “a profound experience... It opened my eyes to the non-profit world and to a continent that I knew only a little more about than when I was discovering it in Grade 2 class presentations at HKIS.”

Upon his return to the US in 2004, Jonathan fully transitioned his career to outdoor and environmental education, working in New Hampshire before moving back to California – first in the San Bernardino Mountains, and then in the Reno/Lake Tahoe area in 2006, where he has been ever since.

Though happy to be at last working in education and outdoor pursuits, it was not long before Jonathan was exploring new possibilities beyond just getting students outdoors.

"I realized teenagers are naturally inclined to take risks, and face many potential negative risks, like drug taking and gang involvement. My ambition was to help young people re-channel their energy to positive risk taking.”

In pursuit of this, he established the nonprofit Sierra Nevada Journeys (SNJ), in Reno, NV in 2006. SNJ set about building programs to give students powerful experiences and outcomes through experiential and place-based education.

Mueller family Christmas holiday in Hong Kong 2007

Since 2006, SNJ has grown to a staff of 20 and last year served more than 3,000 young people in a variety of programs: residential outdoor schools, in-school programming, and teacher professional development. SNJ is now an Approved Educational Vendor in the Washoe County School District and serves dozens of schools.

With SNJ’s growth, Jonathan’s role has evolved from that of day-to-day education of students to fundraising, strategic planning, and organizational management. This has meant more deskwork, but he says this is a natural transition. “I am able to combine the best of what I like about the corporate world, like strategic planning and problem solving, and marry these with a mission driven organization.”

His one caveat, he says, is that he gets out at the weekends to do some rock climbing or something active. “Being an Instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) helps, as it means I am able to ‘escape’ for a few weeks each summer to lead student courses in Wyoming.”

Back at NASA, Eric Mueller is engaged in pursuits right out of a science fiction novel: building, testing and flying a three-meter hybrid rocket, and constructing an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle for an Air Traffic Control system, for example.

"Most recently I have been running simulations with astronauts and test pilots to determine the best ways to fly the new generation of spacecraft that NASA is building.”

Eric’s working day varies significantly depending on the project and its phase. “If I am conducting a simulation on Spacecraft Handling Qualities, then I start the day briefing astronauts or test pilots on the experiment we’re running and how to interact with the vehicle model we have developed.”

"We fly what’s called the Vertical Motion Simulator to train astronauts in the task at hand, and then walk them through our experiment matrix to collect data.”

Eric and his team then debrief the astronauts to get feedback on the vehicle (usually the Orion spacecraft, which is replacing the Space Shuttle) to improve the next round of simulations.

Even as a child, Eric loved building things, whether by hand, with tools or on the computer.

He says he derives a similar mental stimulation and pleasure determining the best ways to fly the new generation of spacecraft as he did all those years ago building model aeroplanes and rockets as a child.

When not conducting simulations, he could be designing the ‘models’ NASA uses to simulate a vehicle, coordinating engineers who implement those specifications, testing the model by flying it himself, analyzing the data from previous experiments, or writing papers and presentations for technical conferences.

He says one of the best things about working for NASA is the professional development and training. “I have always felt that the people you interact with make the most contribution to your growth and development, so staying connected with amazing people at institutions like NASA, Stanford and Princeton is a great way to stay challenged and interested.”

In their own words...

Jonathan on the work of SNJ:

"Our activities and programs are designed to empower youth through positive risk-taking. We get a person to climb to the top of a totem pole, balance atop of it, and jump off, attached to a safety rope of course…"

“…When this is something new to them, they need to think it through. The sum of this process is often an intense, emotional learning journey. But it is safe, positive risk taking, and helps them realize that they can confront a fear and overcome it…"

“…This experience can have the power to positively impact an individual’s life, so when they sit down to do a math problem, it is something they know they can work through and overcome.”

Eric on what motivates him:

"I love examining a problem, determining the fundamental source of that problem and formulating a solution. Many problems in engineering require an understanding of the politics,finances and interpersonal relationships that accompany a problem.

A Clear View

Jonathan (right) and Eric at Shek O in 2005.

Jonathan and Eric are fine examples of successful HKIS alums, albeit in very different fields. Jonathan holds some significant longterm ambitions that involve SNJ transforming the entire educational system.

A longer-term strategy is to transform the relationship SNJ has with schools to impact how schools teach. “I hope to influence schools so they teach in a manner to appeal to a range of students’ intelligences, inquiry based learning, hands on based learning,” says Jonathan. “This is why I started SNJ.”

