Student Perspective: Singapore Management University

Why did you choose this program?

I chose to study at Singapore Management University because I wanted to venture to a new part of the world, to really get to engross myself in new cultures and a different type of academic environment. As someone with an academic background in both Nigeria and England, I saw Australia and Singapore as the most distinct opportunities from what I had already experienced. I ultimately picked Singapore because I knew, as a great hub-port nation, it would offer me the opportunity to explore other parts of South-East Asia as well, and grow in my independence as a solo traveler during my free time.

How were classes different from classes at Penn?

Classes at SMU are akin to Wharton classes, as the school was actually modeled after Wharton – there is a similar focus on collaboration and practical group work, and attendance and participation matter towards your final grade. A key difference however, is that all classes at SMU are 3 hours long, with breaks of course, and typically meet just once a week – a good opportunity to push and lengthen your attention span!

What was the hardest adjustment you had to make when you arrived? How did you handle that?

The biggest adjustment I had to make was my living environment. SMU only has one small dorm, which is not accessible to study abroad students, and Singapore as a whole is well known for its public housing system and consequently high-priced private housing market. As a result, finding housing was tough for many study abroad students, including myself. Even with a lot of pre-planning, when I arrived my housing situation was below expectations, and I had to proactively work students and affinity groups in Singapore to ultimately find comfortable, affordable housing in reasonable proximity to school. (You can read about my Game of Homes journey on the Penn abroad site)

What were some of the extracurricular activities that you engaged in while abroad?

While at SMU, I got to engage in a range of activities, from traditional tea ceremonies, to outdoor club hiking trips, to Mario Kart tournaments, but my favorite extracurricular activity was archery. I had always liked the thought of archery, and imagined I would really enjoy the sport, so when the SMU Archery team ran an open session I took advantage of the opportunity, and found that not only did I like it, but I had pretty good aim!

What surprised you the most about your study abroad experience?

How open and social the group of study abroad students was! I had expected that the school would plan a few events for exchange students and that would foster most of our initial relationship buildings, but it was rapidly student driven from day one. There was an exchange group chat and people were constantly throwing out plans or ideas for anyone to join – this was a group chat of 350+ people! Yet everyone was always warm and engaging, and this didn’t end after the first few weeks when everyone settled into friend groups, that spirit of openness sustained throughout the semester and there were always new people to meet and new things to do.

What is your favorite moment or memory from your time abroad?

My favorite memory has to be the trip I took to Kuala Lumpur with my group of new friends. From the monkeys of Batu Caves, to the dramatic drink spills at Helipad, it was an amazing trip that really brought us together, so much so that our group chat is officially named the OG Kualas… and we’ve since visited each other in 2/5 of our home countries.

How did your abroad experience help you grow?

There isn’t a meal plan in the same way we’re use to in American colleges, so my experience studying in Singapore pushed me to be a more responsible and prepared person when it comes to my diet. I had to meal prep, put in time on my schedule to make food before classes or after, and budget for buying meals on campus (which are subsidized!). I felt like I was being prepared for my working life.

How did you feel coming back to Penn after your program?

I felt happy to be able to be engrossed in the lives of my old friends once again, really get live updates on what’s going on with them, and continue to be a part of the memories they make and their story here at Penn. As a senior, I was definitely fueled to jump back in and make the most of my final semester, and I could do it all without a sense of sadness or longing because I knew I would see my friends from SMU again, and I have. Knowing that those relationships were not just for a time and place, but friendships for life, brings a certain type of peace.

What advice would you give to another student planning to go on this program?

Plan housing ahead of time!! If you can, try to connect with students already in the program (even if they’re from other schools) as they are often trying to pass their lease on to the next person, or at the very least they may know a trusted housing agent. But housing aside, have fun with it! Singapore is a small country, be sure to go beyond the Central Business District and see the heartlands, do the tree-top hike, get the banana bread from Johor Bahru – make the most of it.

Claire Utomi, W’23

ClaireConcentration: Marketing and Operations Management

SA SMU program information