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January 26, 2016
Looking Back: HKIS' First Head of School
By Shayla Sandoval
In 2016, Hong Kong International School will have its 50th Anniversary. Junto contacted individuals around the world who were involved with the school in its founding stages. Here, Shayla Sandoval profiles Mr. Bob Christian, HKIS’ first Head of School.
In 1966, Mr. Bob Christian’s close friend from Concordia Teachers College in New York was serving as a Lutheran missionary in Hong Kong. When the initial thoughts of opening an international school in Hong Kong arose, Mr. Christian’s name was suggested to the Board for Missions of the Lutheran Church. Mr. Christian had 17 years of teaching and administration experience in a Lutheran school in New York. Soon, he received a call asking him to come to Hong Kong, along with his wife and four children.
“Our children, ages 8-14 had tears about leaving New York City, but we were there only a few months, and they said without reservation that the move was great,” he said in an email.
Mr. Christian was the first Head of School, and over his time in Hong Kong, he witnessed the rapid growth of the school.
“We were serving students and families with such diverse backgrounds, including from some forty different countries all over the world. We recognized this, but also wanted to share the love of God with them, and this was an exciting task,” he said.
Much like the HKIS of today, HKIS in its early years faced the delicate balance of remaining a Lutheran School grounded in the Christian faith while respecting and integrating the faiths of a variety of backgrounds.
“We never wanted to ‘push Christianity’ down the throats of students, but we at least wanted them to recognize the reality of a loving and caring God for their lives,” he said.
A yearbook photo from the early days of HKIS. Photo of the photo by Elisabeth Slighton.
The late 1960s and early 1970s in Southeast Asia were a time characterized by the Vietnam War. Mr. Christian recalls Hong Kong being a Rest and Relaxation (R&R) location for the United States military, and Hong Kong always hosted around 10,000 US military personnel. In addition to this, the proximity to China and the state of American relations in China at the time always led to questions about the intentions of setting up an American school in Hong Kong.
“Those were the reasons we were happy to be called the International School rather than the American School. We also wanted all our students to have a meaningful experience of the joys of living in an international setting,” Mr. Christian said.
In addition to the Vietnam War, Hong Kong and the beginnings of HKIS were also affected by the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Mr. Christian mentioned the tension between Hong Kong and China led to frequent riots, and shutting off of water supply in Hong Kong.
“We had four hours of water every fourth day,” he said. “There were always those political situations in the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong.”
As the school continued to grow in enrollment, the mission, programs, and staffing adjusted to accommodate new students. With the growth, however, there never seemed to be a financial concern. High tuition could be paid, and both Chinese and American business communities who wanted to support a good school in the region made significant monetary contributions.
Junto in its pre-digital form.
Mr. Christian says HKIS has played a major role in his life, and in the lives of his family.
“We have developed a ‘world point of view’, have learned how to tackle challenges, have had the continuing desire to share God’s love with others, and have gained many new thoughts about providing meaningful, life centered information to students and their families,” he said.
Mr. Christian and his family returned to the US in 1977. Mr. Christian is now 87 years old, and says his health is still reasonably good. He is thankful his and his wife’s families all live nearby, and provide him with lots of support. He and his wife are still very active in their church in Seattle, Washington. Most of his children and grandchildren have now graduated college with multiple degrees and work in health-related professions.