For Eric it is hard to think beyond finishing his NASA sponsored PhD at Stanford, or even beyond the May/June simulation. “I guess I’d like to do something that helps further an important endeavor, like returning astronauts to the Moon, or that helps a great number of people live a bit better, even if that is spending just a little less time waiting on delayed flights.”

He says while those would be nice achievements in the next decade or so, he thinks longer term life/career goals will go beyond that, even though he has not fully decided what they should be.

“I like to continually push out my goals as I approach them, otherwise I get complacent and don’t accomplish as much as I could!”

To learn more about Sierra Nevada Journeys, visit their website at:

Hong Kong Revisited

After their parents – Richard and Claire Mueller – moved back to the US from Hong Kong in 1998, brothers Jonathan and Eric did not return to Hong Kong for a number of years.

Back home in the US, Richard Mueller made a career change himself: from that of a career diplomat to Head of School of Northfield Mount Hermon, a well-known college preparatory boarding school in Northfield, Massachusetts.

This career move would lead to an interesting turn of events seven years later in 2005 when Richard was chosen to lead HKIS as its new Head of School.

Eric says he was “surprised and excited” when he heard his Dad was going to be Head of School at HKIS. “I knew it was a great opportunity for Mom and Dad, both of whom had really enjoyed their lives in Hong Kong,” he says.

"We had not been back to Hong Kong for a number of years and had a fantastic time there. So from a selfish point of view, Dad’s appointment meant that we could return to Hong Kong regularly for family Christmases,” says Eric.

Between 1998 and 2004, the traditional Mueller family Christmas gatherings were spent in the midst of the Massachusetts winter. “These were special family occasions, but always cold and often snowedin. The thought of Christmas in warm, familiar Hong Kong was enticing,” says Jonathan.

Richard commenced his duties as Head of School in August 2005. Jonathan and Eric made their first trip back to Hong Kong in December that year. In their seven years’ absence from the city, many of their friends had moved on and Hong Kong had changed.

We were especially devastated to learn that Kublai’s in Wan Chai was no longer around. When we were at school, we used to love to eat there,” says Jonathan.

Notwithstanding this, he and Eric have still managed to eat out at many different Chinese restaurants over the last four Christmases. “Shanghai 369 is still a favorite. I get to practice my Mandarin when I order,” says Eric.

Besides trying to cram in as many authentic Chinese dining experiences as possible, when in town Eric enjoys revisiting old haunts he remembers as a teenager. During the last four Christmas breaks in Hong Kong, you might have seen Jonathan Mueller trail running through Tai Tam Country Park, swimming at Repulse Bay, or rock or bolder climbing at Shek O. “Last year I went swimming at Repulse Bay on Christmas Day,” he says.

Two years ago, Jonathan invited Mom and Dad to Shek O to watch him and his brother climb. “Mom had to turn away to face the ocean, she couldn’t watch,” laughs Jonathan. “She would rather I sat at home and read books, but understands what it means to me.”

Another time, Eric and Jonathan managed to get Dad Richard into a harness at Shek O. “We got him up a few notches, which was a lot of fun to watch,” he says.

Jonathan and Eric expect to be back in Hong Kong again this Christmas, which will be their last here before their parents retire in the summer 2010.

"We always enjoy returning, so I am sure there will be many more return trips in the future. Hong Kong and HKIS have a very special place in our family’s heart.”

Eric and Jonathan on the teachers we remember...

Eric remembers that Mr. Klammer and Mrs. Harvey were instrumental in training and encouraging him in physics and math.

Eric (right), Jonathan (left) with Dad Richard Mueller in
Thailand in 1984. Note the boys are wearing PFO World's Fair t-shirts!

"I was so fascinated by the three classes I took from Mr. Klammer that I’m pursuing a PhD in the same material and find my most enjoyable days (at work) to be those when I’m actually working with the same types of equations and problems that he first introduced me to, albeit in a slightly more advanced fashion.

Mrs. Harvey gave me the mathematical background upon which I built my understanding of the concepts I’m still using today.”

Today, Eric finds he is called upon to write and present, even more than solve equations or write computer programs at NASA. He says without the training that Mr. Ewing (AP English, senior year) and Mr. McCarthy (AP American History, junior year) gave in organizing my thoughts and writing them down in a coherent manner, he would never be able to communicate his technical findings.

"More than my technical expertise, my ability to write and communicate in front of a group has had an absolutely fundamental impact on my success as an engineer,” he says.

