Alumni Interview: Gaurav Raul
Class of 2007 | Years at ISPP 2005 – 2007
Greetings and salutations to all alumni (that includes students, teachers and admin), current students, teachers and admin and anyone that chances across my story.
My name is Gaurav Raul. I am 34 years old and I live in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I am Indian by birth but I have grown up in Cambodia. I have been here for over 20 years but thanks to the support of my family, I am well travelled. I attended ISPP for the years of 2005 to 2007 while I was finishing Grades 11 and 12 in the IB system. I was raised by my beloved late single mother and her side of the family including all my beloved aunts and uncles. I was brought up in a modernized version of a joint family which used to be common in India.
My story is not so much a celebration of the academic success of the IB system as much as it is an illustration of how lives can change because of the subject Theory of Knowledge (TOK) that I was introduced to at ISPP. Critical thinking has been a definitive influence in my life and has defined almost everything including life, health, career, love and family.
My favorite subjects at school were English, Economics and TOK. Since I speak, read and write five languages by now with a few others I’m gaining more fluency in, I always had an affinity for languages. My mother tongue is Odia (spoken in the state of Odisha, India) but I also speak the Indian national language of Hindi. In addition, I have an intermediate level of fluency in French and Khmer which I picked up and improved upon at ISPP and of course English. Now, English is widely spoken in India with a strong proficiency as it is a Commonwealth nation but I have been obsessed with this language since I was a child. Having a strong grasp over it has translated to many career saving moments over the years including a fledgling career in poetry and music. My eternal gratitude goes to all my English teachers starting with my maternal grandpa when I was just an infant.
Even before I attended ISPP, I was friends with at least four generations of students at ISPP. Back then I was still attending BISPP, another international school where my mother worked although she would go on to become the dean of Mathematics, Sciences and Engineering at the Pannasastra University of Cambodia when I did attend ISPP. My family was/is very Christian, academically focused on STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics, Ed.) and strict in my upbringing and in the upbringing of my cousins whom I consider closer than siblings. Moreover, I didn’t really have any allowances or pocket money as most of my mother’s income went straight into my pricey education. In comparison to the people I was hanging out with, I didn’t have many resources to make many opportunities happen for myself in those days. Luckily, I was privileged enough to meet and hang out with some of the best individuals to ever attend ISPP and they were kind enough to take me in and expand my horizons. My love of hip-hop music, racing motor vehicles, performance arts and dancing can all be attributed to different ISPP students who introduced me to them. I was truly lucky to have met them and it didn’t hurt that I was blessed with a strong presence of mind and street smarts that helped me contribute something of value to my friend group at the time. The freedom and independence that these former ISPP students displayed really brought me out of my shell and hindsight proves that it was for the best. These people were my inspiration and I am proud to say that I am still in touch with most of them.
My time at ISPP was humbling but fun. I will be the first to admit that I immersed myself more into the ISPP student lifestyle than in my actual classes. They were some of the greatest years of my life and would shape my future in ways I didn’t yet know at the moment. My fondest memories from my time are being one of the handful of students from all over the world to finagle my way into speaking at the General Assembly at the Model United Nations in MUNSingapore and being the lead character of Sky Masterson in the musical Guys & Dolls and of course, the two legendary TOK retreats that I got to attend. We were a really cool school back then with us dominating the MRISA sports exchanges, having a radio show on 97.5 Love FM and all the concerts and battles of the bands. We used to go out on the weekends and act as equals with teachers and admin we would run into without any judgement. We used to get into trouble and learn how to get out of it. We used to do student-only trips to Sihanoukville and Kampot and used to have brutal rugby and football matches. We used to play basketball during recess and lunch, leave campus to eat outside and hang out for hours after school either in the courtyard or in the auditorium. We used to make music and funny videos in the common room and the computer lab and freestyle rap in our spare time. In short, I truly enjoyed and made the most of my time there.
After I left school, I studied accounting and held a variety of jobs over the years. My first job was as an accounting executive. I’ve been in business development which I still work in. I was a financial auditor and in Internal risk management at KPMG, a big four audit firm. I sold and was a finance manager for heavy equipment selling company. I was a land, plantation and agricultural consultant for a bit. I helped launch bids for software solutions to telecom companies, fill equipment procurement bids for EDC, and audited big banks to little NGOs. I helped with joint ventures between international and local companies. I even helped launch a crypto coin company and trading platform. I’ve worked with embassies and G2G events. It’s been a privilege to dip my fingers into all these different pies.
