This week, we met with former Grade 11 students Gabriela and Katerina G. (’22), twin sisters nominated by their former Spanish teacher, Middle School (MS) and High School (HS) faculty Ana Gayoso.
They are the true definition of third-culture kids (TCK) as they have moved a total of eight times and lived in five different countries across the globe!
Their rich experiences have shaped their personalities and character, where they have left a profound impact on the ISKL community through their kindness and PAWsitivity! Gabriela and Katerina are currently based in Dubai, completing their 12th grade at their new school, and are dearly missed!
Here is their story.
Can you tell us more about yourselves?
Gabriela: We were born in Miami, USA, but our parents are Colombian. We’ve moved eight times in total and have been through five schools in five different countries. We started in Miami, then moved to Macae in Brazil, Singapore, Dubai, back to Rio in Brazil, and finally Malaysia. Now we are moving again and going back to Dubai!
When did you come to Malaysia and join ISKL?
Gabriela: We joined halfway through Grade 9 in 2019. It was fascinating because we’ve lived in the United States for a bit and we hadn’t been to this part of Asia. Seeing the different cultures and how tropical the country is was very cool – everyone was so welcoming when we first joined.
Katerina: I initially had a bit of culture shock when walking up to school for the first time and seeing all the open spaces. It was completely different from the schools we were at before, where it was just one building, and we rarely had to cross the streets to get to places. Here at ISKL, we could see nature all around us.
Your teacher, Ana Gayoso, mentioned that you both have very different personalities. Do you agree?
Gabriela: I am more reserved and like to keep to myself; however, I am more vocal with my close friends. I take things more seriously than Katerina; however, I also like sports and am more of a doer than someone who speaks up. Even with socializing, I enjoy meeting new people, but Katerina is more sociable than I am. I like to have conversations with new people, but I’m not that quick to form a connection or be open.
Katerina: As twins, people always said we were total opposites. It’s like we’re the moon and the sun. I’m the sun while Gabriela is the moon. For me, that comes from doing sports, which is a massive part of my life where there isn’t a season or day that goes by without me playing. Even when I came to ISKL, I started the year being involved in sports. I met so many senior and junior students who I still keep in touch with today. I’ve also been inspired to be someone who can speak up and lead – being with the girls on the sports teams has always brought the best out of me.
Many people have mentioned that both of you are kind. Where do you think that comes from?
Gabriela: It might be weird to say this, but we like talking to people and starting conversations. We also enjoy listening to other people’s stories, which comes from having moved so much. I find it interesting because I don’t talk as much, but I love listening to people, their experiences, and what they’ve been through. And I guess that whenever someone needs anything, I listen to them a lot. I think that’s why people think I’m very silent because I say little, but I want to help them out, especially if I’m close to them.
Katerina: When you’ve moved to so many countries, you understand that each has its history and stories. When you learn more about those stories, you gain new perspectives and learn new lessons, which is a different experience than if you’ve lived in one place for a long time. I’ve always been someone who puts others above myself and finds the delight of others makes me happy.
Why do you think kindness is essential in society and at school?
Gabriela: Especially in a school like ISKL, where everyone is from a different place and has a different story, being kind is the first step – you never know what someone’s going through. Everyone has their situations to deal with, and kindness helps you get through the day – even just waving to someone can brighten up someone’s day a lot! No one’s perfect, and there will be bad days, so you need to be kind to one another.
Katerina: I think kindness is essential for unity, which allows for peace. It allows for people to communicate with one another without problems. Unity is fundamental where we as people should be able to help others because we’re all human. Even in school, unity is important. For example, a team might not be the best at a sport, but their spirit and unity could attract more people. I remember one time during an Interscholastic Association of Southeast Asia Schools (IASAS) event, and the Manila team was cheering their heads off. They were so lovely to each other and supported their school with such pride, which made us want to do the same. I would always say that if the world is not going to end because of climate change, it will be because people won’t support and love each other.
How do you put your kindness into action?
Gabriela: I feel like we always show up for events to give moral support – we love going to our friends’ games or events. I remember we once went to a touch rugby game that a few of our friends were a part of late at night. We were lying on the turf and cheering them on even though we hadn’t had dinner yet. It’s the little things that count, and no matter how small someone’s accomplishment is, I think saying congratulations and supporting one another is an excellent way to show kindness.
Katerina: I have wanted to be a better baker, so when we were on campus in the last month of school, I tried to bring a dessert every week to share with my friends. I just wanted to bake something for them, and even if it might turn out bad, it’s the thought that counts.
