One in 2000: Rak Dong Lim ’15

Photo Courtesy of Rak Lim '15
Photo Courtesy of Rak Lim ’15

Rak Dong Lim puts the most interesting man in the world to shame. Next year, the College will sorely miss this 25-year-old senior with bottomless curiosity and ceaseless good spirits, who happens to speak five languages. But while we are still lucky enough to have him on campus, I sat down with this ramen connoisseur and impulse shopper/traveller to log the first installation in the epic saga of the adventures and misadventures of Rak. 

I want the origin story. Where is Rak Dong Lim from?

I am originally from South Korea, where I grew up for 14 years. The only hijinks I got up to as a kid was reading a lot, because my father would give me two dollars for every book I read. Hurray, financial incentives! So I chose a lot of picture books with fewer words. My favorite were informational books about countries and the globe with a lot of flags. That’s how I became interested in seeing the world. So I moved alone to the U.S. when I was 14, to Michigan for one year, then two years in Boston. But, as I was finishing up my junior year, I became interested in the world outside the U.S., and I decided to move to Malawi for two years.

Why Malawi in particular? 

I like learning about things that are pretty unknown to the majority of people, and Malawi is a relatively unknown country. Besides that, it is the poorest country in Africa and doesn’t have a history of civil war.  My parents were crying and obviously very opposed to the idea in the beginning. I told them, though, that this was the only chance for me to learn about real poverty issues and development, the area I want to work in. But I found some Korean contacts, who were building the biggest hospital in Malawi, to live with. I also set up some internships, so I would not be sheltered in the ex-pat community. I got in touch with some government officials at The Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife and a judge in the high court.

Rak, you have a tendency to put yourself in harm’s way. After living in Malawi, you had to serve in the Korean army, right? 

Every healthy [Korean] man has to go to the military, but I thought it would be cool to serve on the border with North Korea, where I was for two years. It is a totally isolated area, nothing for miles besides our base. But North Koreans have been infringing on the borders for a while. We got bombed twice while I was serving and we were always doing readiness exercises, in which you have to put every single possession that you have into one duffel bag after you wake up to a siren call at 5 a.m., and getting ready to go to war if they ever attacked. We were 700 meters from North Korean barracks and could clearly see them. We had to spend a lot of time patrolling our borders and checking the maintenance of the fence. It gets cold too, like negative 30, 40 degrees. You have to stay outside for eight hours at a time and make sure the fences are okay. If we saw a North Korean we were ordered to shoot them or hit them with a grenade on sight.

That’s horrible. I’m sorry if you ever had to deal with that. 

No civilians tried running [across the border]. The terrain near us was too mountainous. Also, there were a lot of landmines in the zone in front of us, which would stop people before they arrived. Military training was the most challenging experience I ever had in my entire life. We did a lot of anti-chemical warfare exercises, as well, which is basically when they put us in a gas chamber and to build our tolerance, we were supposed to sing a song while being gassed. I really don’t think its humanitarian. I hated it. That was my worst experience ever … I was a foot soldier, then became a private first-class, then corporal, then lieutenant, then sergeant.

…How should I address you? 

Sergeant Rak.

You applied to the College from your barracks, right? 

Yeah. Thank god I got in when I was a private second-class, when I applied with my censored internet. Williams was a huge transition. I hadn’t spoken a word of English for two years. My Junior Advisors helped me a lot, and my entry-mates were fantastic. I mean I wasn’t doing fantastically in terms of academics, but I didn’t care. I made really good friends during my first year orientation. What is it called?

WOOLF?

God, no! I didn’t do WOOLF because I was so sick of hiking from military training; for each exercise we had to walk like 40 miles in the mountains with 80 pounds of gear on. Screw hiking. But, I also try to travel as much as possible during breaks, because I’m going to start working in August at a bank in either Bahrain or Dubai.

Has travelling internationally ever gotten you in trouble?

Yeah. Sophomore year, we had four days for Thanksgiving, and I decided to go to Japan. Not enough time for someone to cross the Pacific and come back, but I was like, “Oh, it’ll be a good idea, I really miss my Japanese friend,” who I went clubbing with for three days. Coming back, I realized I’d left my visa in the U.S. So Alisdair broke into my room to get my old passport, but I missed five days of school, had to fly into New York, and had an interview with a bank three hours after my flight landed. My suitcase hadn’t arrived though with my suit in it. I Google searched “suit shops,” and freaking Brooks Brothers on Madison Avenue, the most expensive emergency suit shop, was the only thing to pop up. I asked for the cheapest suit, which was $1300, but didn’t have any choice. It was ridiculous. By the time I tried to pay, my card wouldn’t go through because I had spent money in like four countries and my credit card company was angry. Then, I lost my wallet on the way to the interview, but the kindhearted taxi driver returned it to me and only stole 100 bucks!

Aside from time off campus, on campus you are always playing a host. Tell me a bit about that.  

My Russian TA, her Argentinian friends, and I pregramed First Fridays, which was amazing. When I was a sophomore in Gladden 5, I once invited over a trustee over and another time Professor Kubler from the Chinese department, and I really want everyone to try my ramen, because I think I’m chemically addicted to ramen. Earlier this year, as per usual at 6 a.m., I was cooking ramen on my boiling hot plate, but got locked out of my room. I climbed out of my window to get into the room because it was such a fire hazard. I ended up calling security and covering the hot plate with the angle of my body. Thank God! I don’t know what I would do if they took my hot plate. Anyway, Professor Kubler and his wife brought Qingdao Chinese beer, which pairs excellently with ramen.

Gladden 5 must have had quite the ambiance if you were hosting such great parties. 

Well, for décor, I was feeling down once, so I bought a toilet that I saw at a random thrift shop here. I’m still learning American customs, and I was really surprised, and it was on sale for, like, 60 bucks! I was like, “Oh my god! I’m buying that.” So, it chilled in our common room.

You are leaving quite the legacy at the College. Anything you really want to say?

Yeah, I had a great time. I learned a lot from Williams, and I owe a ton to society and the world. I really hope that the world peace can be achieved. I mean, that is what I strive for. I am also a Christian and really value Christian values and ideals, which I hope to someday encourage and spread. I mean, YOLO, you only live once … Yeah, YOLO. You really don’t need that much in life. You don’t really need money, and material things. I can live off my ramen.