After a while though, I started craving the old ISPP glory days and found myself hanging out and doing poetry and music at a little bar called Showbox. Fast forward to 2016 and onwards and I am very much transitioning myself out of the corporate world into the music industry as the relatively well-known and well-received Emcee Initial G. I have founded, led and managed successful bands such as Hypnotic Fist Technique, Funan Beat Empire and Initial Dynamo, most of which went defunct during the covid lockdowns. Currently, I am a solo recording artist for the label CIC Music and have a performance collective with Dj Niko Yu and producer CIC Man called Koalition Supreme and working on multiple yet-to-be-released and unveiled musical projects. I have done stand-up comedy, spoken word poetry and headlined festivals and concerts, had editorials written about me and my projects, and even performed at prestigious events on Cambodian TV. I humorously call it my early onset mid-life crisis. The money is not always consistent but I can’t imagine doing anything else in the future seeing as I actually keep getting better and better the more I actively hone my skills. My three albums are all on Spotify with a smattering of singles here and there. I really enjoy it and want to keep at it as long as it makes sense and I can support myself and my family.
My long-winded point is this – academic excellence is great and is the goal of school and if you’re on that path, great, keep doing what you’re doing! I would also recommend making some lifelong friends and having some adventures and making some great memories. There are a bunch of ways to get to the finish line in real life and no shame in most of those ways. Be blessed and prosper!
Are you still in contact with your ISPP friends?
Happy to report that I am, for the most part. There will always be people who will fall off the radar but it’s always a delight to see them pop back up. If you do manage to stay in touch especially collectively, it is important to remember what your common bonding element during your time in school was. Ours was comedic roasting, in my humble opinion. Or I may be completely wrong and they have all been silently tolerating my jabs.
How was your transition from the finance industry to the music industry?
It was abrupt. When I first started out, I kept my involvement in the project and the shows a secret. I perceived that I couldn’t let the two worlds collide and didn’t promote myself at all in the beginning. I was worried about a negative impression of myself in the eyes of both sides, should it become about culture vs. counterculture. Turns out I needn’t have worried at all, much to my relief. Corporate people all have artistic aspirations and ambitions just like creative people do. Sadly, a lot of them don’t get the luxury of being able to garner enough momentum to get their creative projects off the ground. So there’s a bit of wish fulfilment when one of their own dares to venture out into the creative world and the gig economy. I see it as a symbiosis. For example, a lot of the target demographic of bands in Phnom Penh tend to be teachers. A lot of band members and musicians in Phnom Penh tend to be teachers. They tend to be a faithful, cultured and rewarding audience. I wager that the discomfort I initially felt in the beginning before I went public was mostly because of my own fear of jumping into such a risky industry. The transition became immediately smoother when I dispelled that fear. Making something of yourself and reinventing yourself are big moments in a person’s life. They both require outstanding courage which I believe everyone is capable of.
What was the most memorable thing you remember from your ISPP days?
Easy. After school hours. The courtyard at the old Secondary campus on Norodom. Nothing spectacular. Just surreal to me who had never seen teenagers behave en masse the way the ISPP kids did. A few groups on the benches. Some on the stairs of the auditorium. Some on the stairs to the nurses’ office downstairs from the IT lab. Studious book clutching kids leaving the biology labs and shop class and art class. Basketballs bouncing loudly in the background. Trash talk vaguely floating over into the courtyard. The sixth graders chased each other around the lockers. Then as I observed, all the different groups I just mentioned started interacting with each other. Fluidly. All positive stuff. I even saw some kids getting reassured on their way to detention by random kids. Didn’t really see that many kids leaving or in a hurry to leave and dusk was approaching. Maybe it was a low bar to jump, but to me, that was just wow.
How influential were your parents on your career path and career decisions made?
My family were significantly influential on my career path and career decisions made. The great thing about coming from a large joint family is that you have a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw from for multiple people. The advice and guidance were invaluable and I am so grateful for them. Sometimes you’re going to find your own way but work off a platform of advice from your parents.
What advice do you have for ISPP students who are aspiring musicians/want to break into the music industry?
Don’t just perform or make music for your friends. To make it, you have to be able to win the admiration of total strangers. It’s fun to have a musical journey with your friends but you don’t want an audience full of friends. You will stagnate or plateau at some point. Just because music is in the creative field doesn’t mean that you can skate by on cursory talent and charisma. You have to nerd out and explore all the avenues and keep learning. Learn about the business side of music. Learn about the complexities of the production, recording process and from more experienced musicians. There is plenty of content online.
What skill(s) from school helped you the most in making the transition from business/management to the music industry?
Definitely freestyling and any kind of performative skill but most importantly people skills. One can’t really be a shy performer so use school to get the shyness out of your system and gain some confidence instead.
This interview was first published in the ISPP Pulse Magazine (August – October 2022).
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- Armando Abrahamsson (2010 – 2012)
- Luca Fleschler, Fraya Fleschler, Ximena Herrera (2011-2017)
- Dany, Soriya and Kalyane Warren (1996-2001)
- Nadia Fernando (1999-2015)
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