Photo looking down a nearly empty road in Seoul, South Korea, with buildings in the background and the sun setting

Spartans Abroad: Elias Tew

As summer gears up, Case Western Reserve University students are pursuing a variety of different experiences before a new academic year begins. And for some, those opportunities are found abroad. Whether studying death, dying and euthanasia in the Netherlands; exploring archaeological sites in Rome; or conducting biology field research in Costa Rica, CWRU offers many opportunities for students to get up close and personal with their passions—and find new ones along the way. Curious what their experiences have been like? The Daily is putting the spotlight on students who are studying—or recently traveled—abroad. 

This week, we’re featuring Pittsburgh native Elias Tew. A rising fourth-year student studying psychology and medical anthropology, Tew arrived in Seoul, South Korea, in February for a semester abroad. He returns home late next month.

“I’m half Korean, but I never learned the language (grandparents wanted to assimilate when they immigrated) so I wanted to [study in] Korea to learn Korean,” he explained. “Also, I [want] to … work as an English teacher in Korea in the future—so I wanted to get a feel for living here!”

Learn more about Tew’s experiences in this week’s Q&A.

Photo of Elias Tew with his hands and one leg in the air posing in a bookstore in Seoul, South Korea

1. You shared a photo with us about your travels. Can you give some background on it?

Full disclosure: I’m not a big picture guy, so I chose this from my first day out of quarantine. I got to be with some family and eat some delicious food. To me, this photo was kind of a monument to being in Seoul. Between the pandemic, travel and securing my visa, it was a stressful journey and I think this photograph resembles a sort of pay off. As the sun set on my travels, my semester in Seoul was about to begin. Tucked into a city of 9.9 million people, yet here I am alone watching the sun set. 

2. What was your favorite part of studying abroad? 

The best part of studying abroad has been meeting new people! I’ve met so many people from Europe, Korea, and other Asian countries, and it’s been a wonderful experience to really get out of my comfort zone and explore other ways of thinking.

3. Do you encourage other students to study abroad? 

Absolutely! You’re exposed to an entirely new world and way of life that lets you get out of the bubble of U.S. culture. Not only are you getting a break from university life (which a lot of people need), but you’re able to grow as you get more exposure to diversity. Not to mention that you can eat some amazing food for a lot cheaper (usually). I think that exposure is amazing for personal growth!

4. What have you learned about Seoul?
I’ve learned so much! Here are a few things: 

  • Korean public transportation is amazing! Nothing in my life has gotten close to the accessibility, cost and speed of a solid metro system. It really makes you see how the U.S. is reliant on cars.
  • Koreans generally are really helpful to foreigners. If you make a genuine effort to communicate they will do their best to meet you in the middle.
  • Korean is a fun language! Come to CWRU’s Korean American Student Association’s language classes to get a peek at it!
  • Due to the general separation of genders growing up, the culture around dating is pretty strange. People don’t really know how to communicate across genders and that leads to a lot of sketchy stuff. Don’t even get me started on LGBTQ+ or women’s rights (there are few to none).
  • Living in Korean cities is very much that of the future. With 1/3 of Korea’s population in Seoul, you don’t have space for single-family homes. Massive skyscrapers dominate the landscape and it’s really amazing how efficient utilities and public amenities are structured.