How Max turned his struggles into a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

Max Claessens
A reunion at Annenberg Hall between Bachelor of International Security Studies/Laws (Hons) student Max Claessens (right) and one of his role models, Zid Mancenido (PhB (Hons) ‘12).

It was incredible to see the many cultural displays of other nations and to sink my teeth into the diversity of the world and history of its peoples.

In November 2019, Bachelor of International Security Studies/Laws (Hons) student Max Claessens submitted two applications in the hope of attending the 2020 Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations (HPAIR) Harvard College Conference.

The first application was to become a delegate of the Social Policy and Justice track, for which Max wrote about the Rohingya refugee crisis. The second application was for a scholarship, which required Max to write an essay about the challenges he has faced in life and how he has overcome them.

“Within my essay, I discussed childhood challenges like bullying, juvenile epilepsy, and growing up in a disadvantaged suburb. I then considered present challenges, like juggling my caring role for my disabled younger brother together with part-time work and full-time study while residing far from campus,” says Max.

“In December 2019, I was questioned extensively about the challenges I had discussed in my essays – what drove me in my life, my means test, my budget and how I would benefit and contribute if chosen. After this extensive process, I was selected as a delegate and scholar.”

In February, Max flew to Cambridge, Massachusetts to attend the HPAIR conference. There he met hundreds of delegates from around the world in a dynamic exchange of cultures and ideas. HPAIR’s goal for 2020 was to find a vision for the future that is formed from the viewpoints of delegates from across the globe. Max formed relationships with delegates from Pakistan, Philippines, Vietnam, Russia, China, India and Thailand.

“It was incredible to see the many cultural displays of other nations and to sink my teeth into the diversity of the world and history of its peoples,” he says.

One guarantee during this experience is that delegates always have an activity to participate in or a seminar to attend. This included keynote speeches, speaker panels, cultural exchanges, policy challenges, galas, networking events, an international night carnival and performances, HPAIRx talks and seminars included “Overcoming boundaries: How borders define migration”, “Tensions between rising income equality and labour rights” and “Human rights in an evolving climate”.

Max preparing to perform with 350 conference attendees at the HPAIR International Night Performances.

“Besides witnessing 350 students, academics and young professionals join me in my performance of 'Waltzing Matilda' and the 'Nutbush' at my International Night Performance, the highlight of HPAIR was (meeting) the people who participated,” says Max.

“One delegate who really inspired me was my friend and second-year international relations student, Zafar Waseem, from Pakistan. I was privileged enough to hear his incredible stories about his work in building interreligious dialogue, getting orphans and underprivileged children to school, and speaking at the United Nations as a member of the Prime Minister’s Youth Programme.”

During this time. Max deepened his knowledge about refugee crises, labour rights and climate change. It is this knowledge that he hopes will equip him to confront future challenges as he moves towards his goal of working in foreign aid and practicing labour law.

Max encourages all students considering such overseas opportunities to apply. Despite thinking he was not the most “qualified” candidate, he did have another important trait: passion.

“The most powerful thing I learnt during this experience was how cultural exchange enriches your life and is a crucial tool for diplomacy,” Max says.

“Do not let money, experience or fear be a barrier to your participation,” he adds.

Financial support and insurance are available to pursue these scholarships and exchanges. If you require funding, apply for the ANU College of Law Discretionary Student Financial Support.

Find out more about ANU Law Discretionary Student Financial Support here and the HPAIR conference here.

Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  College General Manager, ANU College of Law/Page Contact:  Law Marketing Team