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Students in Focus

Finding her way — Sana Arzoo's story

Content warning: War and conflict

Sana Arzoo understands the importance of having someone who believes in you.

As a young refugee with little understanding of English, there can be barriers to accessing education but thanks to the University of Canberra’s Refugee Transition Program and several other supporters along the way, Sana has now found her feet in Australia, and is setting out to help others do the same.

Sana’s parents are from Afghanistan. Because of the war there, they sought refuge in Pakistan, where Sana was later born. When she was 15, Sana’s family were able to move to Australia.

After an intensive English course at the Secondary Introductory English Centre (SIEC) at Dickson College, Sana started high school in the ACT.

This was a challenging period for Sana; while the SIEC course improved her English, she struggled to understand her homework, and the language barrier meant she often felt left out socially.

“If someone asked me how I was, I could say ‘good’ but then that would be the end of the conversation because I didn’t know how to ask a question or make a sentence. I was scared of saying the wrong thing,” Sana says.

Things started to look up for Sana in college, where she met other students with refugee backgrounds, found a part-time job and met teachers who went the extra mile to help her — she began to gain confidence in herself and her abilities.

“I had a teacher who was there for us and supported us. Even though my English was not very good, she would always try to understand me,” Sana says.

“When you have someone that supports you and talks to you, you feel much better about yourself.”

During her studies at the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT), Sana connected with more inspiring educators who encouraged her to apply for university.

Now, Sana is in her second year of a Bachelor of Arts (Global Studies) at UC. There are still highs and lows, but with the help of the University’s Refugee Transition program, she’s had support to weather the storms.

The program provided financial assistance and a tutor, and Student Success Coordinator Lara Drew has been with her every step of the way.

“Last year, I was about to give up. Lara was the one who convinced me to stay. She introduced me to my tutor, Steffi, who helps me understand my assignments. Now I get very good marks,” Sana says.

Sana has always known she wanted to help others and now, her path is clear — inspired by those who had been there for her throughout her journey — she plans to use her language skills to guide other refugees through their transition to Australia.

“If I hadn’t met these people, I don’t know if I would be here,” Sana says.

“I want to guide other new refugees. Hopefully when they see how far I’ve come, they will think — maybe I can too.”

Words and photo by Kelly White, other photo supplied by David Beach Photography.

Refugee Week 2022 runs from Sunday 19 June to Saturday 25 June.

This week, we are sharing the stories and achievements of UC community members who come from refugee backgrounds, to celebrate their successes and highlight different aspects of the refugee experience.

The University of Canberra is dedicated to equity, outreach and the support of all students at every stage of their education life cycle. Visit our website to learn more about our Student Equity and Participation programs.

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