HuntSpeak: Chatting about a global education and public policy at home with Gabrielle Coetzee

By Mariana Velasco

Gabrielle is a sophomore from Johannesburg, South Africa, targeting French. 

You are an international student as well. What made you decide to study outside of South Africa? It is definitely a big decision to make. I think for me, it made sense to go outside to learn and find solutions to the challenges of my country. If one could learn that at home, then someone else would have already figured it out, that was my thinking behind it. I really wanted that international experience and mindset. 

What are some of the things that you would like to get involved in back home related to public policy? I care a lot about education. I would love to work on reforming the education system. I think that education is the basis for many things, and if you can get that right, economic growth and development can come from it. It has been super interesting to be here in the US and see how higher education here is different. It is definitely a huge learning curve, but I am learning so much. 

Huntsman is a very specific program at the intersection of business and international studies. You could have studied in so many places. Why Huntsman? I came to visit Penn once since my mom was traveling to the US for work and ended up talking to a Huntsman student, who actually brought me here to the Huntsman Lounge. I think I fell in love with the program pretty quickly and decided to apply Early Decision. Regarding the intersection of business and international studies, I think I was always interested in real world applications, so the practical aspect of business drew my attention. I want to learn how businesses work and about the communities they create. On the other hand, I also wanted to get involved in public policy back home in the long term, so I think it was the right fit for me. I also considered going to the UK, but I may do that later on for graduate school maybe. 

What about French? How did you learn the language? That happened in high school, it was the only language offered besides English. I am planning on studying abroad for my junior year in France. I have not made up my mind whether I would like to go to Paris or Lyon, I have heard both are really good options. 

Tell me more about high school. What is your background before coming to Huntsman? So I went to a South African high school, definitely very different to the American education system. I did not take any AP classes or college credit. I would say, extracurriculars are also very different compared to the US. We had some sports, a newspaper and some arts clubs but it was rare to find a club solely based on personal interests. So that was definitely a big difference coming to college at Penn with so many opportunities and interesting clubs to join. 

What is something you would tell yourself from freshman year? I think I would have learned to say no sooner. Freshman year is definitely the time to sign up for many things and figure out what you want to do on campus. By the time you are a sophomore you have a better understanding of what you cared about and want to spend time on. But I would have encouraged myself to say no as soon as I realized I was not learning or enjoying something. I think you should enjoy your experience here and it is okay to prioritize what you want. 

Do you have any advice to students interested in Huntsman and applying to the program? I would say, don’t get caught up in the details and what you think people want to hear from you. Really think about what you care about and write your Huntsman essay about something that is genuinely important to you. If you can read it and feel like it resonates with who you are and what you care for, I think you are in a really good spot. 

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