My educational journey, from elementary to grad school
It all began in the year 2000, in Brisbane, Australia. I was five when I started at Indooroopilly State School, and in the same year, my little sister, Zoe, was born. The following year, my family moved to Sydney, and I started at Birchgrove Public School, which sat on the edge of the Paramatta River, overlooking the Cockatoo Island Prison.
I remember one lunchtime at Birchgrove where a couple of friends and I emptied a bin on top of a car out the front of the school. We mustn’t have been too sly because we ended up in the principal’s office and as it turned out, it was the principal’s car that copped the contents of the bin. That day, barely seven years old, I got my first school suspension.
Relative to other capital cities in Australia, Sydney is by far the biggest and most heavily populated, resulting in significantly lower air quality than what we were used to after living in Queensland. Zoe, who had been suffering from health complications since birth, soon also began to have respiratory issues which prompted our move back to Brisbane. Upon returning to Brisbane, I also returned to Indooroopilly State School for the start of my third school year.
I had no interest in class. But I’d found a love of drawing and art, filling all of my books with cartoons and graffiti. I could sit through a whole school day scribbling in my books and not take in a word the teacher said, which has continued right up until this very day. I’ve just learned to multitask better since.
In 2004, for the start of my fourth year at Indooroopilly State, the school decided to trial an all-boy class, which I was ecstatic about being selected for; however, this was nothing but a social experiment where they took all the problem and at-risk kids and threw them in a classroom with a few of the normals. And I can say this because I was one of the problem kids. We would go out and play cricket or rugby every morning, video games during the day, then go out for more sport again in the afternoon, while somehow trying to fit schoolwork into the day. Unfortunately, I found myself sidelined for all of the school camps, surf trips and sports carnivals in the year due to my behaviour. But I didn’t even make it to the end of the year before I was expelled from Indooroopilly State School.
Going from a school of 500 to a school of 1500 took a lot of getting used to. My new German boarding school, St Peters Lutheran College, was more than five times the size of Indooroopilly. With my classes scattered all over the campus, I was late to almost every single one of them while learning my way around. It was great to now have access to fancy art, technology, language and sporting facilities at my new school, but staying in line was something that I hadn’t yet been able to come to terms with. By the time I was thirteen, I’d been suspended three times from St Peters, and they were already threatening to kick me out. But at least I’d found Rugby.
Rugby is a fascinating game that requires all sorts of skills and player profiles for a team to be successful. Doesn’t matter how big or small, or uncoordinated, you are, there’s a position on the rugby field that’s right for you. To many, it’s quite a barbaric sport. But really, it’s quite the opposite. Yes, there are physical, and very physical components to the game, which often result in injuries, or on some freak occasions, even deaths. It is, however, the mental aspect of the game that one must understand to truly appreciate the sport.
If you play a game of Rugby, with heart, there isn’t a possibility that you won’t be hurt during, or afterwards. Whether it’s from muscle stress or fatigue or taking heavy contact from your opponent, you will experience some sort of pain during that 80 minutes. I know, so far this doesn’t sound very appealing, but bear with me. The beauty of rugby is that there are 30 players divided into two teams, and every position is just as critical to the success of the team as the next. There are always gifted players that heavily influence the end result of a game, but unless every single player in the team knows their role, as well as the roles of the players next to them, the team will never taste victory.
I have never experienced such a show of determination and willpower than when I’ve seen my teammates rally together in the dying minutes of a game and give every ounce of energy and strength they have left for their mates around them. This is true strength. When your body is telling you that you can’t continue, and you carry on anyway, that is when you begin to learn about yourself and your body’s true capabilities. No sport gives you more of an understanding of what it means to be a team than Rugby, and for this, I will always be grateful. I am also grateful for all of my bloody injuries and broken bones that came from the battlefield, these experiences planted the seed which became the idea that pain is superficial and, you can withstand more than you could ever give yourself credit for.