He also recalls the strong support of Eric McDonald, his cross country coach and home-room teacher, as well as that of Jim Handrich, his Elementary principal in the 1980s and later as his High School principal in the 1990s.

Jonathan on his memories of teachers...

Jonathan fondly remembers teachers Mrs. Marie Byrnes in Grade 2, Mrs. Tina Adams in Grade 3, and Mrs. Mary Hoff in Grade 4. "Each of them challenged me and helped shape me in some of my most formative years.”

He also remembers his math and Wrestling Coach, Mr. Jim Reuter in Grade 4, who turned him onto a sport that he enjoyed immensely. “I still have the certificate from my first tournament wins!”

Sources: DragonTales Volume 11 Summer Edition 2009

Kenneth Koo '79

Me & HKIS by Ken Koo ’79

Ken Koo has been an invaluable and staunch supporter and driver of HKIS Alumni Association. Perhaps more than any other individual, he is responsible for perpetuating the positive interaction between generations of HKIS Alumni. DragonTales sat down with Ken to chart his life-journey from his early days with HKIS to the present.

DJ Condon, Head of School and Ken

The story begins in Tokyo against a background of American-style education. Ken’s mother a graduate of the American School in Japan, Ken attending St. Mary’s International School as a 1st Grader, and his sisters Sandra and Stephanie attending Sacred Heart International School. This education ‘pattern’ was to continue when the family returned to live in Hong Kong in January 1968.

Having already experienced an American-style education in Japan, and wanting their children to continue an American-style of education in Hong Kong, Ken’s parents canvassed their friends on a suitable school in Hong Kong. They recommended HKIS.

Ken’s sisters Sandra (’78) and Stephanie (‘79), joined HKIS in Grades 3 and 1 respectively but there was no immediate space available for Ken, so he spent his Spring Term of the 1967-68 school-year at Kennedy Road Junior School (today’s Bradbury Junior School on Stubbs Road), enrolling in HKIS as a second grader for the 1968-69 school-year.

Ken has fond memories of his early years at HKIS: “Every day was fun, especially chapel. Chapel would start with the singing of hymns, then prayers, and then more singing.” As he progressed through the grades, chapel changed, and by Grade 7 and 8, gospel hymn-singing emerged.

"In those days children were allowed more freedom to grow and experience life. Students then had larger than life experiences in all sorts of areas. Food for instance. There was no Chartwells; we had Maxims, local stores, hot dogs and rice-plates.” Ken is also quick to note that some things don’t change: “ Upper primary is still as it was, when I used to climb the stairways all those years ago. Today’s kids are over-protected, living like babies in a bubble.”

"Thinking back to those early times, HKIS seemed to be a ‘tighter’ community. Each year several of the elementary school grades would be involved in at least one big production, a four-act play. I remember performances of ‘The Land where Dreams Come True’ and ‘The Volga Boatmen’. They were really fun-times with lots of student interaction.”

"Then there were experience-programs with the Christian Youth Fellowship in Kowloon Tong. We would go camping on Lantau, work in an orphanage in Tiu Keng Leng, and help out at local ‘roof-top’ schools.

Operation Interchange was the major event in high school through most of the 1970’s. Every two years, the Taipei American School would host this event on their campus. The participants included HKIS and Morrison Academy and activities ranged from athletics to performing arts to academic topics. Operation Interchange was superseded at HKIS by ‘Interim’ in 1978. All these activities were a significant break from the traditional Chinese culture of Hong Kong at the time.”

Ken identifies his ‘best’, favorite and fun years at HKIS as those he spent in grades 4, 6 and 8, and as a Sophomore. Why? “Because of the fantastic teachers and the students, many of whom have become life-long friends, and of course the thousands of memories of those years are still clearly etched in my memory.”

Ken's son Edward Koo '08 and eldest daughter Emily Koo '06

These experiences influenced Ken to send his own children to HKIS to pursue an American-style education. Ken’s two elder children (Emily ’06 and Eddie ’08) started school in R1. After a short stint in Singapore from 1997 to 2000 when his children (including youngest daughter Ellen, now a rising Junior in HKIS) returned to Hong Kong to continue their education at HKIS.

As an alumnus involved in the fast moving arena of commercial shipping, Ken is aware of how the pace of change in all areas of our lives can blind us to what is good and sadly, in many cases, is no more, and comments.

“The ‘lust for the latest’ attitude has become ingrained in the modern Hong Kong/Chinese culture, with little consideration or respect for that which is being replaced or superseded. Without recorded history how do we assess how far we have travelled, and in which direction?”

