Investigators say that 31 year-old Leonard Zelig's problems appear to have begun when he was given an excessive number of non-contractual – but nevertheless obligatory – classes to perform in, convincing him he really was a teacher. Having attended grad school at Florida Gulf Coast University where he attained a masters degree in Golf Management, John was soon offered a job teaching English at a minor Korean university which needed to increase the number of foreigners it employed for funding and promotional purposes.
Because university students in Korea's strictly hierarchical society generically refer to their teachers using the title 'professor', even if they graduated from American universities you don't believe actually exist, doctors believe that this, coupled with over-exposure to the academic-like environment, led to a complete mental breakdown. This resulted in him becoming convinced that he really was a professor, even though he was never invited to faculty meetings with the university's real professors who had worked hard for several years cutting and pasting from overseas research papers to create their final dissertations.
Friends still teaching in hagwon jobs said that at first they thought it was a joke "Leo started introducing himself to people in bars as a university professor," a friend told The Dokdo Times, "but then he started telling people this on message boards in Korea during the daytime when he was relatively sober, and we became really concerned for him."
An intervention was arranged but when this failed an Internet campaign was mounted to raise money for his medical evacuation back to the United States, where he could "receive a better standard of care than that provided by inferior Korean doctors". Just as it looked as though he would remain in Korea, apparently beyond treatment, a generous donation to the fund by Korean professors at his university ensured he would be able to leave.
With the money raised, Zelig had to then be convinced that he had a problem requiring treatment back home, but he insisted on staying in Korea where he said he had "important professor things to do" although he refused to elaborate. Friends then hit upon a daring plan in which they agreed to pretend to be Congressmen visiting Korea on a fact-finding tour for a few days. By the end of the week, Zelig – who had watched every episode of The West Wing twice - announced that he had to return to the White House to take control of the 'Iran situation', providing his friends with the opportunity to get him on his medivac plane, which they'd referred to as Air Force One.
After a difficult flight, in which Zelig became convinced he was a pilot and tried to seize control of the aircraft, he returned safely to the United States where doctors say he is already doing well enough to be able to live in L.A.
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