In saying this, you don’t need any sport to help you get physically or mentally fit. Working towards your health and fitness-related goals is just a lot easier when you do it through something you love.
I played college Rugby from my first until my last year at St. Peters. But my schoolyard etiquette would find me sidelined from several games throughout the years. By the time I was in senior school, I had a reputation with many of the students and almost every teacher but, it was nothing to be bragging about. I had the reputation of a wild card, willing to do anything that could cause a reaction. Sometimes it was laughs, fun and games, but others it was a little more sinister and often at someone else’s expense. But I had learned a lot about what I could and couldn’t get away with at St. Peters so, I there were fewer encounters with the school authorities.
Around this time, a few of my friends had started smoking cannabis before, during, and after school, which I then started doing, occasionally, for a little excitement and to make my classes a little more bearable. I thought it was pretty harmless compared to some of the other stuff I’d heard about, but it couldn’t have had any positive effects on my young mind. This was also around the time I started going to parties and experimenting with alcohol, often drinking more than my body could handle. I spent the next two years trying to find a balance between all of my new experiences, while also trying to keep my grades up at the same time.
Anyone who went to school in Australia would have heard the term “Muck Up Day.” This is believed by some to be a right of passage on the last school day where the soon-to-be graduates create mischief within their school, and others, depending on how passionate they are about the occasion. Around this time, just before my graduation in 2011, our school, along with many others in the area, brought in additional security and notified police to be alert. These were efforts to dissuade potential troublemakers from coming onto school property late at night but, it didn’t stop the artist of a 15-meter penis, painted on our concrete our chapel forecourt, or the group that decided to storm the study centre before locking the all the doors and starting a rave, all quite harmless in comparison to some of the other stories out there. My afternoon ended on a lower note though, crashing my car into school property while leaving campus. I fled the scene but, they’d already called mum by the time I got home. Apparently, I was lucky to have graduated.
During high school, I had no interest in the schoolwork but, thankfully, by the time I finished, I’d gained some experience from working jobs in construction, hospitality, and retail. I was seventeen when I left school, my family home, and any further financial support that I was ever hoping for.
I was working part-time at a pet shop before finishing at St. Peters. When I was finally free from school, I transitioned into a full-time role. I loved the job. All I had to do was look after all of the animals and give advice to customers about animals. If someone wanted some beautiful, young, free-range laying hens, I was the guy they came to speak to. I was also playing Rugby and getting pretty serious about it, I’d been training hard for over a year and increased my weight, fitness and strength exponentially.
My passion for sport, health and fitness led me to look into exercise, sport and nutrition programs at the university I was playing Rugby for; however, the grades I finished high school with did not allow me to enter any of the programs I was interested in. I was still playing, refereeing, and coaching Rugby when I was referred, by Queensland Rugby Union, to the Australian Institute of Personal Trainers, to complete my certifications in fitness and personal training. For six months I studied the basics of anatomy and exercise physiology while completing an internship at a local gym before I was awarded the certificates III & IV in Fitness, which accredited me as an Australian personal trainer and group fitness instructor. Now it was time to make some money.
You usually don’t earn too much when first embarking out as a personal trainer, as I found out after starting ‘Hansford Personal Training’ and renting space within a little suburban gym.
For three months, I was spending more money on rent than I was earning from training clients, so I was lucky to have kept my job at the pet shop to still have an income. I had also been certified as a boxing instructor and when my business started gaining traction, I was invited to begin working with Fitness First, a corporate fitness centre with access to more clients with more money to spend. It was an exciting opportunity, which I had to take but, I soon found out that moving from a gym with four staff members to a gym with fifteen personal trainers, where I was the youngest and least experienced, was not an easy transition.
The competition was high and, I struggled to make money within the gym, turning to outdoor training sessions and other sources of income to pay the rent, which was almost double what my previous gym was asking.
