Frank Ma’s (W ’27) past three years have looked a little different from the typical freshman arriving at Penn. As opposed to the typical high school homecoming dances, proms, and stresses of being a teenager, Frank served in the Singaporean army and worked in different jobs before arriving at Penn. Now an eager 22–year–old freshman in Wharton, his life looks a little different than before. Frank now busies himself with new clubs, a heavy course load, and the newness that arises with being a first–year student.
An only child, Frank moved with his parents from China at the age of 12 to Singapore. Once in Singapore, Frank quickly adapted to his new life, joining primary school at the government school. “At age 12, I joined the primary school and stuck with it until the end of high school.” After his E level—end of year exams—in his final year of high school, Frank enlisted in the Singaporean army for his two–year mandatory service. “Whether you are a public resident of Singapore or a citizen of Singapore, all men have to serve for the mandated period for two years.” There, he was a part of an infantry unit. Although he cannot share much about his experience in the army for safety reasons, Frank explains, with a reminiscent tone and a soft smile, that while his “experience was certainly difficult at the time,” in hindsight, he thoroughly enjoyed his service and “met some of his best friends through the army.” In fact, Frank confidently declares that if he had to do it all again, he would “still choose the same path.”
After finishing his time in the army, Frank decided that he wanted to gain some professional experience before coming to Penn. He worked for eight months where he gained valuable work experience. He first joined Grab, which is essentially the equivalent of Uber in South East Asia, as part of the account management team to try and convince small businesses to work with GRAB. Frank also worked at KPMG, an accounting firm, where he joined the personal tax team and helped clients manage text policies for employees. With his ambitious aspirations, Frank was able to expose himself to some career opportunities that he may be interested in for the future. Finally, Frank spent part of his “gap year” traveling back to China to reunite with his family, whom he had not seen for over two years.
Now, months later, Frank’s life looks vastly different as he navigates the beginning of college. He reflects that his transition has been rather smooth, and he is loving Penn so far. Unlike many other freshmen, Frank is used to living on his own, which has made part of his transition easier.
In addition, Frank excitedly raves about his experience on his pre–orientation program—Penn Quest. With a wide grin and passionate tone, he explains how he got off the plane and immediately saw the quintessential “big yellow school buses, which was just what America is supposed to be like” and quickly became immersed in the Penn culture: “I got off the plane, and the next thing I knew, I was in a bus headed to a state I didn't even know I was in.”
Slightly different from the army gear Frank donned eight months ago, Frank now proudly holds the armadillo mascot of the Global Research and Consulting club to which he was recently admitted, and recounts some of his experiences from his first month at college. He also opens up, revealing that although he has had more life experience than those around him, he feels “just as overwhelmed” as any other freshman. “I definitely don’t feel more mature or advanced than my peers.” Academically, although still adapting, Frank reflects that the “Singaporean education system luckily helped [him] adjust to [his] new classes because of the content overlap.” Frank has big ambitions, with hopes to major in economics, with a focus in finance and minor in computer science, but is of course still figuring out what his new and vastly different life will look like.
Frank’s niche army experience and age gap sometimes lead him to feel different from the 18– and 19–year–olds in his class, although with positivity and enthusiasm, he proudly states that he has been lucky to find great friends and is loving his new life at Penn.