In this regard, Ken is passionate about preserving and recording the history of HKIS. Not only that which has already passed, but also protecting and recording the present as it develops to become part of the HKIS story. “HKIS has developed rapidly from those early days of one building and a few hundred students, into the ‘elite’ school that it is today. We need to identify and track changes as they happen. So much of our history has been lost or forgotten already, and we are only 44 years old.”

So how can we develop and retain an allegiance to HKIS? “It has been suggested that an ‘HKIS History Museum’ should be created within the school, and I am whole-heartedly in support of such a move. Asking alumni to contribute to the history museum with memories, stories, pictures, and memorabilia would increase interest, involvement and communication among existing alumni, and simultaneously help to promote that allegiance in future alumni.

”Several key words spring immediately to Ken’s mind when he thinks of alumni : spirit, involvement, consistency and resilience - the consistency of commitment, involvement and effort, and the resilience and spirit to overcome problems.

“As HKIS has grown, so the difficulties and real competition have increased. Perhaps it is time to reflect on our past and our core values; re-evaluate those things that made the school work in the past, and view them in today’s setting. If we can gain inspiration from the past we may be better able to enthuse our alumni.”

"We need to inspire alums. We need to celebrate the past. We need to improve contact between students, faculty and staff”.

Ken at Homecoming 2008

"The Alumni Association is working to inspire the school by celebrating past successes, and individual endeavor, but more needs to be done. One specific action we can take is to follow-up on recipients of HKIS awards such as the Jim Handrich Award, not only to record their progress but to offer the advice and resources of ‘mature’ alumni to provide additional support as required, and encourage them to ‘pay-back in kind’ to future and potential alumni”

Ken says “A case in point is Charles Watson ‘09, who is doing fantastic things with his efforts in service leadership. Charles has taken a gap-year to introduce technology into learning in Nepal, and Ghana, West Africa. I am actively involved in supporting Charles’ work, which clearly illustrates several of the Student Learning Results which may be regarded as six pillars of HKIS’ mission.

"Ken Koo was awarded the 2010 Bob Christian Alumnus of the Year Award together with Charles Watson in recognition of their significant contribution to HKIS, the HKIS community and the larger Hong Kong community. An article about Charles Watson and his work will be included in the next DragonTales.

Our thanks to Ken Koo for making the time not only to be interviewed for this article but for all the time and resources he has given so freely to HKIS over the years and continues to do so.Ken Koo is Group Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, Tai Chong Cheong Steamship Co. (H.K.) Ltd.

Source: DragonTales Volume13 Summer Edition 2010

Leontine Chuang '93

Leontine Chuang '93 - Bob Christian Alumnus / Alumna of the year award recipient 2010/2011

Hi to all HKIS alums, especially those from the Class of 1993! As many of you already know, I work at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Though I have worked at UNHCR since October 2005, it was only last November that I took up the post I have now as Resettlement Officer. In this role, I help recognized refugees apply to third countries for resettlement as the Hong Kong Government does not allow refugees to stay in Hong Kong on a permanent basis. It has taken me close to one year to see some of my work come to fruition as some of the refugee I have come to know well have finally started to depart for their resettlement countries in the past few months after a long application process. Every time someone leaves, it reminds me why I do the job that I do - to give someone the chance of a new life far away from fear and persecution. As a working mother, I often find it very hard to leave my kids, Aidan (3.5) and Simone (2) to their nannies and grandmother all day. But I do realize that I am so lucky to find such an amazing job where I am really making a difference. It makes it hard to let it all go to become a stay at home mom. To balance my life a little bit more, starting in November 2012, I will cut back my hours at work so that I will be able to spend three afternoons a week at home with my kids. Given that my older one is now old enough to constantly ask me why I can't pick him up from school or take him to his after school activities as I have to go to work, I think that these afternoons off from work will be important so that I can spend more time with both of them. I hope that everyone is doing well and I look forward to reading updates on other people in this edition of DragonTales!

For more information about Leontine receiving the Bob Christian Award in 2011 - click here

Source: DragonTales Winter 2012 / 2013

Michael Swaine '69

Michael Swaine ’69- A Man with China running through his veins

Michael Swaine ’69 was president of his junior class in 1967-68 and head of the HKIS student council in 1968-69. DragonTales caught up with Michael to find out what he has been up to in the 40 years since graduation...

At the HKIS 40th anniversary reunion in 2006

After graduating from HKIS in 1969, Michael Swaine entered George Washington University (GWU), where he majored in Chinese Studies. He attended GWU with Dennis Minich, another HKIS alumnus from his Class of 1969, but they lost touch with one another after graduation.

