Panthers of ISKL #74 – The Outstanding Linguist

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Panthers of ISKL Ren I

This week, we met up with Ren. I (’23), a High School (HS) student originally from Japan who grew up in Mexico.

His unique childhood experiences stem from being born in Japan and living in Mexico before residing in Malaysia. These have influenced his hobbies and love for the Spanish language, making him the first Asian student at ISKL to pursue a Spanish-English International Baccalaureate Bilingual Diploma (IBDP)!

Ren was nominated for this Panthers of ISKL story by his Spanish teacher, MS/HS faculty Ana Gayoso, who has helped him a lot during his 9th grade!

Here is his story.


“I was born as an only child, in the countryside city of Utsunomiya in Japan. After living there until I was seven, I moved to Guadalajara in Mexico and went to an American school. This was the most significant turning point in my life! I remember being sick everywhere in my new house for the first week – I guess my body didn’t do well with all the shifts in my life!

‘Just before turning 10, I moved to the city Celaya, Mexico, which is about a four-hour car ride from the city of Guadalajara. There were no American schools there, so I went to an American school in Queretaro, about an hour from my house. This year, Celaya was nominated as the ‘most dangerous city in the world.’ It was already dangerous enough when I lived there – there were always two bodyguards in our school bus! 

‘After graduating from Elementary School (ES), I moved back to Japan and lived in Tokyo for two years. Although I was born there, it didn’t feel like going back home – it was more like living in an entirely new country. When I was 14, I moved to Malaysia and joined ISKL in the second semester of 8th grade due to my dad’s work. When I came to Malaysia, the most surprising thing was seeing how Malaysia has different races living together, which was very different from how it was in Mexico.


‘I’m currently doing an IB Bilingual Diploma but didn’t choose to take IB English and Spanish intentionally to pursue the diploma. I decided to take them because those languages represent who I am. Although I am entirely Japanese, I have lived around English and Spanish cultures long enough for it to become a massive part of my life. I also had the chance to take IB Japanese instead of Spanish, but it took me a whole summer vacation to think through which language(s) to choose. What concerned me about taking IB Spanish was that it had been almost four years since I left Mexico. Obviously, I did lose some of my Spanish fluency, but in the end, I loved my Spanish class in 9th and 10th grade, and with the support of my classmates and teacher, I thought I could get through the two years of IB Spanish class.

‘Unsurprisingly, I am the only Asian student in my IB Spanish class, and although many people might think otherwise about an Asian student being in this class, I honestly feel like being at home! I grew up in Mexico, so the sounds, accents, atmosphere, and the unique humor of the language just made me feel very comfortable, and the language has a special place in my heart. Also, believe it or not, many Asian students were speaking Spanish fluently in my old school in Mexico, so I am not the only one who is unique because of my knowledge of the Spanish language.

‘My advice on the best way to learn another language is to visit countries where their primary language is the one you aim to learn. Although language is a way of communication, it is also the representation of a culture. Once you see the country, you will be surrounded by the locals, and being able to live and breathe and see the culture for yourself, you will understand the language better. But now that we are in a global pandemic, I recommend watching Netflix with subtitles in the language you want to learn. You will remember phrases and words of that language since you are also visualizing the scenes in the show. For me, it’s an easy way for one to gain more knowledge of a new language!


“Growing up as a boy in Mexico means you’re playing football no matter what. Everywhere you go in Mexico, you will see a football game live on TV – it’s a massive part of their unique culture, and I was influenced. Football is more than a hobby for me, and I’ve been playing since ES. As I moved to different schools, football has been a massive part of my life, and it has been my way of making new friends in new environments. One of the good things about football is that it’s a worldwide team sport to get along with many people without any language boundaries. Also, I think I did learn some Spanish just by watching and listening to the commentary from Mexican football games.

‘Skiing is another sport I have been interested in for the past few years. The first time I skied was in Colorado, Florida, one of the best places to ski. I started in a friendly ski club first when I was 9 or 10 years old, but as I skied a couple of times, I handled it pretty well. Every year after that, my parents would take me to ski every winter vacation, and when I was in 9th grade, I received a second-degree ski certificate from the ski association of Japan. To gain this certification, I had to go to a certificate camp in Japan, where I stayed with other people who would take the exam for a couple of days. In the end, the people who passed the tests’ names were announced, and I heard my name. I felt delighted!

