Growing up, Michel and his brothers used to receive money for holidays and birthdays, and each reacted differently. He recalls that his oldest brother would donate the money to charity, while his other older brother would immediately spend it on toys or, later, on clothing. But Michel would quickly stash his money away in a red safety box, saving it for something greater in the future. As more and more holidays passed, Michel's childhood dream of becoming an astronaut quickly faded away: eventually, he realized he was born for business.
Though his parents come from Iraq and Syria, Michel spent most of his life in Saudi Arabia, where Wharton has a strong reputation. When it came time to apply to college, Wharton seemed an obvious choice. A Penn representative told Michel about the Huntsman Program, and he decided it couldn't hurt to apply. As he was writing the essay, it occurred to him just how perfectly the program is tailored to both his business interests and international background.
Michel's ultimate goal is to return to the Middle East and pioneer the rebuilding of Iraq. He feels that economics is the solution for places where politics have failed. Michel saw a very clear connection between the business skills he would learn at Wharton and the International Studies side of the Huntsman curriculum. Though Michel was initially leaning towards another top school, a friend's father, a successful businessman, told him: "To the people that matter, Wharton is by far the best school in the world." Michel was convinced, and enrolled the following semester.
Now that he's actually here, Michel says that the education he gets from Huntsman is just one aspect of what makes it so great. The experience and the people are big assets as well. While his fellow classmates are very diverse in backgrounds, Michel believes that what makes Huntsman special goes beyond that. "You can find diversity in a lot of schools," he says, "but here you find people from many different backgrounds with shared goals. Each person brings something to the table and you can work together in solving problems to create value, not just for yourself, but for everyone."
Exploring Diverse Interests
Michel (whose friends call him ‘Mish') is a French target, but he is also taking Arabic classes. He says that in the Middle East, proper formal Arabic is rarely used, so even though he already speaks the language extremely well, he's finding the classes very helpful. Mish is considering a French major and a minor in Political Science or Legal Studies. He's been very focused on Finance within Wharton (he says it's important to learn "how to make money"), but is also taking courses in the Real Estate department, an area that is of great interest to him.
Mish's favorite classes have been in different academic fields across the university. He really enjoyed a class on "Law and Society" in the Sociology department, because it helped him better understand how proper legal systems work and it's affect on society. Mish has also signed up for engineering classes about different sources of energy, believing that this will be a major issue in the years to come. During his freshman year, Mish took a course on Islamic Finance and found it so interesting that it is now one of his primary non-academic focuses. He's learned a lot about what Islam forbids and allows in terms of finance, and how this is shaping a new industry, especially in oil-rich Muslim countries in the Middle East.
Still committed to helping his home region, Mish helped found the Wharton Arabian Gulf Business Association, which coordinates projects and internships in the gulf region, and is a co-founder of the Penn Middle East Journal, a periodical that deals with issues in the Middle East, from economics to day-to-day living. Last summer he worked at Saudi Investment Bank in asset management. He says that his plan is to "gain knowledge here to implement it there." For Mish, earning money is a means to an end: it's the tool he hopes to employ to help people and change society for the better.