“I went on to pursue graduate degrees in political science, focusing on international relations in Asia, and especially Chinese foreign policy,” says Michael, who later obtained a Masters and Doctorate in these subjects at Harvard University.

During the early 1980s, Michael studied in Japan as a Fulbright Scholar in Tokyo. It was during this period that he made his first trip to Mainland China, in 1984.

“Everyone was still dressed in Mao suits, there were few electric lights, no ads, and the only vehicles on the roads of Beijing and Shanghai were buses, government cars, and bicycles.” He remembers that most Chinese stopped to stare at the tall foreigner with the beard; and crowds gathered when he spoke Mandarin. Shanghai was wonderful, he says, with parts of it exuding the colonial European charm of the twenties and thirties.

“In Beijing, I stayed in a hotel built in the fifties for Soviet advisers, complete with creaky beds and loud shaking pipes. The first person to flush a toilet in the morning would wake the entire building. Yet Tiananmen Square and the imperial palace were as impressive then as they are today.”

Michael graduated from Harvard in 1986, after many long years studying, writing his dissertation and learning both Mandarin and Japanese. After receiving his doctorate, he spent a year at UC Berkeley as a post-graduate student at the Center for Chinese Studies and taught in the Berkeley Political Science Department.

Peter Swaine, Tay Bosley and Michael Swaine on the Peak during their
visit back for the HKIS 40th anniversary reunion

“It was at this point I made a career choice to stay in the San Francisco area and work for a small trading firm active in China, rather than take a tenure track teaching job at Colgate University in Hamilton, NY. I worked in the Bay area for three years, and had the opportunity to travel to China several times.”

Michael eventually tired of working in the private sector: “The job became very tedious and did not pay much,” he says. He joined the RAND Corporation in 1989, a private, non-profit think tank specializing in U.S. national security policy analysis based in Santa Monica, California.

He says from that point on his career path was set. “I worked at RAND for over 12 years, travelling frequently to Asia and writing many monographs and articles, and delivering lectures and presentations to primarily US government audiences, in the Department of Defense, the State Department, the White House, and elsewhere.”

He became a Senior Political Scientist and was quite happy at RAND. However, the organization changed considerably over the years, and he says the working environment continuously deteriorated. In addition, Michael’s girlfriend at the time had to move to the East Coast (Baltimore) for job reasons. “I decided to leave RAND and took a job at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC. I had been a Senior Associate at RAND for seven years, since 2001, and enjoyed it very much.”

Michael now lives in rural Maryland on four acres of land, and works several days a week from home. Nevertheless, he still gets to travel to Asia, especially China, a fair amount.

Can you identify the old codgers in this photo?

“I do very much the same type of work I did at RAND, i.e., research, write, give talks to advise the US government on Chinese defense and foreign policy issues, except I have more freedom to do what I want and less pressure to obtain funding for my work.”

He says he has the opportunity to influence US policy toward China and learn from a small but very thoughtful group of Asia specialists. “As I often say, it is just about the best job around for someone with a doctorate in political science and a focus on China.”

“Mom passed away in 1981 and dad in 2003. My girlfriend Monique (who is Dutch) and , never married, but we had a beautiful daughter, albeit late in life. Her name is Evelynne Fabienne and she is five years old and a bright, booming, happy little girl.

Now in kindergarten, Evelynne is the center of Michael and Monique’s life. “She lives with Monique in Baltimore, but I spend time with them once or twice during the week and on weekends. We also travel together to Europe to see Monique’s parents and sister in Holland, and my relatives in the UK.”

“I am very close to my brother Peter, his wife Jo-Ellen and son Trevor. Peter and Jo have lived in Richmond, Vermont in the country for many years and love it.”

Peter is a senior manager at Seventh Generation, the leading manufacturer of environmentally friendly home products.


“Although I love my job and enjoy travelling to Asia, I have also developed hobbies that I enjoy just as much. I collect early editions of children’s classic books, such as Beatrix Potter, Winnie the Pooh and various types of Old West items. I also exercise regularly, ride my bicycle, attend the Baltimore Symphony and socialize with friends.”

Michael is first to admit that life has not quite turned out to be what he had expected: “But then again, when does it?”

He says he does not have a family in the traditional sense, and has a rather unusual job that is endlessly interesting.

“My personal life has been a struggle at times, but it has also brought significant amounts of joy. And I treasure my friends, relatives and, to a very great extent, my memories of two fabulous, life-shaping years in Hong Kong and HKIS. Those two years literally changed my life, sparking an interest in China that has survived to the present day and provided me with a very decent living.”

