South Korea native Jongwon “Jon” Lee came to the United States with his family five years ago, determined to soak up as much of the American experience as possible. Now a highly accomplished student and athlete at Niwot High, Lee’s schedule is almost always packed to the brim, and the busy senior wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I want to try as many things as possible, which kind of put me in a situation where I’m having a hard time dealing with all the schedules I have,” he admitted. “But I am definitely thinking it was worth doing everything, so that later on I can really see which is my type of thing to do.”
Lee may have trouble narrowing that list down to just one. In his four years as a Cougar, he has amassed an eclectic résumé of achievements, revealing a skilled competitor with a diverse range of talents.
He might not have had that opportunity back in Seoul. Lee said one of the biggest “culture shocks” he experienced was the amount of time he spends in school. Korean students are subject to a much stricter learning environment, and spend most of their time engaged in studying. By contrast, American students have a lot more unstructured time, and have more freedom to pursue “enjoyable” activities.
“In Korea, after school, you go to math institution for three hours, eat dinner with your friends, then go to science institution, then do homework for four hours. Here after school, people finish homework quickly, and then go skiing, or biking or hiking or out with their friends. I was very surprised about that at first.”
Lee started taking advantage of his newfound freedom right away. His senior year has been especially eventful, starting with varsity tennis, where Lee split his time between No. 3 and No. 4 doubles, ending with an 11-0 record. He and partner Xavier Moy then went on to finish second overall at the Class 4A state championships.
The senior took to a different type of court earlier this spring, when he joined the nascent boys volleyball program at Niwot, despite no experience. The sport is currently in the final phase of a pilot for CHSAA and could be among the state’s first new high school sports in 20 years. Lee is one of 17 Niwot students competing this season, and he has especially enjoyed mastering a new and unique skill.
Lee’s thirst for competition isn’t limited to just the athletic realm. As a freshman, he joined the Niwot forensics team as a way to improve his English fluency, but quickly learned he also loves to best opponents with his verbal and analytical skills. This year, he served as head captain of the team, which nabbed six medals at this year’s State speech and debate festival, including first place in Creative Storytelling and a co-championship in Public Forum Debate.
The senior is also an enthusiastic participant in Model United Nations, another debate-oriented student competition that emphasizes consensus building and negotiation. He also enjoys volunteering and performing community service work with the National Honor Society. Outside of school, he enjoys hiking, skiing, and just generally being outdoors.
In the classroom, Lee’s interests are more science-oriented, and his current favorites are AP biology and IB physics. After graduation, he plans to earn degree in biology from CU, and then go on to medical school.
Lee plans to stay in the U.S. to finish college, but is undecided about whether he will return to his native country on a full-time basis. Though South Korea is home, Lee said he has worked hard to embrace his new American life and is very much looking forward to the next leg of his journey, wherever it takes him.
“Instead of relying on the excuse that I came from South Korea just five years ago, I have involved myself in so many different things to try to escape that stereotype. That was one of the biggest struggles of my high school life, and I feel I have somewhat overcome it. I am gratified I’ve been trying my best.”