Kensington Relived with: Greta Portone '17

Welcome to our Kensington Relived Series where we chat to former Kensington School students. For our fourth interview of the series, meet former pupil, Greta Portone '17.

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Greta started Kensington School in Junior 3 and left in Upper 6 after A Levels - studied Chemistry Maths and Biology at A Level. She is now studying medicine at Imperial, London UK.

Greta is of Italian nationality and before moving to Spain lived in Japan and Germany. As a family they moved countries a lot until they arrived in Spain in 2006. Greta and her two siblings all attended Kensington. Her family were only supposed to stay for a few years, they had always been to international schools across the world because of their fathers work.

Their family fell in love with the school and the city and ended up making it their permanent home, with all three children attending Kensington until they graduated in Year 13.

If you could describe Kensington School, how would you describe it?

I guess if I were to think about it, it’s a very homely school. It feels very much like a house and everyone knows one another. I remember being in Form 3 and I still knew all of the students in the Junior School as well as all the older students. You end up knowing everyone; it was a very relaxed environment.

It has been a big change for me coming from a very small school to go to a big university. I met someone who has been in my class for 4 years and I’ve never even seen them before! - you’d never get that at Kensington.

What is your lasting memory from your time at the school?

There are so many memories, I'm getting so many flashbacks; I have very distinct memories with Mr Martin in Art Class, he would put music on. It was the only class we could put music on and we would just paint for hours. He was so nice, he always used to call us ‘silly sausages’.

We would always stay after school for extra Biology because Mrs Langdon Davies would give us extra classes. I remember watching everyone going home from out the window and feeling so grateful that we were able to stay and be given extra lessons. Mrs Langdon Davies is a big reason I got into Imperial College, I couldn’t have done it without her.

I was part of the Charity Committee and we often did charity bakes. Students would bring things that were recipes from their home countries and we would have so much food! We made a lot of money and we also collected food and took it to the local orphanages. A few years after it started, Mr Evans took over and I remember we were putting on an event and we were seriously trying to get Shakira to come! We believed we could get her! There are just so many wholesome memories.

What are the most important lessons that Kensington taught you?

It taught me a lot about professionalism, [teachers] they were good at instilling politeness and the correct way to address and talk to people.

Not just to the teachers and older students, but even your classmates. It all just happened naturally from being in the environment you found yourself in - the teachers definitely instilled a level of professionalism and maturity in me.

Are you still in touch with friends from KS?

I do still have friends from school, there are some that left early and my best friend and I met in school, but she left in J6 so we were only there for a few years together. She's now working in Kiev and we visit each other all the time. I've visited her there and she's been to my family's place in Italy. I still speak to them and will try and see them in the summer.

I spoke to one of them yesterday actually! We are doing online baking this weekend. Her mother used to make me this cake for my birthday every year and it’s the best cake I've tasted to this day!

On Saturday we made the dough and let it rest overnight. On Sunday she's going to teach me how to braid it!

I remember Mr Bayes, the Headmaster. I was there in the interview when he was going for his Headmaster position. We were on the School Council and he was telling us about his school in Valencia I think it was. I think they may have already hired him and they let us meet him before he started but it was a great experience.

We had an assembly every week and Mr Bayes would do his presentations on this ancient overhead projector [Greta laughs]! He would project it on the white wall and he would have all of his slides printed on plastic sheets. I remember sitting there thinking there's a new projector in this room and he'd be sliding the plastics across projecting his big hand creating shadow each time. I remember very vividly the assembly when the Boeing flight disappeared. It was so sad but I also remember him with this big folder full of plastic slides.

Are there any of the teachers that really stand out to you after all this time?

Omg for sure! Mme Grandhomme, the French teacher. She helped me so much, I only did GCSE but I would go and sit with her and talk to her about anything. She would always listen, Mrs Landon Davies as well. We still email sometimes when I remember something I did in class. She gave me my predicted grades that I needed to get into university and when I got them it was definitely because she pushed me, I owe her.

Ms Coffey too, I became almost friends with them. When they weren't my teachers we developed a different relationship, I’d see them and chat with them, it was different. They have seen you grow up and when they’re not teaching you anymore, you develop a different relationship with them.

Ms Canwell taught me from like age 10 to 18, she taught me for so many years. She's an incredible maths teacher, she's strict at first but then warms up. I remember when she did her marathon, she was wheeling around everywhere in her chair! Funny the things I remember.

Don't take it for granted is something that definitely comes to mind. Live in the moment. I remember being like I can't wait to move out and be at University and now that I'm here I just want to go back!