“It also gave me a sense of living life that was more intense than at any other time in my life, and some very vivid and exciting memories.” Both Michael and his brother Peter attended HKIS 40th anniversary in 2007 where they reestablished contact with a dear friend from their HKIS days, Tay Bosley, who lives and works in New Jersey.

“We had not seen one another for nearly 40 years. I have also reestablished contact via email with Christy McCaskill and a few other HKIS alums from my class, which is wonderful.”

Evelynne, Michael and Monique

“That’s about it,” says Michael, who informs us that from his office window he can see the sun is coming up over the Maryland hills, setting alight the trees and reflecting off the beaver pond at the bottom of the hill. “I must get to work. Be happy.”

You can contact Michael at

Source: DragonTales Volume 11 Summer Edition 2009

Riz Farooqi '94

Riz Farooqi ’94 - Riz Rocks

First grade at HKIS rocks and rolls to the beat of beloved teacher, Riz Farooqi. His energy and passion for teaching emanates from his love of music, kids, and thinking outside the box. Entering his colorful classroom where neat little boxes
with mealworms decorate the shelves (Fyi, the class will learn about the lifecycle of the mealworm, which looks like a worm, but is really the larva stage of a beetle!), it’s easy to see why there’s such a buzz around him. The children love his enthusiasm and the feeling is mutual.

Born into a traditional Pakistani family, Riz knew he was different from their world early on. He entered HKIS in Grade 1 and stayed until he graduated from high school in 1994. Although he had his difficult moments in adolescence, he felt very
comfortable at HKIS and relished its diversity and inclusiveness. His parents wanted him to study business, so after high school he attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst where he got a degree in marketing, but his heart was not in the
business world. His first love was music, the electric guitar, so after college he combined his love of music with his studies and struggled to make it as an intern in the music industry in New York City. As Riz recalls, “I subsisted on a foot long sub a day for 6-7 months.” Realizing this was not the right path, he headed back home to Hong Kong to figure out his future. Riz took a more traditional job in public relations with a hotel, but quickly felt unfulfilled. He saw an advertisement at HKIS for Alumni Coordinator and got the job. Jim Handrich, former Head of School whom Riz first remembers as principal in the Primary School, supported and encouraged him, despite his initial shock that one of his more rambunctious students would end up back where he started. Riz thinks of Mr. Handrich with happiness and gratitude, “he steered me well.”

Fortuitously for HKIS and Riz, Lower Primary advertised a Teaching Assistant position while he was working at the school and he decided to give it a try. Within the first day, he realized what a huge impact he could make on children and found his profession. After working as a Teaching Assistant for a few years, he got his teaching degree and hasn’t looked back since. He loves helping the children develop their self-esteem and confidence and watching them grow throughout the year.

HKIS instilled in Riz a desire to follow his passions. He has belonged to a band for years, called King Ly Chee. The band travels to China every month and coupled with his self taught Cantonese and Mandarin skills, he relishes being able to reach out to local kids with the band’s English and Mandarin songs.

Riz is now married and has a beautiful baby daughter. His story is truly one of coming full circle and the realization that what he was looking for was nearby all along. Some travel far and wide to reach their goals, while others realize that they can reach their goals from the very foundation that nurtured them. Perhaps Riz sometimes sees his younger self, peering out from around the corner as he goes through his day in Lower Primary. He has not forgotten what it feels like to be a kid and HKIS is very proud to have been an important part of Riz’s growth from student to teacher.

Source: DragonTales Winter 2012 / 2013

Susan Coleman Olesek '89

Alumni Challenge Special - Susan Coleman Olesek ’89

Susan Coleman Olesek ’89 has spent nearly 30 years trying to understand what makes people tick. An introduction to a tool called the Enneagram has helped with the task, allowing her to divide people into personality types such as ‘Perfectionists’, ‘Peacemakers’ and ‘Romantics’. We find out more about her work, and why the Enneagram may just be the answer to world peace…

Susan spent her formative years in Hong Kong and Japan, which ignited a passion for human understanding and led to a BA in Sociology from Occidental College. She now runs a private practice where she uses the Enneagram as a tool for self-realization, teaching everyone from corporate executives to the incarcerated to take an honest look at themselves. Susan takes up the story…

As I was being driven through the sticky streets of Bombay — an HKIS 7th grader on a detour from expat life in Hong Kong — I watched foreigners recoiling from the begging children, leaving the idealist in me with a sense of personal obligation to sort out humankind when I grew up.

