|4 Aug 2020|
Professor Vinodh Venkatesh (Class of 2001) may be Malaysian, but his experience, like that of so many ISKL students and alumni, is truly international. Born in Thailand where his Malaysian Foreign Service diplomat father was stationed, his family moved every three to five years. For Vinodh, this meant a childhood spent in Spain and Libya, with a brief sojourn back in Malaysia, before the family resettled in KL in 1998 and he and twin brother Vishnu commenced study at ISKL.
Now a Professor of Spanish at Virginia Tech in the US, he says, “While ISKL was not an international experience, it very much felt like the international school environment that I had grown used to.”
ISKL Alumni’s Lynette MacDonald asked Vinodh about his time at ISKL and how it has supported his academic career.
LM: Did you study the full IB and how well did ISKL prepare you for that very significant workload?
VV: I did the full IB diploma (HL in Biology, Chemistry, English, and Spanish; SL in History and Math). ISKL provides an exceptional preparation for the program. The courses are rigorous and demanding, and the extracurricular options are stellar. I still remember the different things I did for CAS and how they've inspired me as hobbies now in my adult life. Indeed, the daughter of a friend of mine was considering the IB in Denmark, and I had so many positive things to say about the program, especially the structure and preparation provided at ISKL. I am forever grateful to the professors I had in the IB (Crouch, Goh, Sahari, Herrera, Carey, Bissette, and others) who not only went over the course content, but made me into a lifelong learner through the critical thinking skills they fostered in their classes.
LM: Looking back now, from your vantage point as a university professor, how well did the IB prepare you for your future academic career?
VV: The content and skills cultivated in the IB program were fundamental in my academic success afterwards. I remember arriving at Chapel Hill in Fall 2001 and thinking the coursework was very basic in comparison to the classes I took at ISKL.
LM: You and your twin brother Vishnu attended ISKL together but chose very different pathways after school. What was yours, and how did you find that separation initially?
VV: Our initial separation was very tough - we had been inseparable for 18 years of our lives, and all of a sudden, we were at separate schools on the East Coast, only seeing each other during breaks.
I completed a BA in Public Policy and Spanish at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I then completed an MA in Spanish Literature at the University of Florida, before earning a PhD in Romance Languages and Literatures at UNC Chapel Hill. I then started as an Assistant Professor of Spanish at Virginia Tech in 2011, earning tenure and promotion to Associate Professor in 2015, and then promotion to Professor in 2019.
LM: I am fascinated to know more about your research and writing, particularly around gender, literature and film. What are your main interests and the work you are most proud of?
VV: My research is mostly focused on contemporary Latin American literature and cinema, though I have published on Spanish film. My most recent book is on superheroes in Latin American media. I am probably most proud of my second book, New Maricón Cinema: Outing Latin American Film (University of Texas Press, 2016), which traces the representation of LGBTQ bodies and issues in 20th-century Latin American film.
LM: Was there any particular teacher or course that influenced your choice for career?
VV: I had a great humanities and science experience at ISKL - courses in Spanish and English with Mrs. Herrera and Mrs. Sahari were undoubtedly important in cultivating a love for literary and cultural analysis. I also thoroughly enjoyed my courses in Biology and Chemistry with Mr. Crouch and Mrs. Goh. I think the balanced nature of what ISKL and the IB offers you, in addition to the critical thinking skills underlined in TOK, were fundamental in my academic success.
LM: What do you miss about ISKL, KL and Malaysia?
VV: I get back to Malaysia every summer to see my family (although 2019 and 2020 have been exceptions due to leading a study abroad program in Spain last year, and then COVID this year). I absolutely miss the food! I am always trying to cook some of my favorite dishes while abroad. I also miss the bustle of the big city - I currently live in rural Virginia, which is very different from the metropolis that is KL.
LM: I hear from Vishnu that you have some special news to share.
VV: We are very excited to be expecting our first child! I definitely want him to have an international experience - my wife is Spanish, so we visit Spain and Malaysia every year.
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