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28 Feb 2024


Finding the courage within: One woman’s fight to keep her dreams alive despite the odds


Roaa found safety in Australia after being forced to leave her home country. Now, despite the doubts of those around, she is studying a double degree and thriving.

In 2018, Roaa and her family found safety in Australia after being forced to leave Egypt and then China.

From her earliest years, Roaa wanted to become a psychologist and was committed to doing whatever it took to achieve her goal.

She has excelled academically throughout her life, achieving second place in her city in Egypt and securing the top position in her school during her years in China.

Arriving in Australia, Roaa faced the daunting task of adapting to a new school system and learning English. Initially, she struggled to achieve her usual high marks.

“I have always been a high achiever,” Roaa said. “It was difficult for me to accept receiving Cs. I thought, ‘What is happening?’”

From a young age, Roaa has always been taught the value of education by her parents. “I know that having an education as a woman is so powerful,” Roaa said.

As Year 12 approached, Roaa’s confidence dwindled.  She sought validation through others so that she could find the confidence to achieve the high marks required to apply for a psychology degree. When she sought advice from a particular person, however, they dashed her dreams.

“I was told that I had just moved to Australia and my English was not very good,” Roaa recounted.

“I was told not to get my hopes up, as I might not get into psychology, so I should begin exploring other options.”

“When I left that room, I had given up on my dream of studying psychology,” she said.

Roaa went home and started looking for something ‘easy’ to get into it.

Roaa remembered, “I was feeling quite unsure of myself at the time, and I just needed to hear someone say, ‘Yes Roaa, you can do it.”

During her high school years, Roaa observed a common challenge in her community; psychologists found it challenging to fully understand the specific struggles of women from refugee backgrounds.

“Mental health is getting worse, especially for women in my community,” Roaa emphasised.

“My community needs more Arab psychologists who can empathise and understand their situation – their trauma and experiences. They need someone who has experienced something similar, not someone who has not felt what war means.”

Roaa decided to find confidence within herself and not abandon her dream of helping her community. “I told myself ‘Why not give it a shot? You will never lose anything by just trying,” she said.

Despite the challenges of COVID lockdowns, Roaa dedicated herself to her studies and completed Year 12, surprising herself with an ATAR of 94.5.

As university offers flooded in, Roaa chose to accept a double degree program in psychology and media and communications at the University of Sydney.

Roaa explained, “Do not ever underestimate what someone can do simply because they are a woman, or they have migrated from another country and their English may not be as good as yours. Even if they are refugees, do not assume they are incapable.”

“They have faced a lot of challenges that fuel their desire to achieve better. They are awaiting the opportunity and once given; they will seize it and strive to excel as best they can.”

In 2022, Roaa received an SSI Allianz Scholarship which supports her ongoing studies.

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