Nearly 30 years later, our world strikes me as at least if not more perplexing. However, an illuminating tool called The Enneagram — a system of human understanding I came upon over a decade ago — has begun to shed some light on all of this for me.

The Enneagram highlights how we actually participate in — even create — so much of our own suffering. It suggests there are nine different ways of looking at the world, called personality “Types.” Once I recognized the investment I’d made in my own “Perfectionist” personality, I experienced something of an epiphany about the people I loved: they weren’t intending to drive me crazy; they were just as over-identified with their own point of view as I was. What a relief to realize that personality is actually not personal.

Truth be told, we’re all in a prison of our own making in the ways we suffer our personality. The 14-year-old I am raising, a self-identified Type Nine, “the Peacemaker,” who leaves the room whenever conflict is brewing, is just as asleep to the powerful leader he could choose to be as the convicted felon whose crime was choosing to stand by as the shooting went down. Waking up is our life’s work.

In fact, some of the most courageous folks I’ve encountered are those I teach the Enneagram to in prison. They embrace the freeing concept that we are more than our personalities. I’ve heard so many guys insist that the person who committed their crime isn’t who they really are. Of course not! If you’ve ever watched yourself do something you wish you could stop doing, you know how easily we default to our habits. It’s in the waking up to who we really are, where the real work — and deepest fulfillment — begins for all of us.

In my practice, I watch people personally transform from angry wife, withdrawn dad, hardened criminal or overbearing boss by learning to tolerate enough presence to see their whole selves. The 12-yearold idealist who observed the streets of Bombay is more hopeful now. Frankly, I think the Enneagram is an answer to world peace. Okay, okay, and maybe I’m still striving for balance with the whole “perfection” thing. Welcome to my work!

Get in touch

You can contact Susan via To find out more about her work, visit

Source: DragonTales Winter/ Spring 2012

T. J. Gavlik '08

Big hitter returns to HKIS

HKIS has always worked hard to keep the Dragons baseball team out in front. Here’s one guy who has taken it a step further. T. J. Gavlik ’08 returned to HKIS to share his story and skills.

T.J. Gavlik ’08 is currently studying at University of North Florida (UNF), majoring in sports management with a minor of business. But he has only one thing on his mind at the moment and that’s baseball.

T.J. joined HKIS in grade 3 and became involved in the baseball Community League straight off. But his interest in sports was something that had been instilled in him long before then and was guided to some pretty sensible decisions, “I come from a pretty athletic family – my dad (Tim Gavlik, part of the HKIS faculty) used to run cross-country. He first put a ball and a glove in my hands and it all started from there.”

It sounds like he was a natural from the get go, “In some cases I was playing in the grade 4 and grade 5 teams, even though I was still in grade 3!” adds T.J. It wasn’t all set, though. He was pretty handy with a soccer ball, too, and he couldn’t dedicate his time to two sports, “I had to make a decision – I knew that I couldn’t carry on with both so dropped that [soccer] to concentrate on baseball.”

Not long after that decision it was time for the Christmas break and T.J. went to a winter baseball camp at Jacksonville University (JU) in Florida. Right there and then, JU spotted the potential and invited him back for the summer baseball camp.

He didn’t need asking twice. Then, UNF spotted the potential, too. Before you know it, T.J. was looking at two plum scholarships on the table to choose from.

"Back at HKIS it was a strange time. The seniors were all focusing on their applications for the different universities. At one point we were given a number of one-hour sessions just to focus on apps and to help get them processed... but I didn’t need it as I was already done. It was strange to see all that craziness of my classmates working through ten apps at a time and yet I was taken care of”, remembers T.J. But he had yet to choose his college.

“If I was to do it again I would probably start looking a lot earlier for a place that would take me for baseball. The aim has to be to take a school that’s right for you – and with the right majors” he added.

Due to family commitments and location, UNF was chosen. “It was tough, and I felt bad as JU had discovered what I was capable of and had really helped me, but we had to go with UNF. After that, I spent the summer with UNF and things developed further.

At University North Florida, baseball practice and training starts the in second week of the university term. From there on, it’s full-on training until the season starts and when it does, there are 56 games to play.

It’s a tough schedule, with all those games crammed between late February and early June. That’s four or five game a week with over half of them on the road, which brings its own fun. Most games involve a trip in the team bus covering anything between two and six hours on the road but there’s one in particular that sticks in mind T.J. wasn’t looking forward to... Tennessee is anything up to 12 hours away from UNF and being a freshman brings a share of hard work.