What were your favourite classes?

You know what, geography and history, I don't know why but I think it was the group of people. You didn't go through a class without laughing, you almost looked forward to them because you knew you’d laugh in them. Geography was with Mr Geary and history was with Mr Giles (current Executive Head, Duncan Giles). They were both very on it, but laid back at the same time. All the work got done but it was fun, it wasn't a strict environment but it was an environment where you did what you had to do but we’d have fun when we had time and things were done. We would chat and laugh and it created the best learning environment imaginable.

Where did you go to University after leaving Kensington?

I went to and I am still at Imperial College (Medical School) . I'm in my 4th year and I have 2 more to go. I have been studying for a long time but I am also quite glad I don't have to start working yet in all honesty!

How did you find the move to London from Barcelona?

I was very excited, I think coming from such a small school there is an advantage and you have a different type of relationship with the teachers. It’s a different kind of environment. I remember back in Kensington my teachers would always tell me “we can't spoon feed you forever you have to take it how it is and figure it out!” When I moved to London and enrolled at Imperial I remember being like, what is this world!! I met one of my teachers here for the first time in person yesterday - I’ve had him for three years! They don't really know who you are and no one is checking in on you. You just do you, whatever you get out of it is whatever you decide to put in.

Is this the first time you've lived in london?

Yes, I moved when I was 18 and have been here ever since. It's a very big city, I miss Barcelona for sure. It's very cold here! As students we’re not located in the centre, we can't afford that rent. We are in Zone 2, it's very nice as we have the river nearby and lots of parks. I always say it takes you 45 mins to get anywhere in London, it's huge! In Barcelona It took me 15 minutes to go wherever I wanted.

I like London, you’ve got everything you want but I guess you go to places less because the trek puts you off a little bit. I miss Barcelona and Kensington a lot, I miss the teachers I grew up with and all the people there.

Have you visited since?

I visited in my first year at Imperial but not in my second because my holidays started after the schools had closed due to Covid. Then, this year Covid has stopped travel but when it's finished I'll try and find some dates to go back and visit.

Are your family still in Barcelona?

Yes, my parents are still in Barcelona. My little brother left Kensington 2 years ago. He is at Durham University studying Physics, he's in his second year. He is happy there in a little town, he would hate the big city. I have an elder brother who is an actor and moving around seeing what he can do. He went to Kensington, he's 5 years older than me, I think he left in 2013 (Riccardo ‘12 and Leonardo ‘19).

They taught me alot about professionalism, they were good at instilling politeness and the correct way to address and talk to people. Not just the teachers and your senior but even your classmates. It all just happened naturally from being in the environment you find yourself in.

What lessons do you think an international school like Kensington equipped you with and how did it prepare you for the next stages of life?

I wouldn't have gone to the UK if it wasn't for them; they made it possible for me to come and study here. There are a lot of different nationalities at Kensington, even if they're only in Spain for a couple of years. It teaches you to make friendships in a short period of time. I have friends still to this day that I only knew for a year from age 9 to 10. I even have friends that I knew for 5 months. People come and go and it teaches you to be open and chat to everyone. The fact is that everyone is going to go somewhere else soon, so you learn to make relationships fast.

Where do you see yourself going in the next 5 to 10 years?

My career path is so long, I'll probably still be studying and figuring things out! I am still learning and developing so much at University and I don't think my career will have started any time soon!

I would like to go and work for ‘Médecins Sans Frontières’ (MSF). I am currently attending conferences and slowly starting to prepare for that. I have started learning Arabic as the university gives us free language courses which will be a great skill to add. I know that's the direction I want to go but I don't know in what field of medicine. It’s a long process, you need to do your 6 years studying and then 4 years of training so it's another 8 years away! I am enjoying it 100%, it's fun. It is very different from school, I think they prepare you as well as they can do in academics and that side of things but no one can prepare you for the move and the different environment. I would do it all over again though.

What advice do you have for any students currently at Kensington or considering joining?

Don't take it for granted is something that definitely comes to mind. Live in the moment. I remember thinking ‘I can't wait to move out and be at University’ and now that I'm here I just want to go back!

Enjoy every day, even the days that you're annoyed you don't have a single free period. I'm sorry to say it's not going to get any easier so just enjoy it! Make the most of it and talk to everyone. I know it's a small school but you do become friends with people in older and younger year groups too. I mean it's been 4 years since I left and I'm still friends with them and hopefully will be for a long time.

Photographs from Greta '17 during her time at Kensington School

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