Harvard students are notoriously wary of "dropping the H-bomb" in everyday life, and our collegiate version of noblesse oblige—the old “I go to school in Cambridge”—has become proverbial. But, at least in some countries, fans of the the Crimson seem to have fewer qualms about name dropping—especially if they’ve never set foot at Harvard.
According to an article on KoreaBANG, a 31-year-old Korean man managed to steal $50,000 from his fiancee by pretending to be a “Harvard University doctor.” The man, whom police have identified only by the surname “Seo,” claimed to be a graduate of medical school, and he regularly posted photos of himself wearing a white HMS lab coat, complete with embroidery, on Facebook. Beginning in 2010, he crafted a meticulous backstory, going so far as to forge an HMS professor’s business card. Seo, who is allegedly a middle school drop-out, even learned medical jargon so he could fool other (real) doctors. After convincing his girlfriend that he was an American citizen and that he would bring her to the U.S. after they were married, her family showered him in tens of thousands of dollars in gifts.
But, like another Harvard “Love Story,” Seo’s engagement came to an unfortunate end. On September 17, the International Crime Investigation Bureau of the Seoul Police Department caught on to Seo’s act and arrested him. His girlfriend had allegedly urged him to travel to the U.S. before their marriage, but the impostor had disappeared a few days before their flight. Upon closer inspection, police also found that “Massachusetts” had been misspelled on Seo’s Mass. General Hospital doctor’s coat.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen people trying to pose as Harvard graduates. Remember 11-year-old child prodigy Luis Roberto Ramirez from Mexico? Ramirez’s parents told Mexican media that the gifted child was headed for Harvard, but University officials claim to have no record of him. What is this far-flung, international fascination with Harvard and anything (or anyone) associated with it? Is there anyone else out there trying to ride on John Harvard’s coattails?
Harvard’s bizarre cultural currency abroad might never fully make sense to us, but one thing seems clear : If you’re getting tired of problem sets, readings, and midterms, perhaps the trick is getting somewhere far away from here, someplace name-dropping goes a long way. Just make sure not to take your Harvard-related Facebook pictures down when you do; you never know when those might come in handy.