When my contract ended, I was fortunate enough to be offered a role within the gym with a salary and no expenses payable, which I gladly accepted. Running my own business gave me a taste of the real world and how much I still had to learn. I also realised that I wasn’t really interested in putting in the effort to become a top-class personal trainer, so I looked again to my study options.
The University of Queensland.
In 2013 I commenced a Bachelor of Business Management at the University of Queensland. Up until this point, I didn’t really know that university was more about parties and social events than it was about going to classes. You get graded on your ability to research and regurgitate information, while learning to balance your chores and co-curriculars at the same time. My commitments to both work and Rugby made finding time to study a little harder but, once I developed a routine and some time management skills, I managed to survive the first year without too much difficulty.
At the start of the next year, before the Rugby season had even started, I suffered a shoulder injury which resulted in me deciding to sit the first half of the season out. Initially, I thought that with one less commitment I would be able to complete my schoolwork to a higher standard, but I soon learned the positive impact a sport like Rugby has on your life. After withdrawing from my competition, and more than fifteen hours per week of training, I become restless with my sleeping and began to lose focus in class. It didn’t help when I started combatting the sleeping difficulties with alcohol either.
It wasn’t long before my lifestyle contradicted everything I knew about health and fitness. I began a routine of non-stop substance abuse from Friday to Sunday, sometimes dragging it out until Monday or Tuesday if I could get away with it. I met a lot of people when I was frequenting different clubs, bars and parties in Brisbane. It also didn’t take long before I had a reputation as someone you could come to if you needed anything. But this did me no favours. You don’t do your homework when you’re out late at night, and you don’t go to class when you’re in bed battling the dark thoughts that fill your mind after days of inflicting chemical trauma on your body. My grades started slipping but, I didn’t care, I was too busy having fun. Even after multiple arrests and pending trafficking charges, I managed to juggle my co-curriculars with my schoolwork until the end of 2015, when everything finally caught up with me.
I’d been involved with some small-time gangsters which came to an end after a series of chaotic and unfortunate events left some of my associates in a bad way with worse people. I’d also just found out that ‘Papi’ the Somalian in the above video, had been using my car to hide firearms so, I cut all ties when they asked me for a “loan.”
I didn’t lend them the money so they came after me to take it. I was taken, tied up and tortured overnight. It was a pretty horrible ordeal which landed me in hospital and the news headlines. I was pretty shaken up so during my recovery, I decided to withdraw from my university studies and figure out what I was doing with my life.
I became interested in real estate after completing several property subjects as part of my undergraduate studies at UQ. To continue my professional development while taking some time off university, I enrolled in a short course that certified me as a real estate agent in Australia. About a week later, I had my certificate and was applying for all the real estate positions I could find. Fortunately for me, some of the courses I’d already completed as part of my university major looked great on my CV so, I was getting a few calls for interviews. Unfortunately for me, most of the interviews ended shortly after the hiring person asked me about why I was all over the news a few months back. I was even given job offers at two separate firms, which, to my disappointment, both were later retracted. It was only when I met with the director of Harcourts Southwest Brisbane and made a good impression, that I was given my shot at a career in real estate.
Fast forward a few months and I’d gotten myself into a healthy routine. I had an income, some close friends, and I was on talking terms with my family, which meant at the very least I was getting some good advice when I needed it. It was time to go back to school though, so in the middle of 2016, I went back to UQ and pretty much just picked up where I had left off.
Looking back on that year, I learned one lesson I’ll never forget, YOU are the company you keep. To all who knew me through these times – I know it shouldn’t have taken what it did for me to realise that what I was doing was just complete self-destruction, but hey, better late than never.
I felt like this was my second chance to do things right. My attendance was a lot higher and anything I missed in class I made a big effort to catch up on at home. I made some friends in my program, some of whom I am still close with to this day. We created a support network where over the next year and a half we would spend dozens of sleepless nights together, working in the university libraries. It’s incredible how much you can fit into a day when you have a good routine in place but, even so, university for me was not without its struggles. I completed the subjects of law, economics, marketing, finance, and management with relatively little difficulty, as you could basically pass just by thoroughly reading the content. But the property valuation and development subjects were different. Their assessments were based around feasibility studies and creating a series of formulas on hundred page excel spreadsheets. For me, this was nothing short of a nightmare and I can’t thank my crazy Argentinian friend, Federico, enough, for creating our study group and pulling me through our final months at UQ. I honestly would have been lost without him.