‘For extracurriculars, I’m in the Kuala Lumpur Youth Soccer (KLYS) club. The club comprises international students, and we practice at Kelab Aman or the old ISKL campus. My coach last year was Toshiya Hosoe – he’s an ISKL Alumni and won three Interscholastic Association of Southeast Asia Schools (IASAS) games in football and also used to be a professional footballer. My new coach is Luis Pablo – he’s an Argentinian who used to be a footballer and was coached by the legendary Diego Maradona. Being a part of KLYS, I competed in Sweden and Denmark for the Gothia Cup and Dana Cup. The Gothia Cup is one of the biggest youth tournaments in the world, so that was quite an experience.

‘Besides that, I used to be part of the FUGEE School Partnership, but since everything went online, I could not play football with the kids at FUGEE School. I recently submitted a request to start a new ISKL club called the ‘Japanese Culture Club’ that revolves around learning Japanese culture and language through animation (anime) shows. As previously mentioned, there’s a lot to learn from watching TV shows, especially anime, since it’s a symbol of Japanese culture.

‘The most memorable moment I had at ISKL was when I made the varsity team as a freshman – it was one of those times where I felt like my hard work had paid off. I had won a couple of tournaments back in Mexico and Japan, and I had very special memories of playing football in the past, but being selected for the varsity team felt different. Although I didn’t make the IASAS team, this served to push me to work harder. It was unfortunate when IASAS was canceled in my sophomore year, but I’ve been working on my own during virtual learning. I hope that IASAS will be allowed to run during my senior year.


“The person who has influenced me the most is my grandfather. He used to be a police officer in Japan and was even awarded by the Imperial Majesty of Japan when he retired. I’ve heard a lot of stories during his time as a police officer, and not only do I respect him as a police officer serving for the country for almost 40 years, but I also really respect him as a person. Even after he retired, he has been helping the community, and kindness is truly in his heart. The act of supporting others without receiving anything in return is thoughtful and courteous, and I want to become that kind of person in the future.”

‘My dream for the future is to support children suffering from poverty. One of the most shocking moments living in Mexico was seeing kids my age on the streets asking for money from morning till evening. That was when I felt I was revealed to the truth of the cruelness of poverty children are exposed to. Those children couldn’t afford any shoes – all they did during the day was ask for as many alms as possible from people driving-by in their cars. All this to support their families, with some even carrying their little brothers and sisters, showing us that they needed water and food. I want to start my own business because I want to help those children. I haven’t planned this out yet, but I did develop a presentation in Grade 10 and the best thing I can do to help is to start a refugee or community school for the children. I believe that the best way to curb poverty and give children a chance in life is through education.

‘Additionally, if I were in a position of wealth or power in the future, I would want to provide basic needs for children suffering from poverty and give them a chance of receiving a proper education. These children’s focus in life ever since they were born was to not starve to death – they do not have the opportunity to pursue their dreams or empower their lives. This relates to goals 1 and 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the United Nations (UN), to end poverty in all its forms everywhere and ensure inclusive and equitable quality education to promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

‘I hope that after graduating from ISKL, I plan on pursuing commerce in college. That was why I decided to take Economics, Business, and Math as High Level (HL) subjects. I’ve always been interested in how money works in our society, and how a business is run. Also, being an entrepreneur who can speak Japanese, English, and Spanish does sound pretty cool too!”

 What does “Be All You Are” mean to you?

“I believe that to ‘Be All You Are’ means being the most authentic version of yourself. Although this sounds straightforward, the external societal pressure is always there – we often worry too much about what other people think, which results in adjusting ourselves to fit into a particular group or community.

‘Speaking from experience, people will judge us regardless of what we do; thus, being yourself makes your life much more fulfilling and pleasant. Staying true to ourselves is crucial as we live in a world today where society is continually evolving. I remember reading a book  and coming across this quote: ‘Live your life on your terms, not someone else’s.”

Do you know a student, faculty, staff, or alumni with a story to tell? Nominate them to be featured in our Panthers of ISKL stories by sending in your submissions here. To find out more inspiring stories of our community, read about Tracy C. our new PTA President or The Staff Association Stars!

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