CLARA LAMAI HOLM
PORTRAITS BY CHUN-LI 'KEN' HUANG
Clara Lamai Holm sat on the back porch overlooking Copake Lake in upstate New York. Carrying an undying smile and constant awe of the nature of the unfamiliar people and the land surrounding her, she took of a commemorative breath of the morning, Northeast air.
Her impromptu trip to Copake with extended friends from her home in Copenhagen, Denmark, was only a single stop amidst her 3-month backpacking trip across the United States in 2013. She recycled a few pairs of clothing and an adventurous spirit through multiple corners of America, visiting colleges from coast to coast—colleges that she knew that she could never afford.
“I needed to go—I felt like I needed to do it.”In 2014, Clara stepped in the Marist Financial Services office carrying a full heart, a clear mission and a check for $19,000 to pay for her first semester in full.
Clara Lamai Holm's Childhood Image
“I am very content and happy with my life right now, and I think it is because I worked so hard to get there. I am not done dreaming yet—but I am still in the dream right now."-Clara Lamai Holm
CROWDFUNDING- “I need help to stay here,” Clara repeated in her head, sitting in the office waiting area.
Higher education in Denmark is free for students from the EU/EEA and Switzerland, and many scholarships and grants are available from national institutions and public funds. Clara’s family lacked any financial plans for spending massive dollars on an American college education. With raw intent and astonishing creativity, Clara was naturally obligated to design a plan on her own.
“So, I crowdfunded my entire first semester and I raised $19,000,” Clara said, politely laughing while picking up on my stunned confusion, a seemingly routine reaction of outsiders that hear her story. Clara’s outlandish plan somehow worked—as she is currently getting ready to wrap up her last semester as a senior Media Studies and Production major at Marist College.
“Soccer was going to give me this opportunity,” Clara said. “I love Denmark, but I didn’t want to study there—I wanted to study here, so I was going to do anything to make it happen.” Clara decided to redevelop her skills in soccer in attempt to potentially fulfill her dream of attending Marist by getting there on a Division I athletic scholarship. From the time she earned her IB (International Baccalaureate) diploma in 2012 to the time she entered Marist in 2014, she trained as hard as she could.
In order to cover the funds that she’d need to enter Marist for the first semester, she made a 3 minute video expressing her dreams to attend Marist and her willingness to do whatever it took to get there. She set up a crowdfunding account on platform, Indiegogo, in April 2014 and raised over $5,000 in online donations alone.
“I trained very hard for those two years, made a video, and released it on Indiegogo and thought, ‘I want to attend Marist College and play Division one soccer, and I need the funds to make the team.’ I sent the video to the head coach and I flew over here—and got on the team.”
“People were so inspired by this story, that people donated to the fund,” Clara said. She raised the rest of the money by calling companies to sponsor with donations. “I was able to go in with a check and pay my first semester off.”
Having attended an IB school in Denmark, Clara had never taken an American SAT test—deeming her ineligible to play and having to redshirt her freshman year. She completed her sophomore preseason and made the team, but did not end up receiving the athletic scholarship that she originally expected. She was able to continue her education at Marist, focusing on her academics and studying abroad in Florence, Italy instead.
She returned to the Marist Office of Financial Services at the end of her first semester, eager to figure out her next plan in finding the means to live this deep-rooted dream. The office members listened to her story and agreed to continue a conversation of how she can afford her education for the next three and a half years. “I just kind of opened up to them and that’s what I think they were really inspired by. I wasn’t just hiding and expecting it to be handed to me,” Clara smiled, looking up at the ceiling with overwhelming gratitude.
Clara Lamai Holm is a senior international student from Denmark who achieved her dreams of attending an American college by crowdfunding her entire first semester at Marist. From the time she earned her IB (International Baccalaureate) diploma in 2012 to the time she entered Marist in 2014, she trained in soccer in attempt to gain a Division I scholarship, interned at Jimmy Choo in London immediately after graduating high school, and spent three months backpacking America with a friend to find a school that she wanted to attend.
ON HER WAY—“We were like, ‘Lake house, what is a lake house?’”
