Michael Lee takes a life-long trip around the world


Courtesy of Michael Lee

Michael Lee (11) poses for a photo during one of his many travels

Sometimes, a student can look at another student and already understand a lot about them. Their style, their mannerisms, facial expressions and more little things are, in a sense, a visual description of the person presented by themselves.

But the saying goes “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” and Michael Lee’s cover is that of a regular high school student. Taking a closer look though, he’s lived a very different life compared to most kids here.

At first glance, he seems kind of quiet, not introverted, but mostly only says what he needs to. But this is a bit of a facade over his unique sense of humor. Michael seems to get his comedic sensibilities by doing some that completely contradicts the book-cover of his personality, like popping out a comedic quip at a random time.

Michael said that one of the things that defines him most is his experience. He was born in Pasadena, California, but nine months after, his family moved to Morocco, a country in Northern Africa.
The reason he moved to such a different place was because his parents are Chrstian missionaries, requiring them to be assigned to a location for a number of years, leading Michael, a Korean born in America, to grow up in Africa.

“It was very different in almost every way. I was part of the less than one percent of the population that was a foreigner in the country,” Lee said.

Because most people in Morocco have never seen an Asian person, it makes sense that Michael would get looks from people, and sometimes be mocked by the other children.

Looking back though, Lee isn’t too disturbed by the actions of those children.

“It was different being an Asian… so you get mocked, like ‘mocked.’ Like they pull their eyes at you… you get over it, kinda laugh it off,” Lee said.

Being Korean in a country with almost no Koreans, Lee also grew up having to speak a number of languages.

First, he learned Korean from his parents, then he was taught English by his mother. In Morocco, he attended a local private school and there, he had to learn to speak both French and Arabic.

Impressively, Lee said that he was once fluent in all four of those languages, but has since forgotten more of French and Arabic due to not having to speak them.

Other than the language shift, another difference Lee mentioned was that school in Morocco was more memory based, not that much application.

That is very unlike our school which is very much focused on application, rather than memorization.
Clearly, Michael’s path has been very different compared to the average teenager at VHHS, so it seems impossible that there would be anyone else with a similar experience to Lee at this school.

“I don’t know any- many people who have lived the kind of life that I have.” Lee said.

The reason he corrected himself because one of his closest friends, Ian Joe (11), has in fact, lived a life very similar to his own.

Their dads actually already knew each other and both dads told Lee and Joe to look for each other at school.

The transition was a bit different for Ian because unlike Michael, who came back to the U.S. during middle school, Ian arrived during his freshman year, so he didn’t know many people.

Ian was wandering the hallways of VH, searching the school a bit aimlessly for his lit class. While looking around, he ended up near Michael, and seeing Ian, Michael ambled toward him, tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he was Ian. A bit confused, Ian said yeah in an awkward tone and everything fell into play from there.

“I still didn’t know who he was,” Joe said. “Later on I learned it was Michael. We did cross country together and orchestra, so we became friends through that.”

Other than the aforementioned hobbies, Michael also swims for the school, wants to play volleyball and is currently enrolled in honors and AP courses.

When he’s done with all that, Michael takes up hobbies like reading, which has dubbed “a bit of a dying hobby,” and he also uses his free time to explore his fondness of planes.

“I like to do things with my hands, little crafts like paper airplane models… if I have time,” Lee said.

Ashley Murphy (11), one of his close cross-country compatriots, explained the reason for Lee’s fascination with planes because she also shares a similar interest.

“We both really want to go to the military academy and we both really like fighter jets,” Murphy said.
The two have bonded over their shared aspiration and love of fighter jets during cross-country. Michael even sends Ashley military memes “on the daily,” as she put it.

Michael’s life has seen a lot of change because of moving across the world, but even though he lives in the U.S. now, he still plans to one day visit the country he grew up in.

“It’s a big part of who I am, what I experienced in Morocco,” Lee said. “It’s anxiety-inducing to think that you’re going back to where you lived all your life, seeing people that you haven’t seen in a couple years. Seeing change. But also feeling nostalgia.”