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Community Spotlight: Tom Lee

We are always proud of the experiences of our pterodactyls. Our Community Spotlight features the stories of alumni and community members after their time at Marvelwood. To submit your story or nominate a Marvelwood graduate, email alumni@marvelwood.org.

Not many adolescents would have the drive or skills to search, apply and accept enrollment at a private high school across the world without their parents’ knowledge or support. Marvelwood alum Tom Lee ‘10, however, was this exception. Born and raised in both Korea and then Canada, Tom has returned home to Seoul where he runs a start-up company called LOVO AI. Read on to discover Tom’s success story, written by Associate for Alumni Engagement, Abbey Gelineau.

Tell me about your Marvelwood experience.

Marvelwood is very special to me. It’s like a second home. Marvelwood was a kind of stepping stone for me. It made me feel confident and shaped who I am. I came into Marvelwood really shy – a chubby, little, shy Asian kid. And then I left it, full of confidence and feeling like I could do whatever I set my mind to. So, it was a real turning point in my life.

How did you find Marvelwood/Get yourself here?

It’s a crazy story. I grew up in Korea, moved to Canada with my mother in 5th grade, and then went back to Korea for middle school. In Korea, there’s a special high school for students who want to study abroad – people who are good with English or other foreign languages. This was the one, top school I wanted to go to, but I didn’t get in.

In Korea, the school year starts in March and ends in January. So as the end of the school year approached, the only choice I had left open to me was to go to a public high school in Korea. Deep down I knew that I wanted to go to the States for University, so I decided, “I’ll just go for high school, too!”

So I started searching. But it was the end of December, and no one wanted to accept me as a mid-year student. I went through an entire list of private schools in New England, and Marvelwood was the only one that responded. Actually, a Korean teacher named Eunyoung DiGiacomo responded, and then over the next two weeks, I finished my school year, sorted out my visa, and then told my parents I was going to the US. They were pretty taken by surprise, and asked me, “Where are you going?” I said, “I’m going to this school in Connecticut…”

So you applied all by yourself without your parents knowing?!

Yes! I think a big part of it was that I had spoken English before. And while I didn’t know any slang or colloquial English, I knew how to speak and read so it didn’t really seem like a big deal. So I ended up at Marvelwood out of nowhere. I didn’t know what the school was or even what a boarding school was. I didn’t even look at the website. I just kind of applied. I figured, let me go and try it out.

And the rest is history.

Did you immediately fall in love with the school?

No. When I landed at Marvelwood, it felt like a jungle. And I actually hated it for the first semester…well, really until sophomore year. But I was too embarrassed to ask my parents to withdraw me. So I decided to stick it out, and then sophomore year brought about some changes. I gained confidence, made some new friends, and joined some new programs. It was a good time.

Are you still connected with some of your peers from that time?

Ronald Lewis is from my class, and I comment or like his Facebook posts from time to time. And then there are about twenty Korean Marvelwood alumni here in Korea. I actually met up with three of them last Friday!

You did?! Who did you connect with?

Sam Chung and Dongjoo Namgung, who are Class of ‘09, and Jinwoo Yeam, who graduated in 2011.

Are you guys all working in a similar field, or doing your own things?

All three of them are based here in Korea. Jinwoo is doing finance. Sam and Dongjoo have a start-up, but it’s different from what I’m doing.

How often do you connect with them?

The last time was probably a year ago. So, usually once a year.

Can you share a few favorite Marvelwood memories?

Yes, Marvelwood was a life of stories.

Attending Yale Model UN with Mr. Sanchez – that was fun. And Mrs. Everett’s Honors English class was the hardest. But it helped me prepare for my college classes because I learned all the tips and tricks from Mrs. E. When I went to University, the first writing class I took I got a ‘C’ on my first essay. But if I didn’t take Mrs. E’s class, I definitely would have gotten an ‘F’.

Other things I enjoyed were the pit orchestra with Ms. Jordan and Sanchez’s history class. There were heartfelt chats with dorm parents like Ms. Brand. And Ms. Doss was amazing! Her Honors Science class was great. Lacrosse and wrestling were also fun… actually, I still have this trophy! (He tilts his screen a bit to show me his Marvelwood Lacrosse trophy proudly on display in the bookshelf behind him.)

Since graduating from Marvelwood in 2010, what have you accomplished?

I went to the University of California at Berkeley and studied business. After graduation, I worked at an IT company in San Francisco called Mulesoft, which eventually got bought out. Then I went to LG and worked for about a year and a half. Finally in 2019, I co-founded my AI company, LOVO AI. I still work there now.

Can you tell me what you do in your company?

Well, I’m not an engineer so I don’t do anything with engineering or developing, but I do operations, sales, HR, and finance.

Do you love it?

It’s a great time to be in AI, and the fact that we are one of the leaders in the space is exhilarating. However, there are things that keep me up at night as well. Our company has about 32 employees now, so having all these peoples’ livelihood on my shoulders is stressful, but as much as work can be, I’m having fun. And obviously, no work is going to be all fun. Well…maybe at Marvelwood! But in hindsight, my friends and I were talking last week about how the faculty spend all their free time and weekends with the kids. And why? I mean, I wouldn’t do it. That’s just so much dedication – just genuine, good humans. And we never appreciated that fully when we were at Marvelwood because we were stuck on top of a mountain. But it’s amazing.

So where do you see yourself going from here? What does the future look like?

For now, my focus is with LOVO. After that, I think there will be a couple more adventures. That’s what’s in my plan. I might move back to the States, but it depends on where my work takes me, I think.

Nowadays, I can’t forecast the future, ya know?