HuntSpeak: Interviewing Couloir X. Hanson

Interviewed by Emily Despinoy

I feel like life is a constant struggle to reach certain higher goals. The ones that I want to work toward are freedom, loyalty, and diligence.

The Basics: Couloir is currently a Senior targeting and minoring in German, and concentrating in Statistics and Finance. In addition, she is pursuing minors in History and Classical Studies. While her mother is German and her father is from Colorado, she grew up in Costa Rica where she spent her first seven years living on a coffee plantation. She used to sing opera and is now involved in Snider Center Venture Consulting, learning Tae Kwon Do, and representing her class on the Huntsman Student Advisory Board. We discuss Plato, game theory, and the benefits of failure.

What has been your favorite travel experience?

The last week of my semester abroad, my friend John and I biked from Germany to Austria along the Danube. It started off as a bet. I was sitting next to a lake with my friends when John said something like: “you either have to do this or you have to bike to Austria with me.” The next morning, I’m lying in bed and John calls me, saying “so you’re coming to Austria with me, right?” and, you have to know, I am not a biking person. But we did it. He was this insane biker. I would be going at my own pace, and John would be this dot in the distance. My interest in Greek philosophy had just awakened, so I ended up viewing this experience as an opportunity to master myself. This trip was special to me because my family is from Southern Germany (Bayern). We’d bike from village to village and discover all these dialects that we couldn’t really understand, but that reminded me of Bayrisch (the Southern German dialect); it was a way of connecting with that past. Then, when we finally arrived in Vienna, I saw my best friend Victoria Mayer (Huntsman ’21). It was great!

What values and ideals do you attempt to live your life by?

I feel like life is a constant struggle to reach certain higher goals. It’s this Platonic concept that ideals of absolutes—of beauty, or happiness, or excellence—exist, but these are impossible to reach because you can always find something that’s more beautiful than what’s in front of you right now. In your day to day, you’re trying to build your subjective experience of these objective higher goals; it’s a kind of desire. I’m trying to incorporate this into my life by seeking values and characteristics within myself that I appreciate, and then working towards fully becoming these impossible goals. The ones that have guided me so far are freedom and loyalty. I’m still working on diligence (as a further way of gaining freedom), mainly by practicing Tae Kwon Do. Another framework that I’m trying to follow is the hero’s journey—you start at some point, then venture away from it by trying something new; when you finally return to the beginning, everything is the same except for yourself. For instance, I’m interning at Tesla this summer (Summer 2020), and I’m slightly scared about it. But I know that I will do exactly what I want: I will learn and grow a lot. And through the experience, I’ll be able to see what parts of myself I’ll discover and what parts will remain the same, and recalibrate myself accordingly. 

Is Huntsman what you expected it to be?

Huntsman is really what you want it to be; there are so many different types of people who have so many different types of experiences. The most important thing I’ve gained from Huntsman is the sense of community that you feel in the Lounge, having all these amazing people that feel like a family. That’s what’s beautiful about Huntsman, and it’s something I want to recreate throughout my life.

How have you changed since coming to Penn?

That’s a really great question. I feel like when I came to Penn, I was uncertain about who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do in the world. I felt very defensive toward it. An important skill I’ve learned is how to be vulnerable. Being around friends who allow themselves to be vulnerable has led to my deepest experiences at Penn. It’s shown me how I can open up to having feelings that I didn’t let myself have before, and how I can let myself grow. 

What was study abroad like for you and did it change you in any way?

I spent my semester abroad in Berlin. I had been there twice before and had loved the feeling of absolute and scandalous freedom. I wanted to get back to that. I ended up living in rural Berlin, in Schlachtensee, where I would awaken to chirping birds in the morning, swim with the ducks in the afternoon. On the weekends, I would see theater pieces and explore Germany with Justin, a friend from Penn/SCVC, and Annette, a surrogate “aunt” from Berlin. It showed me this different way of life, and this different kind of wholesome freedom I faintly remembered from my childhood. It was delectably different from bustling Penn—a quiet moment that gave me a whole new world. 

Where do you go on campus when you need time for yourself?

Sixth floor, VP. I love reading a book while seeing the expanse of campus and feeling the sun on my face. It’s a way of doing my history readings, taking time for myself, and feeling like a part of nature!

What’s one piece of advice you would give your freshman self?

Don’t be afraid to fail. From a game theory perspective, there are only upsides. If you fail, you learn about yourself; if you don’t (even when you thought you would), it’s a wonderful ego boost! Allowing for the possibility of failure simply creates more opportunities. I had been really afraid of rejection until I got rejected—a lot!—in the club application period freshman year. I realized “failing” was a great way of discovering who you are, where you (want to) fit in, and what you want to work on.

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