Tae Ho Lee, from South Korea, Attended Randolph-Macon Academy (R-MA) from 2005-2009 and Graduated as Valedictorian of His Class

Tae Ho Lee, from South Korea, Attended Randolph-Macon Academy (R-MA) from 2005-2009 and Graduated as Valedictorian of His Class

Why did you decide to attend a boarding or summer school in the U.S.A.?

As I was educated in Korea until middle school, my life was only focused on studying 24/7, both at school and an after school institute. One day, I realized that I wanted to get a diverse education, one that was not only focused on studying, and then I decided to share my thoughts with my parents. Initially, my father didn’t allow me to study abroad. While I kept thinking of a way to pursuade him, I came up with the idea to create pitchdeck slides with Powerpoint to convince him to allow me to study in U.S. After an incessant pursuasion to show how determined I was, my father finally decided to support me.

How did you choose R-MA? What attracted you to this school? Why was it a special place?

When I visited R-MA’s website, the ROTC program seemed very challenging and interesting. I wanted to challenge myself and see if I could endure living as a cadet under strict rules and wearing uniforms. Looking at myself  in the mirror with short hair and wearing Air Force uniforms, I realized that I had truly become a cadet. Living under strict rules with fixed schedules was not easy for a fourteen-year-old kid, but, with the kind help of my R-MA family, I was able to get used to living as a cadet. After experiencing soft leadership from my flight commander Daegon Chung in the first semester at R-MA, I set my flight commander as my role model and tried to act like him to inspire my future cadets in my squadron. 

What did you like best about studying at R-MA?

With the support of dedicated faculty members, I was able to quench my thirst for studying. As I have been the type of person who is curious and eager to learn new things, I usually approached most of my faculty members to make sure that I understood what they were teaching. Through that process, I believe I learned about the joy of learning with the right guidance. I still remember when I bugged my AP Physics Instructor, Mr. Baird, one Friday afternoon trying to solve one of the most difficult problems (which I still remember) that I had. Moreover, the mentorship program at R-MA was very helpful. My mentor, Mr. Harriman, gave me sincere advice all the time, and he helped me not to lose focus when I was mentally exhausted. Having donuts with coffee with him and other mentees is one of good ole memories that I have of R-MA. Along with learning new mathematical equations and theorems, the funny jokes and the stories told by my AP Calculus instructor, Mr. Barr, always made me look forward his next class. 

What do you miss most about home?

Thinking back on my days at R-MA, I didn’t feel very homesick as R-MA naturally became my second home. The R-MA community as a whole is something that I still miss.

How long did you study at R-MA? How has your English improved?  How has the program helped you to handle future study at a U.S. university?

I studied four years at R-MA, from 2005 to 2009. As English was not my first language, I didn’t know how to write proper essays for the class. With the help of my English instructors (Ms. Knight, Mr. Davies, Ms. Mustain, and Dean Porter), I was able to improve my English skills dramatically. My bestfried, Max Ramundo, spared his time to edit and proofread my essays without any hesitation, therefore I was getting help both in and out of classes. I was able to use the skills that I learned at R-MA fully while I was attending the University of California, Berkeley, which definitely helped me to get my first job offer in San Francisco.

What was your biggest surprise about U.S. life and education? 

As I was the last swimmer in a swimming competition, crowds were giving me applauses until my last stroke. It was one of the memorable moments that made me realize that I was being educated in the U.S. I didn’t expect crowds to give applause to the last swimmer in the competition. I had thought that was something that you could only experience in Olympic games. The motivation for me to pursue studying in U.S. was the opportunity to get a diverse education in every aspect. I had always wanted to be a well-rounded student. I was motivated to study hard, play in sports team for school, and cultivate leadership skills at the sametime. And, for that purpose, R-MA was the perfect place for me to achieve what I wanted to do in my high school years.

... your biggest disappointment?

I was deeply disappointed when I didn’t get into all the colleges that I had applied to. However, as I learned how to get back on my feet after numerous challenges at R-MA, I was able to make myself more positive and train both mentally and physically through  swimming and weight-lifting. 

How have you handled:

...Language differences?

In spite of the fact that I had been learning English since I was four years old, I was not used to idiomatic expressions. Through communicating with teachers and friends, I was able to pick up terms and understand the meanings naturally. Constantly reaching out and initiating conversations with friends in dorm rooms, helped me out not only to break up language barriers with other cadets, but also to get to know them better as friends.

It also took me a longer time than my fellow American students to read textbooks for most of  subjects (except Math). However, I noticed that the best way of learning is studying a lot. I kept reading and reading until I understood what was written. I would then confirm with teachers in class if I had understood what I read correctly. As two-hour-long study hall time was too short for me to get readings and homework done on time, I approached both the general and the commander to get special permission to study until late night. After my freshman year, I was able to speed up in reading English textbooks and get my homework done in the most efficient manner. Four years of this repetitive simple process finally paid off  and I graduated as valedictorian of my class.

...Adjusting to a different educational system?

As I was the one who wanted to get an education in the U.S, I actually enjoyed getting to know a different educational system. Teachers were willing to help international students with extra care, and I felt I was able to  adapt U.S. educational system quickly and easily. 

What were your activities?

I was the captain of the varsity swimming team and varsity soccer team. I was the vice-president for the National Honor Society and Honor Council. I was also the president for National English Honor Society and National Spanish Honor Society. And I was one of first students who joined Alpha Book club when the English instructor, Mr. Davies, initiated it. 

How easy or difficult is making friends in the U.S.A.?

Even though the language can be a barrier when you’re trying to make American friends, I want to say that people of the same age share common thoughts and problems. Even if language and culture are different, one should have the right attitude to understand culture differences and put an extra effort to break the barriers. 

What will you remember most?

I will always remember the people I met at R-MA. I value every second that I spent there. That is why I define R-MA as my family. It was my second home across the Pacific Ocean. I know it is tough to leave your comfortable zone and get used to living in a new environment, but R-MA welcomed me with a big hug since my first day there. I even felt bittersweet when I graduated because of the great connections that I made. R-MA has all the resources that students need to be successful in high school years: keen faculty members, strict military system, and a qualified curriculum.

What is your advice to other students from your country who are considering studying in the U.S.A?

I want to recommend those students who are honest with themselves to study in the U.S. It is beneficial for students with are self-motivated and eager to consider the U.S for their education. However, if they don’t have the right mindset to study in the U.S. or are forced to study abroad by their parents, they will have a hard time getting used to study in the U.S or elsewhere. Hence, I stronlgy recommend students to think carefully to make sure they are ready to study in bigger world.

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Tae Ho Lee with Uber CEO. 

Tae Ho Lee, from South Korea, attended Randolph-Macon Academy (R-MA) from 2005-2009 and graduated as valedictorian of his class.

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