John's story

“We are a diverse multicultural society and that is one of our strengths, not a weakness. “
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We were the first muslim family many of the locals had seen. And they were the first Australians we had seen. I was scared during those first few days.

My only ideas of western culture came from movies and tv shows, where everyone was always cheating on their partners or talking back to their parents.

Cobram is a small town on the Murray River near the border between Victoria and New South Wales. As I walked the streets of my new home, people smiled at me. People who I had never met, would look me in the eye and give me a friendly grin. This was really strange to me. In our culture we don’t smile with affection in public. Nowadays I love smiling. I want to smile at everyone that I meet. I think smiling at strangers is my favourite part of Aussie culture. For me, especially as a muslim woman wearing a hijab, I think that smiling is a way to show I am happy and friendly. I feel that there is pressure when I wear this hijab, but I choose to do it because I want people to know that I am muslim. I want peoople to see a muslim that is not shown in the media.

Now that I felt safe, and even comfortable, I could see that Australia represented opportunity. A chance to become the person I had dreamed I would as a child: to become a doctor and help others.

After living in Cobram for a few years with my two kids, I started feeling settled. But that feeling of normalcy sooned turned to restlessness. Now that I felt safe, and even comfortable, I could see that Australia represented opportunity. A chance to become the person I had dreamed I would as a child: to become a doctor and help others.

It had been 12 years since I had been in a classroom, or more accurately, inside a tiny caravan of the refugee camp that I grew up in. I also couldn’t read or write in english. So I started to learn via distance education. When my english was good enough, I moved to Melbourne to begin working on my VCE. When I told people in the community that I was leaving because I was going to become a doctor, they told me that I was delusional. No one believed that I could do it. And I am really glad for their words of discouragement, they filled me a determination to prove them wrong.

No one believed that I could do it. And I am really glad for their words of discouragement, they filled me a determination to prove them wrong.

I was ready to achieve. But after a few weeks in those high school equivalent classes, even my teachers were doubting that I could pass. My English was still very poor. For chemistry, math and biology I had to translate every single word of my homework. On top of that, I had to take English classes and learn about Shakespeare. I worked twelve hours a day, everyday. And I had two kids to look after. It was crazy. But when my English teacher asked the class who had finished reading Hamlet, I was the only one who raised their hand. I was crazy.

Even when I had my high school certificate in my hand, I was still so far from my dream. No university wanted me. My marks were nothing incredible, but they couldn’t see how far I had come. Luckily, I was offered a place at Victoria University in their Foundations course. The teachers that I had there were so supportive. I gave it everything I had. Out of the 200 students, I finished on top of the class.

Now I am working as a lecturer, and I am training biomedical students on their way to becoming doctors.

Despite the challenges and the disbelief of others, I am achieving my dream everyday. At the end of this year I will be awarded with a doctorate for my work in micro organic synthetic chemistry.

I worry about what people think when they see me on the streets, when they don’t know who I am. There are good and bad people in every culture. We just need to get to know each other. We can’t make assumptions from what we hear or see in the media.

I am proud to be Australian, and I am proud to wear a hijab. I am proud of what I have achieved, for myself, my children and for my community.

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