Also, during the school year, we both decided to make necklaces for people as a friendly gesture and the joy of it. I love seeing the reactions of others to the surprises, and that’s just a way I show my kindness.
What clubs and activities were you involved in at ISKL?
Gabriela: I was in Rehabilitation for Elephants (RARE), the Fugee School Partnership, the HS Student Leadership Team (SLT), and Yearbook. I loved Fugee because we both enjoy sports, and we got to play soccer with the female refugees, and it’s always so much fun because of their energy and enthusiasm. Even after a long day of school, it was so lovely to see that they were smiling and excited to play with us. Even though they might not be fluent in English, they still talked to us a lot, and we eventually became close at the end of the year. It’s cool to be able to see how sports unite people!
Katerina: I was in Within Malaysia (Tasputra Perkim), RARE, the FUGEE School Partnership, and Yearbook. Within Malaysia was a club that spoke to me because we would go to Tasputra, a day-care training center for special needs children, and we would play with the kids there who have cerebral palsy and other special needs. That one hit home because we have a sister who’s 13 with cerebral palsy, and we’ve been to different centers around the world. It makes me emotional seeing the children and being able to make their day and make them smile. We also knew that the center needed all the help they could get, so our club helped them raise funds and collected toys and books for the children.
Can you share any tips on how to be PAWsitive and kind?
Gabriela: I think saying ‘Hi’ to people and waving at them even if you don’t know them that well is always such a nice thing to do for someone. When you walk into a classroom, say ‘Hi’ to your teacher and everyone else who is already there, it can make everyone feel like we are there together. I also like to start conversations with people I haven’t spoken to in a while. For instance, if I see someone waiting for a class to start, I’ll start talking to them to catch up. It’s a way to check in on people and let them know that you care and you will be with them until you graduate.
Katerina: I always say this to people, but one hand movement like a wave and a little expression, go a long way. It seems like nothing, but it can completely change someone’s day. Especially if it is someone I don’t know, and they say ‘Hi,’ it shows me that they want to engage and care about me. I also think putting yourself in others’ shoes is essential – treat others how you also want to be treated!
Can you tell us more about your hobbies and interests?
Gabriela: I have always enjoyed taking photos, even when I don’t really like being in them. I joined Yearbook at ISKL and did photojournalism in my previous school, which helped me talk to more people and learn about more things through their experiences. For instance, I don’t watch rugby, but I learned more about the game while attending the games at ISKL. I love how photos can keep the memories of an event and capture moments of people’s joy and happiness. At the end of this year, we were in charge of the yearbook – it was rewarding to see our classmates’ achievements from the pictures taken. It was great to be part of the yearbook so that we can all look back on the past year and remember these moments even if the year wasn’t the best.
Katerina: For me, it has always been sports and being active in any way that I can. I’ve learned how to control my emotions, be confident, be a leader, and be positive through sports – I feel like half of my personality came from doing sports! I’ve learned what hard work and success is, especially when you put so much into a game and you win it; that feeling is just incomparable. I’ve also learned a lot about relationships, sportsmanship, and competition, so sports is my main hobby.
What are your future plans?
Gabriela: I plan to go to university in the States, and I’m leaning towards Health Sciences. As we said before, our little sister has cerebral palsy, so I’ve constantly been exposed to that side of things, and I’ve always found it interesting. I want to understand cerebral palsy more because I was always curious as a child. I remember people asking me about it, and me not being able to answer annoyed me. I felt like I should be able to explain the condition since my sister has it, so I want to learn more and figure out ways to help my sister and other people with similar conditions in the future.
Katerina: For me, I plan on going to university in the States. I love people so much, so I’ve chosen to do nursing because I see myself doing that a lot in the future. I’m still deciding what part of nursing I want to pursue, but I will wait until college to see how it goes. However, I am very excited to be involved in international programs that help refugees.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
Gabriela: I want to continue to have fun and enjoy each day. I’ve enjoyed everything up till now, and I want to continue and explore more places around the world. I also want to meet new people and connect with people I haven’t seen in a while that I met in the past. It’s something that I want to be able to do when I’m older.
Katerina: Besides nursing, I’ve always seen people being involved in communities that are in need. I want to incorporate that with traveling, where I want to travel as much as possible to reach out and help as many people as I can. It is a big dream of mine to start a global organization or charity that can travel around the world to help others.
If you were in a position of wealth or power in the future, what would you do to help society?
