Name: Julia Coquard
Hometown: Malmö, Sweden
Major: PPE and Psychology
Activities: president of Kappa Alpha Theta, marketing and events coordinator for Community School Student Partnerships, International Student Advisory Board
34th Street: What was it like growing up in Sweden? How is it different from the US?
Julia Coquard: It was definitely different. I grew up in a pretty small town. It's Sweden's third–largest city, but it's 300,000 people, so large for Sweden is not necessarily large for the US. There's a lot of differences culturally that I didn't necessarily anticipate coming to the US. It's [Sweden] a lot more low–key and I think it's a lot more independent. In some ways, high school in Sweden represents college in the US. When people graduate high school, you're expected to support yourself financially you're expected to get a job.
Street: Can you talk more about your beauty blog?
JC: Both of my parents are musicians, so I grew up in a very creative household. I was always painting and drawing a lot as a child, and I was really fascinated by the idea of drawing on people's faces and using makeup as a way of expression. I started doing makeup when I was really young, and I started my beauty blog at 12, mainly as a way for me to document and record what I was doing. I just wanted to take pictures of the looks I was creating on myself. I never really intended it to become a thing, but this was in the really early stages of blogging. Social media didn’t really exist, but I think [my] first makeup tutorial had been uploaded to YouTube or something back in 2008. I never really thought much of it, and it kind of just blew up without me intending for it to do so because there weren't as many players in the field that were as young as I was. And I think people were like "Oh my God this 12 year old girl is like doing these crazy looks." Through that I gained a really, given the time, large platform, and I became Sweden’s second–largest beauty blogger at 13.
Street: What did you do after starting your blog?
JC: I got my first paid makeup job at 14, so I sort of transitioned out of the blogger role a bit more and just did paid makeup, like bridal and prom. I moved out at a very young age and started working full–time for MAC Cosmetics when I was 17. I was working as a retail artist for them, literally just selling makeup in the store and doing makeup for customers who book appointments. Then I became a trainer for MAC. I was 18 at the time, and I was essentially in charge of the staff at Southern Sweden and Denmark counters. I would travel between all these different locations, and I would essentially train the retail staff on how to better communicate products with customers. Also, we would do a lot of application techniques, and a lot of it would also be my job to keep the staff creative. I did that for my gap year after graduating high school, and then I was kind of just like, "I want to go to the US." I wanted to work in make up in New York. It was my dream. I was paying everything by myself, so I knew I needed financial aid, and there are such few schools that offer financial aid for international students, so I applied to like five Ivies and was lucky enough to get into Penn and came here, and I've had the greatest experience ever since.
Street: What role does makeup play in your life today?
JC: What I've kind of been doing with internship opportunities since coming to Penn is transitioning into a more corporate role within the beauty industry, so kind of applying that retail experience and knowledge in a more business setting. I've interned at Revlon and at Peter Thomas Roth, which is an independently owned skincare brand, doing marketing. That's been a good way for me to segue out of applying makeup, because I love that, but as a makeup artist you get hired to do a specific job, and it's not usually what you want to do. I thought that it was becoming pretty repetitive, and I didn't necessarily feel like I could grow at the same speed. I still do my friends' makeup all the time, and I do my makeup every day, but I do kind of miss that life. I would wake up every morning and actually do crazy stuff to my face. I would cut up eyelashes and glue them into different shapes and draw things and use all of these different types of colors. It was the most fun thing ever, and it was such a creative life, and I definitely miss that because there is no setting you can be in in college where it's acceptable for you to go out in crazy blue eyeshadow and rhinestones.
Street: Why did you decide to major in PPE?
JC: Sweden as a country is pretty socially liberal, and it’s pretty left–wing compared to the US. I come from a family of musicians who were also very left–wing, and I was surrounded by people who very much had a similar political opinion as me. I went to an elementary school for musically gifted children, so I was around music all the time, and there is a certain type of people that the music industry attracts. When I switched to high school I did IB, so International Baccalaureate, and it was a lot of upper class, wealthy, very white, very suburban demographic, which is really different from what I had been exposed to previously. For the first time in my life, I really found myself in a situation where the people around me disagreed with everything I was kind of used to having confirmed. That motivated me to become more politically educated and politically engaged, so I joined the European Youth Parliament. I wanted to express all of my opinions in a more structured way because I was taken aback by being challenged. That was definitely reinforced coming to the US. What you would consider Democrat in the US is pretty right–wing in Sweden, so I definitely was exposed to a lot of different beliefs that I hadn't even begin to really consider when I was back home. And there's honestly nothing more interesting than studying politics in the US at this time. The election was when I was a freshman, and it was just too great of an opportunity for me to pass up on.
Street: Why did you decide to get involved with Community School Student Partnerships (CSSP)?
JC: CSSP kind of happened accidentally. I would run a lot in West Philly, and I was pretty taken aback by the reaction people had to that like, "West Philly isn't safe, you can't go past 45th Street," and I was like "I literally go there all the time and nothing has ever happened to me. Are you just scared of a different race? What are you scared of?" It was pretty upsetting to me that Penn as such a big community is literally just put in the center of this existing community, pushing it out and thinking of themselves as in a superior way without wanting to integrate in the community around them. So, I wanted to get involved in West Philly regardless of what way that was, and I was just walking down Locust, and someone handed me a CSSP flyer. I started working as a mentor with Comegys Elementary School. I was with first–graders and I've been with the same kids now for three years, so I get to move up with them, and I know them obviously super well. It's just been a wonderful experience for me getting to know these kids and working with them. I want more people to talk about this, and I want more people to be involved in this community, and learn about it. Not in a way like there's so many things wrong with West Philly that we need to come in and fix it, but more just that these are communities that need support and being a Penn student what can I do with my privilege and my knowledge of my resources to help them in whatever way they want help, and that's something I think that CSSP does really well.
Street: Why did you decide to join Greek life?
JC: I was never going to rush, and my friends who are older were like, "you can just do formal rush, you have nothing to lose." So I rushed, and I was rushing off campus organizations as well, and I decided to do Theta because I literally wanted to be as not involved as possible. I was like "I can be in Theta and not be in Theta—it will require nothing of me except for attending a couple of social events and that's it." And then I started kind of branching out because I had a very limited friend group my freshman year. Then I became "Pledge Mom" or "new member educator" because I'm such a mom. I would dedicate 40 hours a week to being Pledge Mom. I would open my laptop and have 300 texts from freshman every single day just because I gave them so much, and they gave me so much in return. From there, it honestly was just a natural transition to becoming president because I think I was the only person in that position who knew everyone as well as I did. I wanted to take that position and use it as a platform to get to know everyone even more, because that was really what I found to be the most rewarding for me as pledge mom. And I can confidently say that I might be one of the only people in the chapter who knows literally every single person in Theta, and that has been really, really great.
Street: Most important product for any beauty routine.
JC: Concealer. You can do anything with concealer really. If you want me to name a specific brand I would say Tarte Shape Tape.
Street: If you were a building on campus, which one would you be and why?
JC: Huntsman, because I'm a hardo.
Street: Favorite part of your running trail?
JC: The Schuylkill River when I get to the river.
Street: Are you a dog or a cat person?
JC: I'm allergic to both!
Street: What is the number one song on your playlist right now?
JC: I have the most specific taste in music. It's called “Want Me Back” by BENEE. I listen to the most random music ever, so no one's ever heard of who I listen to, but it's amazing and everyone should listen to it.
Street: Staple wardrobe item?
Street: There are types of people at Penn...
JC: Those who brag about how much work they've done and those who brag about how much they haven't done.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.