Tradition dictates that at the end of practice the freshmen stay behind and clean up the field. The very same task awaits after every bus journey, as the freshmen make sure the bus is spic and span. With around 35 guys on the team, cleaning up a two hour journey can be kinda light work.

But after a 12 hour trip to Tennessee, you can only begin to imagine what delights await the cleaning crew.

Looking back, maybe the writing was on the wall – T.J. led the HKIS baseball team to be APAC (Asia Pacific Activities Conference) champions three years straight between 2006 and 2008. In his senior year, he led the team to an 18-2 record year.

Baseball only began at HKIS in 2005 and they had done pretty well. But when the 2008 team got together, it wasn’t exactly ideal – two of the team were seniors, the rest, freshmen. The results were a surprise to everyone, but the team, “We couldn’t always depend on the many seniors to guide us to victory. We had to depend on each other and that is how we were able to be successful,” added T.J.

The 2008 Varsity Baseball team won 18 games and lost only two. Of that, seven were home wins on the new Tai Tam field and the rest were racked up on the road as they were crowned champions of all three tournaments they went to: China Cup Shanghai (three wins, one loss), Brent International (four wins, one loss) and Singapore World Series (four wins).

T.J.’s performance at HKIS - 43 runs, 35 hits, 13 home runs, 47 RBI and a whopping .583 batting average - led to him being named in the All-APAC team.

So how is T.J. doing at UNF? Competition is tough and he didn’t start every game last year – he admits that his performances weren’t as strong as they could have been.

However, an injury here and there to his teammates opened the door and he seized the opportunity to make a good impression and rack up the numbers, making a lot of starts. The starting place is his to lose, which is where he wants to be. He’s pleased that he’s improved a lot and is still looking to get better. His record at UNF has seen T.J. step up to meet the competition headon, achieving several multi-hit games in his first year, playing in 32 games and making 27 starts in 2009.

In 2010, he started at second base early in April in the second game of a doubleheader against East Tennessee State and went on to start every game for the rest of the season (29 games). A month later he enjoyed a purple patch with a chunky hitting streak, managing .400 (16-for-40) with five doubles, nine runs scored and 11 RBI. He ended up playing in 43 games and making 32 starts for the season.

The 2011 season has been pretty spectacular, too, with T.J. recording a .253 batting average, finishing the year 22-for-87 with 14 runs scored, three doubles, two triples, a home run and nine runs batted in. He went that step further and upped his average in Atlantic Sun Conference games, batting .324, going 12-for-37 with five runs scored, a double, a triple and a home run and eight RBI.

Coming back to HKIS is always a good thing for T.J. “The teachers know how to connect to the students and the school as a whole really knows what it’s doing”. It’s this connection that has T.J., and many others, coming back time and time again to be part of the HKIS community for many years after they graduate. And, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to keep coming back to Hong Kong?

One of the many things that sticks in T.J.’s mind about HKIS is the plethora of opportunities the school afforded him – whether playing trumpet as part of the band at the Hong Kong Sevens tournament or taking part in the interim trips to Japan, Thailand and New Zealand.

T.J. is quietly optimistic about the future, but clearly realistic: “I want to see how far I can make it – but that’s the same story for millions of kids playing baseball” he points out. There is talk of being drafted into the big league, but T.J. was keeping coy, trying not to get too far ahead of himself. “I’m going to take it year by year and see how it goes”.

And if it doesn’t work out? T.J. plans to make use of his university schooling, maybe looking to open up a dedicated athletics and sports project that can help raise the profile of sports talent in the Hong Kong and China areas. Majoring in Sports Management is helping him towards his goal. “It would be great to see more and more sports people from the area make it – ’round here we’re just a little bit behind places like the US; it would be great to help raise it.”

T.J. is already playing his part. Each summer, the HKIS all-weather field in Tai Tam is the venue for a dedicated baseball camp that passes on solid fundamentals. Now in its third year, the event brings major names over from the US for the three-day camp. Former Major League Baseball players Desi Relaford, Gary Bennett, Charles Gipson and Brian Tollberg come over to Hong Kong to take the lead. Right in the middle of the baseball camp is one T. J. Gavlik, passing on what he has learned, bringing his skills full-circle, straight back to the heart of the HKIS and Hong Kong community, putting a glove on the hand of local youngsters, just as Tim Gavlik did with his son back in grade 3.

Source: DragonTales Summer Edition 2011

Alumni Slideshow