First Impressions

From Korea to CWRU

Fourteen percent of Case Western Reserve University’s (CWRU) freshman class has travelled from outside the United States to be here, and even those coming from within the country had to make the trip from 46 different states. Thus, as he travelled 6,000 miles from Seoul, South Korea to come to CWRU, first-year student Jee Hoon Lee was not alone.

Lee’s first impression of Cleveland after stepping off the plane was that it’s a good place to find friends. He saw another student holding the common reading book, and the two had bonded before they had even left the airport.

“I thought, I can find some friends very easily here,” said Lee, who plans to major in international studies.

With that in mind, Lee got in an Uber bound for campus. While he does need a fan to feel comfortable in the un-air-conditioned first-year residence hall, the room is bigger than those at his boarding high school, the Korean Minjok Leadership Academy.

At his high school, Lee wore a traditional hanbok as his uniform, in keeping with the school motto: “Korea in heart. World in mind.” There, he woke every day for 6:30 a.m. exercises, followed by class from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and mandatory study hours every evening. Once classes began in the morning, students couldn’t return to the dormitories until they ended, and students caught playing video games during study hours received penalties.

Lee chose to pursue an international track in his high school, intended for students who plan to study outside of South Korea for college. According to Lee, fewer and fewer students are choosing that track. Despite believing that students can receive an excellent education abroad, many families cannot afford the high tuition of colleges overseas.

Lee worked hard through high school to earn the grades and test scores that brought him to CWRU, as he feels that just meeting people and learning about their backgrounds will be an education in itself. However he’s determined not to let the less structured atmosphere detract from his efforts to make his parents’ investment in his education pay off.

“Now, I am the one who’s responsible for everything here in college, and I have a lot more freedom,” said Lee.  “I feel that I should really use this freedom wisely.”

His first day of classes, Lee was off to an early start with an 8 a.m. class—not something he’s particularly happy about, but at least it will help him jump into each week. Apart from that, he likes his schedule; with five classes totalling 17 credit hours, he hopes it won’t be too stressful.

Lee also plans to explore clubs and sports on campus—while keeping his main focus on his grades. Wandering through the Student Activities Fair, he noticed a political science group that fits well with his major and the Radical Student Union, which he thinks would be interesting to attend at least once or twice. To stay active, he wants to join club soccer and try a new sport like water polo or fencing.

”I’m not that kind of academics-only person,” said Lee. “I love making friends, I love enjoying my life, I love doing extracurriculars, I love soccer and playing sports, but I am well aware of that reality that I have a pressure on my GPA.”

In addition to international studies, Lee will study Chinese, which he hopes to be able to practice with some of the native speakers attending CWRU. He is also taking a few classes in different disciplines, and he hopes that one of them might spark an interest to rival his passion for multiculturalism, one that he can pursue over the next four years.

”I’m looking forward to the joy of unexpectedness,” said Lee. “Since I’m exploring many different academic disciplines, I want to be captivated by one subject or one topic, and I want to be crazy about that topic. I want something to [drive me] and motivate me a lot. Since I’m looking into a lot [of subjects], I hope that something unexpected could drive me forward.”

While he is only one out of the many new students starting at CWRU this year, Lee knows that his education is ultimately his own. For every first-year, this will be a year of discovery and trying new things, and in four years Lee will walk in cap and gown alongside a class of students who have grown and learned more than they could have imagined. And all of that starts right now.