In mid-2018, I graduated from the University of Queensland with a bachelor of business management, real estate and property development. A huge achievement for me. Another noteworthy achievement for me was that from when I picked up my studies again in 2016 until my graduation in 2018, 50% of the grades I was awarded were distinctions (six out of seven on the grade scale). I could write pages of praise about my experiences at UQ. From the sports programs to the facilities, teachers and course delivery, it was all first class. Though I never really realised how good education in Australia was until I decided to study in the capital of Cataluña.
After spending a good part of my life close to the sea, I only discovered the joys of sailing on a few island hopping and camping adventures around Southeast Queensland during my time at university. I have always loved driving motorboats and my fathers 4-metre aluminium ‘tinny’, but sailing was very new to me. After graduating from UQ, I travelled through Europe with some friends, and we ended up in Croatia on a catamaran, all to ourselves. Only, we were in a flotilla with 50 other yachts and island hopping to different party destinations. It was wild. During that week I also realised that I’d make a pretty good skipper so, when I found out I was moving to Barcelona, I started looking for maritime colleges.
It wasn’t long before I found MT Sail & Power, a family run sailing school operating out of Port Vell in the middle of Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella. I hadn’t even recovered from the jet lag before I was on their boat as crew, spectating a Yachtmaster training group. It was during the group’s final sessions before undertaking their practical exam and, we went out to complete some open water manoeuvres and emergency response situations before practising docking in different ports along the coast. It was intense, but I loved it and knew I was ready to have a go myself.
For the next few months, I was focused solely on studying the ins and outs of sailing, navigation and meteorology, while also completing regular passages around the Spanish part of the Mediterranean. I was able to see all of the coastline from Costa Brava down to Dénia, slightly south of Valencia, before travelling through the Balearic Islands. We stopped for several days in Ibiza, then Mallorca, before the short passage back to Barcelona. It was a lot of fun and, after three months of intense training and five theoretical exams, I was now ready to go for the Yachtmaster license. After a short theoretical question session with the examiner, who had been flown in by the RYA to supervise our exam, we went out into the Mediterranean to commence the exam, which lasted about eight hours. It was extremely challenging, but all three of the students in my group passed, and we went out to celebrate by doing what sailors do best. Drinking.
A few months earlier, I had applied for the Quarterdeck Skipper Academy in Croatia, where they train the captains and hostesses for The Yacht Week charters. I had completed all of the interview stages and my placement in the program was just pending my attainment of the Yachtmaster certifications, which I now had. So I flew into Split, along with 40 other skippers and hostesses from all over the world, and began nine days of skipper training in the Adriatic Sea. The skippers’ course took everything we had learned during the Yachtmaster training, which I was still trying to master, and added on several different components required when operating as a charter skipper in a flotilla, for long periods of time. We had to learn and practice many different mooring and rafting situations, often in extreme conditions, which are common in this region of the Adriatic. It was an incredible experience. Far more challenging than most of us could have imagined, but we were all glad to have made it to the end.
It’s a tough gig being on call 24 hours a day for a whole week straight, in a situation where you’re responsible for the lives of your guests, who are usually just smashing drugs and/or alcohol the whole time. It’s also pretty likely that at some point, something is going to go wrong. Then when the week is over, you start again, the same day with a new crew. I honestly don’t know how long I would have lasted in this situation while trying to party at the same time. But I think the academy instructors had the same thoughts as I did not go on to skipper for The Yacht Week that season. They said it was due to my lack of experience as a captain. I think it was more to do with the reputation that our two boats full of crazy Aussies had earned during my first visit to Croatia. Either way, it was probably for the best as I was ready to party harder than my guests. But I went back to Barcelona, heartbroken, instead.
