Derek Kwik ‘86 reflects on his days at HKIS and the joy of becoming an alumni parent recently when his twin daughters started R1 this fall.
Looking back, what was your experience at HKIS like? Did you always seek out challenges and like to try new things? What are some of your fondest memories or experiences from your time at HKIS?
HKIS played a pivotal role during my childhood. The school provided me with more than just a quality education. The school was a caring community of students, teachers, administrators and families. I was a shy kid but the school environment encouraged me to try new things and to expand my horizons. I have had so many “best” memories from HKIS! The most impactful event was the annual Interim program – an opportunity for personal growth, to face challenges with my peers and to be exposed to diverse cultures and traditions. As a freshman, I learned how to be a sailor on a 100-foot sailboat while sailing from Hong Kong to the Philippines and back. As a sophomore, I returned to the Philippines to learn how to windsurf. In my junior year, my parents encouraged me to go to China for the first time to learn about my ancestry. As a senior, I went to Japan to learn how to snow ski.
Your twin daughters started R1 this year. Why did you and your wife choose HKIS for your kids?
We wanted an institution that is community driven. This provides a multi-dimensional environment for learning both inside and outside the classroom. HKIS is one of the finest institutions in all of Asia. In Hong Kong, the school has one of the longest standing histories of sending graduates to the top universities in the United States. School is not just a place for learning. It is a journey of self-discovery, personal growth and rewarding challenges. The alumni network is truly global. In 2019, I traveled to Tirana, Albania to run a marathon and caught up with my high school teacher, Joe Feia, whom I haven’t seen in over three decades. That same year, I ran a marathon in Amsterdam where my French teacher now lives. Nancy Kroonenberg had the opportunity to meet my wife and three kids! How cool is that! This is why we chose HKIS for our children. The school is much bigger now, spread out over several campuses but the values of HKIS remain the same. Plus, having two generations of the Kwiks attend HKIS is very special.
Top Derek (far right) in High School. Above Derekand family with former teacher, Nancy Kroonenberg, and Bob Kroonenberg in Amsterdam in October 2019.
Now that you’re a parent and a Lower Primary Parent Advisory Group member — what has surprised you about HKIS today? Was there anything that was different than you expected, or that has struck you or made an impression?
What made an impression on me is the level of detail that is put into the curriculum design. Top down, I recently attended a PAG meeting that presented the design of the Lower Primary program and how students can benefit from a Hands-on Learning Environment. As a parent of twins, the Parent Teacher Conference was helpful to understand from the bottom up how a particular activity translated into a bigger idea. I love that the students are immersed in a daily community of educators whether it is their homeroom teacher, a counselor, a parent Mystery Reader or the Lower Primary Principal – Geoff Heney himself!
You enjoy pushing yourself to the limit both mentally and physically: You’re an avid ultra marathoner, fitness guru and involved and support so many organizations in Hong Kong. Where do you find the time and energy and what keeps you going? What attracts you to endurance activities?
While at HKIS, sports became my pillar of confidence. I learned that the mental focus goes far beyond the physical competition and can be applied to anything that I set out to do. Responsibility in your own community is to lead by example. I am inspired by the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow quote, "Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think. The resource pie only grows bigger if we all share." Helping others get to where they need to be like mentoring start-ups, implementing animal welfare, directly engaging youth in education initiatives, reading my children's book to schools, motivating adults through storytelling, helping others to secure employment, coaching others to compete in their first triathlon or pushing others to run their first ultra-marathon.
Left Derek sailing during Interim. Right Derek and his wife Desiree with children Caroline, Dakota, and Dash.
How will you pass your philosophy of not setting boundaries or limits on yourself to your three young children? Do they share your same zest for life and new experiences?
I like to layer my experiences with my children. For example, during home quarantine in 2020, I described camping as a fun way to enjoy the outdoors. We learned more about the experience watching online videos. That evening, we ate freeze dried lasagna for dinner (and it was a hit). Next, they watched me set up my tent in the living room, they crawled into their sleeping bags and we turned off the lights. With their headlamps on, under the flickering, crackling campfire of a YouTube video, I read my children’s book to them. Then a few months later, we went out for a real hike and overnight camping trip. That entire build-up was purposeful and a great way to lead into the actual activity. I want my children to understand that limits are more of an imaginary line drawn across the sand. The tech and innovation start-up industry is really booming in Hong Kong right now, however you’ve been in the space for a long time. What excites you most about this industry today and working with start-up companies?
Twenty-five years ago when I first started, if I needed help to do something, I had to find the answer myself. There were no mentors, accelerators, incubators, tech conferences, Zoom calls, etc. There was no internet. No one knew who Jack Ma was. That allows for a lot of trial and error. Hong Kong was built with the entrepreneurial spirit so that vibe and energy have always been here. Today, there is a structured eco-system with an amazing community of like-minded people who I can reach out to and over a coffee, we can discuss how to conquer the world.
You’ve been a long time supporter of the HKIS Internship Program and helping HKIS students and young alumni gain relevant experience with tech start-up companies. What impresses you the most about the next generation of HKIS alumni?
What is unique about today’s generation of HKIS alumni is their level of involvement within a community, not as spectators but as participants. If they want change, they start with themselves and lead by example.
The New R1 Generation
Derek reading his children's book to HKIS students.
This school year, 7% of our families have at least one parent who is an HKIS alum. These so-called “Alumni Parents” are a growing proportion of our community. Our administrators’ trained eyes can also easily spot them walking their children through the hallways of the school, sharing memories of their own time at HKIS — they walk the walk and talk the talk at a deep level, and offer a window into what our students may be, 20, 30, and 40 years from now!
“A big part of my job is to communicate with the parent community about our learning philosophies and ‘the HKIS way’,” says Lower Primary Principal, Geoff Heney. “Whether it’s about fostering creative writing without the burden of spelling or understanding the “why” behind a math concept, our Alumni Parents don’t need a whole lot of explanation.”
According to Heney, Alumni Parents tend to be people who have had such positive experiences at HKIS, they already come with an understanding of the school’s approach to learning. As a result, they are really supportive and inadvertently become cheerleaders for much of what we do. Who doesn’t want that in your corner?
According to Heney, Alumni Parents tend to be people who have had such positive experiences at HKIS, they already come with an understanding of the school’s approach to learning.
Vicky Seehafer, our Director of Admissions, also notices this shift. "It has been wonderful to see an increase in the number of alumni choosing HKIS for their little ones,” she remarks. “This speaks volumes to our program as our alumni parents recognize the value added when students begin their lifelong journey of learning at the Reception 1 level.”
Did You Know?
Alumni Parents used to be a term for parents of alumni, but with the growing trend of another type of Alumni Parent, we have now re-assigned this title to HKIS alumni who send their own children to HKIS. Parents of alumni are now called Past Parents.
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