Global Correspondents, Semester Abroad A Cliché in the Best Way

December 21, 2022
By Claire Utomi, Wharton '23

Singapore Management University, Singapore

Claire is one of the Semester Abroad Global Correspondents writing and sharing her experience abroad during the Fall 2022 semester. Follow along with the group of correspondents on our blog and look out for their images on the @pennabroad Instagram feed.

On my last day in Singapore, I went to my favorite spot - it overlooks the river. It’s a place that’s peaceful in the daytime, but I believe is absolutely magical at night when it comes silently alive with lights reflecting in the darkness of the water while people, sitting with their friends, snacking, talking, planning; breathing anticipation onto the steps. My plan was to go there and eat lunch while watching Netflix, but on the last day in Singapore, as I sat there, I couldn’t bring myself to do anything but look, watch, think and remember. I saw everything I got to do, everyone I got to meet, all the things I experienced and how I had developed, and how Singapore had shaped me, just like every nation before had shaped me - just a little bit differently each time.  Claire's favorite river spot in Singapore

My semester abroad was a reminder that you never stop growing. When you think you have, then you’ve made a fatal mistake. It’s a cliché to say that studying abroad changed your life, and as someone who has now gone to school on 4 continents (yes, my new fun fact) it would sound rather exaggerated, but the reality is it’s the truth, and now I understand why they say it. I obviously don’t mean I went through some extreme life-shifting experience, but the fact is that it did change my life simply by adding to my perspective. It forced me to question things about myself that I had never questioned before, and as introspective as I believe I am it still brought a new lens to my own line of self-interrogation. And that is change. And so, at this point, I drop a note to everyone who considers themselves well-traveled and therefore doesn’t think study abroad is valuable: 4 days, even 4 weeks in a new place, doesn’t compare to 4 months, and even then, there is always more to learn. 

I think that’s one of my bittersweet realizations now, leaving Singapore: I was there for so long, and yet I know there is still more to be done, observed, and experienced in Singapore. At first, that made me question whether I had used my time wisely, but I realized that the memories (and my wallet) were evidence of the fact that I had made the most of every opportunity. Instead, I saw the great thing in it: there’s more to come back to, the city is not “done” and when I return to visit my friends there will still be new things to experience together.  

But that’s another thing about study abroad: you will make friends from just about everywhere, not just your abroad country. I for one have already made plans to and look forward to visiting my new friends in their own home countries, because my semester not only gave me so many beautiful memories to look back on, but lifelong friendships with so much to look forward to. 

By the end, Singapore and I had built a relationship, and like any relationship, it had its ups and downs, but ultimately, I loved it; and I am grateful to everyone who made it possible, and then, made it beautiful. 

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The Semester Abroad (SA) program offers undergraduate students the opportunity to study in a new global community through extended study for a semester or year. Penn Abroad partners with top institutions around the globe and collaborates with Penn’s undergraduate schools to offer programs for students across academic disciplines.