Clara laughed, expressing her embracing of the American culture her vast network of friends had introduced her to throughout her journey. The trip started at a homebase in Princeton, New Jersey, where she stayed at a friend’s house that she met through IB school. “I was with my best friend, we had our backpacks and six plane tickets—we traveled from East to West coast.” Clara was 19 years old and prepared to take on the United States with nothing but a plane ticket to San Francisco, Greyhound bus tickets to Santa Cruz and Los Angeles, and a plane ticket home.
“We just saw every side of America. I have traveled a lot, being European,” Clara said. “I feel comfortable being so far away for long periods of time.” Clara’s only other experience visiting the United States was at 16 years old—where she earned a gold medal at the US Open for karate and a silver medal at the Junior Olympics in Las Vegas as second brown belt in Shotokan karate.
“I know it sounds strange—but I was just so caught up in wanting to travel to America,” she said. “My mom says I was born on the wrong continent.”
Her few mornings on the back porch spent at the lake house in Copake unexpectedly solidified her dreams of attending college in America. “I made it up to this extended friend’s lake house and met someone who is on the Board here at Marist.” Clara added a stop in her trip to visit Marist. Her willpower to determine her own fate was defined with her first step on campus—renewing her faith in the Northeastern breath of air. “It was the only school I applied to between here and Denmark, and if I didn’t get in, I wasn’t going to go to school for another year,” Clara said.
Clara was accepted to Marist and was ready to do anything that it took to claim her spot in the Class of 2018. “I have never been so happy in my life,” Clara said. “It’s all worth it.”Before embarking on the backpacking trip, Clara spent 3 months in 2013 as a Digital Media Intern at Jimmy Choo in London, handling the company’s social media through Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.
In returning from her internship, Clara was overtaken by her passion and spontaneity in deciding between taking a job offer in Denmark and following her heart. “Or—I could backpack America. My dad was like, ‘Can you just be smart and take the job?’” she said. “Now he gets it.”
“You can’t make this up.”
‘NEVER BEEN SO HAPPY’—Amidst people encroaching discouraging sense of realist thinking on her dream-centered mindset, Clara truly crafted a living definition of self-motivation and hunger for personal growth within the entire scope of the world and its offerings. “It has to do with when you have a goal and you do anything to achieve it. It could be a small mile or a long mile.”
Within her years at Marist, Clara shot the 2017 design portfolio of Silver Needle Runway Outstanding Design Collection recipient, Cara Benevia. She has also worked with the George Rae label in Copenhagen this past summer. “I just love taking my photography and video and doing something with fashion.”
She has also worked with fellow international students in the Admissions Office, working as a Student Assistant to the Executive Director of International Admissions for two years. Her innate spontaneity infiltrates into her passion for film and media—she shakes her head and laughed, claiming she’d “never be able to” work on a three-year movie production in Hollywood. “I am very creative in the moment, and come up with new ideas,” Clara said. “I have found Clara to be very engaged, experimental and brave,” her video production professor, Dr. Adam Zaretsky, said. “Her EU roots and general spunky attitude serve her and her fellow classmates very well.”
“I expect Clara to rock this world with a novel media viewpoint and vital forces that need to be showcased,” Zaretsky said. Clara attributes her eye for art to her roots, expressing constant gratitude for those who helped her to grow personally, professionally and spiritually from them. “My grandpa is probably my biggest role model,” Clara said. “He was an artist—I would always go to his house and paint with him. Anything I ever wanted to do, he would make sure he was good at it so that he could do it with me.”
Clara’s younger brother, Carl, 19, shares her artistic worldview and eagerness to push similar borders as his sister. “I’m hoping that he can come here and study too—he’s going to have to put in the work.”“Even in middle school and high school, I was higher level art—my only good grades were always in the art classes. I was kind of just making it—and I kind of just got my diploma, and now I’ve been on Dean’s List every semester,” she said. “I think I’m just in the right place. This is where I am supposed to be.”
Clara has remained in a constantly elevating cycle of satisfaction and lack thereof, pushing her past borders that she didn’t know existed. “I am very content and happy with my life right now, and I think it is because I worked so hard to get there,” Clara said. “I’m not done dreaming yet—but I am still in the dream right now.”