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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