Tae Lee is a truly international Third Culture Kid, having traveled and lived in multiple countries before coming to Romania with his family to spend his final three years of high school at AISB.
Tae Lee is a truly international Third Culture Kid, having traveled and lived in multiple countries before coming to Romania with his family to spend his final three years of high school at AISB. Lee’s personal and professional experiences are just as diverse, having spent time as an Air Force interpretation officer, professional boxer, advertisement executive, and investment banker before becoming a lawyer. His time at AISB exhibits the evolution of the school, the long-term impact of being a Vampire, and reminds us that then or now, a sports trophy is a sought after accomplishment worth the effort!
WM: How did you find yourself in Romania at AISB? What is one of your fondest memories of your time there?
TL: My family came to Romania during its tumultuous times, when the communist regime had just collapsed and the doors were beginning to open for many foreign internationals. My father was a diplomat for South Korea, so the entire family came over. Before Romania, we had lived in Morocco, Senegal, and Belgium.
AISB was still called ASB (American School of Bucharest) at the time. The campus was much smaller, as we used an old mansion on Dorobanti Street, with no more than 15 kids in each grade. You heard it right, 15 kids in each grade! ASB still had grades K – 12th, but it was a small community. With so few kids in each class, students were a tightly knit bunch. We got along with the teachers as well, except for a few days after report cards were sent out!
One of my fondest memories at the school was during my junior year, when KFC first opened in Bucharest. Until then McDonald’s was the only way that the kids could stuff themselves with the not-so-healthy fast food. Ever so hungry, I decided to skip class, hop over the closed fence and got my hands on those golden drumsticks. The chicken was ‘finger lickin’ good.’ The aftermath when I got caught by the teachers? Not so good.
WM: How did your education contribute to your profession as a lawyer? What did you learn as an international student at AISB that has been valuable to you in your life and career?
TL: ‘International’ has always been a key word to describe me. In every personal statement, essay, or job application, this word has always been a staple. Because of its unmatched diversity, AISB has allowed me to open my eyes to international perspectives. Just by virtue of being surrounded by so many students with different cultural backgrounds, I have broadened my perspectives in life.
During my years, with a relatively small student body, AISB has made it a mission to delegate significant responsibilities to students. Students were assigned to key positions in student governments, fundraising opportunities, and cultural events. The precocious experience has always helped me navigate through college, military, law school, and now my legal career.
WM: What motivated you to pursue a law degree?
TL: I grew up watching legal thriller movies (A Few Good Men; The Pelican Brief) and reading John Grisham novels.
I have always been interested in the profession, which has existed throughout history. Why did mankind always need someone with legal knowledge to represent them? Why did so many political leaders have a law degree? That was always fascinating to me.
WM: What would be the central advice you would give students who want to pursue a law degree in the US?
TL: My advice would be to consider gaining real life experience before applying for law schools. Rather than going straight to law school after college, it would help your long term perspective and maturity if you took a few years learning in other professions. I was an Air Force interpretation officer, professional boxer, advertisement executive, and investment banker before becoming a lawyer. Of course, I would not necessarily recommend anyone investing in this much variety, but a few years doing something different would certainly help! It sounds silly, but I still regret not taking 1-2 years off to attend a PGA Tour Academy to perfect my golf swings.
Practicing law can be exciting, but can also be monotonous. Having a few years of real life experience not only can help you maintain focus to go through law school, but also can mold you into an attractive candidate in the eyes of your employers.
WM: What would you say are the advantages of going through military training?
TL: Every Korean male must go through mandatory military service – meaning you must serve in the military for at least 22 months between the ages 18-36.
In any event, spending your formative years in an organization that stresses discipline and patriotism can be a positive experience. If you could choose to apply for a longer service as an officer (requires a college degree), this could be a resume builder as well. It would open doors for higher security clearance, and the experience that you can get access to would be extraordinary. Imagine having access to the denuclearization talks at age 22!
WM: What should students who move to the US from overseas expect? What would be the biggest change?
TL: As a 16-year old, I was the second youngest freshman at Duke – the youngest was a Chinese girl who was 14 and a genius. (I was young due to an administrative error.) Adjusting to life in a new country was a challenge. Adjusting to college life where there was so much freedom was an even bigger challenge. I had too much time on my hands, with no parents to guide me through. I spent the majority of my freshman year sleeping in, taking naps, and playing basketball. It is important to be mentally prepared and focused to not fall off the rail while making the best of the freedom one is given. Finding a mentor can be helpful. Staying healthy can be a challenge too. On-campus cafeterias offer a wonderful variety of meals, but very few freshmen are mature enough to maintain a healthy, balanced diet.
WM: Is there anything I didn’t ask that you think our community would like to know about you and what you’ve learned along the way?
TL: The more years removed from graduation, the more you understand how valuable the whole AISB experience was. I urge everyone to take full advantage of the wonderful opportunities given. For example, AISB offered me opportunities to visit the local children’s HIV hospital. I have yet to receive opportunities that were as meaningful as this. And the colleges and employers will certainly recognize your deeds as well.
I was always a proud Vampire – one of my regrets in life was not purchasing the AISB letterman jacket while at school. During my time, the Vampires have won the CEESA tournament twice in boys’ volleyball, but never in basketball. That still hurts. I truly hope that you brought home that basketball trophy in the recent years.
Read the entire edition of the WORLD Magazine Special Edition Winter 2018 here.
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