I learned a lot from ‘failing’ the skipper academy in Croatia. Before then, I had a sense of arrogance and complacency that I’d created through coasting to most of my achievements. I always achieved what I set out to do, but I never really had to work hard for it, which is why it came as such a shock for me when I was told that I wouldn’t go on to skipper for The Yacht Week that year. This failure hit hard, but it wasn’t long before I had my sights set on another opportunity.
After being called in as a relief skipper for a short voyage around Barcelona, and apparently doing a great job, I was then called back on several occasions to continue skippering for the charter company. I had a great time in this role, sailing and looking after the guests, who were always from far and wide with an interesting story to tell. But this came to an end with the summer season, when Cyndi and I returned to Australia.
We planned to return to Spain, so I could find a permanent role onboard a yacht in early 2020, but nothing could have prepared us for what 2020 had in store.
Post Grad, Cataluña.
After months of waiting for Australia’s borders to reopen, while fighting the government for permission to leave, my partner and I were finally able to return to Spain in the middle of the year, and the European summer. But we returned to empty streets and very few businesses still operating in Barcelona. The city had been closed for tourists and under heavy lockdown conditions which it had not yet recovered from; there was still no one around.
I was too late, all the yachts were either locked down in a marina or drifting around at sea, trying to find a country that would let them in.
As Barcelona’s tourism in 2020 died with Covid, so did my yachting season and I began looking at other opportunities for work and professional development. This search led me to several postgraduate study options and I decided to enrol in the International MBA program with EAE Business School and the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya.
The main reason for enrolling in this program was that public university admissions had closed for similar programs, narrowing down my options. The chosen dual master program awards a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from UPC, and a Master of International Business (MIB) from EAE, but comes with a nineteen thousand Euro price tag. When I heard the cost, I told my admissions counsellor that there was no way I could afford, or find value in paying for this program and that we would conclude our business together there. But Mr Pau was a well-trained salesman. After giving the whole EAE sales pitch the one thing that stuck with me was that the school finances almost all of the program fees and then immediately, based on your skillset, arranges employment with one of their many professional partners.
So they loan you the money for two separate masters degrees and then help you to pay it back by giving you a job? After about four months of unsuccessful job hunting, that sounded incredible.
I had been promised great success from day one. But the moment I paid the deposit for my placement in the program was the moment everyone from EAE vanished. For nearly two weeks, I was calling and emailing the school trying to get in contact with Mr Pau, who would just direct me to someone else who would refuse to talk to me. I was denied any further assistance as Mr Pau continued to tell me that it was no longer his job to help me and even started laughing when I expressed my disappointment with both him and the school. I had my suspicions before, but that was the moment I really felt like the whole setup was a scam. So I immediately pulled my enrollment to pursue a more trustworthy institution.
Read what myself and other students have to say about EAE, here.
After reviewing my professional and study options, I decided to enrol into the University of Barcelona for 2021. I was looking forward to placement in the Master of International Business and the Master of Marketing and Sustainability programs, but these courses were both postponed indefinitely due to Covid.
While awaiting the courses to resume, I started working in sales for a multinational utilities provider. After two months within the firm, I was offered a leadership position and quickly progressed to the head of operations within the UK market.
After six months in a managerial position, I decided to leave the deathly boring office job in search of new adventure. I soon found myself on a 36 meter motor yacht cruising the Mediterranean and facilitating the fun of all guests onboard. This was a much better way to spend the Summer, but all good things must come to an end.
The yacht was eventually sold and I returned to Barcelona at the end of 2021, still waiting to be able to continue my studies. Until then, I will be largely focused on producing helpful and meaningful content on harryhansford.com, riding the crypto wave and seeking adventure wherever possible.
If you have read this far, thank you, I hope you enjoyed my story.
Paz, amor y buena salud.