Gabriela: If I had power, I would listen to what’s happening worldwide and take everything into account to provide help. With social media being a tool that spreads information quickly, I want to be of service to anyone or any situation in need at that time. Having power would give me the ability to spread important news and information to let society know what’s going on around the world. With power, one has to act and do things to follow while also listening to others to understand what they are going through. Besides, I also think that education is crucial, yet many children do not have access to it. It is something that I believe should be open to everyone because the more children are educated, the better opportunities they will have in the future.
Katerina: I would rather have power over wealth because money helps a lot, but words wield more power. Like being on social media, there is no money involved, but people can have a voice regardless of their age. Apart from words, actions also speak volumes because it only takes one person to start to make a difference. I believe that there is humanity in every person, and deep down inside, everyone has the instinct to help one another. So when somebody sees other people helping a cause, they might feel compelled to be involved too. I agree with what Gabriela says about education, but I also believe education is a double-edged sword. Presently, some forms of education limit what children learn or know, like how some parts of history are removed from textbooks. However, with power and knowledge, you can use your power to advocate and educate more people to be aware of such things.
Who or what inspires you or has influenced you?
Gabriela: I can’t pick just one person because I’ve learned from every single adult I’ve met. All my teachers have taught me different things, and they have helped me grow as a person. I’ve heard many other stories that inspired me to try new things, live life to the fullest, and be a better version of myself.
Katerina: I’m similar that way where all my friends and adults in my life have taught me something. But I want to mention my dad specifically. I’ve always looked up to him, and he is like my best friend. Everyone says he is the perfect human being who can do anything, and it’s crazy how even my friends look up to him. He shows me that things are not impossible and that there’s always a solution. He reminds me that there’s always a way out of every problem. He also always puts others before himself. When he was still working, he helped people retain and find jobs. It’s crazy to think that he did that even if he lost his job and didn’t have that help to maintain his own. It’s why I look up to him because he understands the struggles people have to go through during this pandemic. He’s also a huge sports person and has shown me what hard work is, which is why he inspires me.
What are your most memorable moments at ISKL?
Gabriela: I remember on the plane ride to IASAS in Manila, we had brought strings to make friendship bracelets, and then it became a whole thing. At one point, we started passing strings around the plane, and even the soccer boys got involved too in making the friendship bracelets! I met so many people through that experience that I still keep in touch with now, so it’s so cool that we got to form such tight bonds on those trips.
Katerina: Even having traveled to all the different countries in my life, the trip to Manila was the best. Being with your friends on a plane and doing something you love is so different. The excitement and the adrenaline we had at IASAS and the whole culture of cheering for your team and not caring about anything was fun.
I want to give a shout-out to the 2019 volleyball team because out of all my years of playing sports, that team was the closest-knit!
What will you miss about Malaysia?
Gabriela: Besides our friends and ISKL, I’ve grown so accustomed to everything. I’ll miss going on hikes, walking to school, and meeting friends on the way because we’ve never walked to school before except in Malaysia. We met so many people here, and they were all so encouraging to all of us. In Biology, everyone was feeling down, but the teacher started playing an old song, and the whole class started laughing. The teacher had a ski mask on one time too to make us laugh. They’re so kind, and I want to support all of them.
Katerina: For me, it is mainly school. ISKL has been the best school I’ve ever been to, even though I thought I wouldn’t find a school better than the last one. I just had so many good memories, and I am so thankful for all the fantastic teachers who were so friendly and helpful. I’ve told my parents that yeah, moving to a new place is exciting but it’s the people that will make it memorable. ISKL showed me that through friends, teachers, and people whom I will never forget. If I could recommend anyone to go to ISKL, I would. At least, based on what we’ve experienced, it’s been a good journey.
What does “Be All You Are” mean to you?
Gabriela: I remember Mr. Jeff Farrington talked about it when we first moved here. We all come from different places, but being as genuine as you can and not being afraid of being different is what I think ‘Be All You Are’ means. Everyone is different. So challenge yourself, do whatever you want, you’re going to get to experience new things. Since we’re such an international place, we are all different and unique in our way. If they have a pathway for science, or art, or photography, go for it. It encourages us as youths to be all we can be. Live your experience at ISKL to the fullest because the school does help you find yourself and pursue what you want.
Katerina: I think it’s related to being able to express yourself and not to worry. You have the freedom to do what you want. No one’s the same, and being all you are helps everyone come together and understand people. It helps us be more of a community. It means to express yourself in a way that makes you happy. We are all grateful to have amazing people who are so different, and they are who they are, and we love them for that.
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 Yik Khai Yew the Penangite, or Steve X. the Aspiring Doctor!