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Credit: Mia Kim

Seven Penn students have been living, vacationing, and working together in Hawaii since their summer jobs and internships have been moved online due to coronavirus-related restrictions.

The undergraduate students, who live all around the world, are spending the summer away from their homes amid the global COVID-19 pandemic. As their internships are now being conducted in a remote format, the students find that it has provided them with additional flexibility in summer schedules, allowing them to move to a new location and spend time exploring.  

Rising Engineering and Wharton junior Orestis Skoutellas, who is an international student from Greece, and rising College junior Adam Hano, who is an international student from Slovakia, were not able to return home when the University asked students to leave campus in mid-March. because they have elderly and immunocompromised family members back at home and no family in the United States. The students did not want to risk contracting and transmitting the virus during their transatlantic flights home from Penn. 

With 36 hours remaining before Penn's move-out deadline on March 17, Skoutellas and Hano made arrangements to stay at an Airbnb house in Hawaii, where coronavirus cases remain relatively low and the cost of living was affordable. 

After classes ended, Skoutellas and Hano decided to invite other Penn students to share their Airbnb to complete their remote internships together. Of the hundreds of people invited, only five accepted their offer. 

(From left to right) Orestis Skoutellas, Adam Hano, Shannon Lin, Charlie Bourget, and Dagny Lott (Photo from Orestis Skoutellas)

Rising Engineering senior Shannon Lin, who is from Michigan, accepted the offer after creating a PowerPoint presentation to convince her parents. Lin said that while staying in Hawaii is essentially a vacation at surface-level, it is also a morally responsible decision, particularly if housemates have older and immunocompromised family members at home. 

In addition to visiting beaches and exploring the Big Island, the Penn housemates also complete the day-to-day work for their respective jobs and internships in order to keep up with the costs of rental living. 

Rising Engineering sophomores Dagny Lott and Charlie Bourget, who are a part of the group in Hawaii, said being around upperclassmen with interests similar to their own has immensely helped their professional development. 

“Being around older Penn students has definitely been more helpful than just staying at home with my parents,” Bourget said. “It teaches you what you might want to do later on in your Penn career and gives you a good perspective on the different opportunities there are out there.”

Rising Engineering sophomore Alex Dong, who is also staying in the Airbnb, said that simply being around other college students has helped immensely with his focus. 

“I don’t know how productive I could have been in my own room,” Dong said. “So I just wanted to surround myself with other people doing the same thing as me.” 

Hano and Skoutellas also said they appreciate being able to bounce ideas for their own jobs and internships off of each other, and at times, appreciate the ability to see different internal operations of various companies the students are working for.

Beyond the professional aspect, the Hawaii housemates said having the company of their peers is the best part of the arrangement. 

“The experience of having community at this time has been really impactful,” Lin said. She added that she recommends other students pursue communal housing, comparing the experience to living in first-year housing again, with the thrill that comes with the possibility of making new friends and deepening existing connections. 

“Take the risk,” Skoutellas said. “Doing this has probably been the second-best choice in my life.”