Semester Abroad, Global Correspondents Game of Homes

September 19, 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.

Raise a hand if you’ve ever moved homes. Now keep it raised if you’ve ever lived out of a hotel for more than a week. Okay, well have you ever involuntarily lived across eight different hotels and hostels over the span of just ten days after arriving in a brand-new country, halfway across the globe?

80% of Singaporeans live in public housing -which none of us knew in March when we started looking for accommodation, but it underpins why we struggled to find housing in a market that would make you grateful for New York rental prices, and why I eventually jumped at booking the Yo: Ha hostel when availability popped up in June (which for me was cutting it fairly close). I was just happy to have accommodation sorted, so I could focus on getting my student visa approved, finishing my internship, and preparing everything else I would need for four months in Singapore. But sometimes there are just things you can’t prepare for...

Upon arrival at Yo: Ha the rooms were bare and furnishings minimal, but they matched the pictures, and my expectations were given the price; what I wasn’t prepared for was the bathroom, which wasn’t pictured on the website... The setup was such that when you showered the toilet would get drenched, the washing machine water emptied out into the shower floor, the floor and walls were a bubbling-paint texture, and all this existed under the enduring light of a singular dangling bulb. Frankly, I was uncomfortable, and while I stuck it out for the first night, after waking up on the couch the next morning after three hours of sleep (I couldn’t fight the woodlice in my bedroom) I decided that there was a difference between resilience and suffering -I wouldn't be afraid to shower in a country where I would need to shower twice or thrice a day.

So I rapidly packed my stuff and wentFirst Move Day to a nearby hotel, which was only the beginning of my journey from hotel to hostel, to pod hotel, to hotel, to serviced apartment, to hotel, to long term hotel. Where I met other study abroad students, entrepreneurs from Indonesia, Indian aunties who offered me food and so much more. Why did I move so much? You’ll have to ask me in person, but there was always a valid reason, a major one being hope -hope that I would soon get a long-term place. Which I eventually did, after living out of hotels for 23 days, and while it’s no Citadines (my favorite temporary home!) it's functional, clean, and close to my friends - everything I need.

One of Claire's favorite low budget locations

One thing I would say is, be careful what you wish for! This journey from home to home was exactly what I had told friends I would want to do in Singapore if Penn didn’t require a permanent address: live in different parts of the country and try different types of accommodations like pod hotels (obviously at a more reasonable pace than moving every day!) So life has a sneaky way of giving you what you asked for sometimes, but I definitely had fun with it. The 8 am wakeup to pack all my stuff before checkout was never ideal, but the adventure of it all, meeting new people at every location, learning about their home countries, gaining more tips on Singapore -the best places to eat, what to do, where to go -always kept me cheery and excited for my next “home.”

Without a doubt, I have played the game of homes, and while I wasn’t particularly fazed by it myself, it reemphasized the value of resilience and the fact that you often get the opportunity to build resilience when you’re tossed into unfamiliar situations or locations like with study abroad. So my advice? Be as prepared as you can be, but don’t be shocked when things go awry; see it as an opportunity to grow and a new story to tell. It’s the best part of life I think, the spontaneity of it all. I mean how interesting could a book be if you knew exactly where it was heading?

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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.