‘I had no choice but to quit study and save my life’: A Syrian refugee’s road to graduation

‘I had no choice but to quit study and save my life’: A Syrian refugee’s road to graduation

Seven years after she was first accepted into dental school in Syria, Sidori Younan finally graduated at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium in December, where she joined graduands from across RMIT’s vibrant global network.

From a young age, Sidori dreamed of becoming a doctor.

After completing high school, she moved from her Assyrian home town, Tel Shamiram, to Lattakia, Syria’s fourth largest city, to begin her medical education, where she discovered a fascination for dentistry.

After graduating, Sidori is looking forward to her dream of gaining a career in the medical field.

“What I love most about it is that it combines science and art, in the sense that you are crafting a beautiful smile for someone,” she said.

But as the impact of the Syrian crisis grew, her road to graduation became increasingly disrupted: she was forced to study by candlelight due to power outages, faced armed groups every day on her way to class and attacks on university buildings.

 “Multiple times when catching the bus, I could see missiles flying overhead, I could hear gunshots bellowing through the air.

“I had no choice but to quit my study and save my life.”

Sidori fled to Lebanon with her family, where they remained until their visas were approved and they moved to Australia.

“When I first arrived everything was challenging and I had to start from scratch,” she said.

“But seeing my country fall into chaos and war only intensified my desire to pursue study and a career in the medical field.”

She focused on improving her English, finishing a Certificate IV EAL (English as an Additional Language) before commencing the Bachelor of Biomedical Science.

Motivated by a desire to give back to her community, she also completed a Diploma of Interpreting and found casual work helping community members with limited English proficiency.

“Being given the opportunity to study in Australia, which I now call home, means a lot,” she said.

Sidori said she was super excited and proud to call herself an RMIT graduate, and was considering postgraduate study to progress her medical career.

Rowena applied to RMIT because she saw her best friend’s brother’s RMIT graduation pictures on Facebook, and was in awe of the grand event.

Social media sparks a dream

For Rowena Caroline, studying the Master of Marketing at RMIT was a goal she first envisaged almost 10 years ago from her home in Bangalore, India. 

Her first encounter with RMIT was in 2010, when she stumbled upon her best friend’s brother’s RMIT graduation pictures on Facebook.

“I hadn’t seen anything like that before, it was such a grand event and I was in awe,” she said.

Rowena had already completed a Bachelor of Business Management in India, but inspired by the RMIT graduation ceremony, and seeking a program with more creativity, she applied to study marketing at RMIT.

Leaving home and establishing herself in Melbourne was a massive adjustment but Rowena just reaching RMIT felt like achieving a goal.

“There were a lot of things I had to figure out - the transport, finding a house and living independently. There were a lot of things I had to learn the hard way.”

But her determination paid off.

Alongside a newfound confidence, she discovered RMIT Activator – an educational and supportive space for entrepreneurial students - and took out first place in a university-wide innovation competition, the RMIT Fastrack Innovation Challenge.

“Until I moved here, I used to just be part of the crowd. I used to just apply myself and wonder if I would get through,” she said.

In December she was able to finally attend the graduation ceremony and experience that very same moment she first saw over social media all those years ago.

“Thinking about attending the ceremony gives me goosebumps,” she said.

“I had to overcome a lot of challenges and tough times to come to this day. That’s why being able to finally see my dream become a reality is so special to me.”

Kim at MPavillion 2019, where she presented her Master of Fashion (Design) graduate collection.

Designing her own future

Born in Hanoi during the Vietnam war, as a young girl Kim Clark was already a budding designer, sketching on the walls of her family home and collecting fabric scraps to make dresses for paper dolls.

Decades later, and a long way from paper dolls, the Masters of Fashion (Design) graduand saw her designs come to life on the runway at the RMIT Master of Fashion (Design) Graduate Showcase at MPavillion 2019.

Kim said it was one of her proudest moments.

“It was both a rewarding and emotional experience for me because I’d worked so hard to get to there,” she said.

It wasn’t a straight forward path. In Vietnam, Kim pursued marketing because her family didn’t see design as a viable career.

Together with her husband, she moved around a lot for work, but it was only when she couldn’t find work in the Philippines that her husband encouraged her to finally study something she really loved.

“I enrolled in a short fashion course and my work was really well received. This was the first time I realised that maybe I could actually do this.”

Four years ago, the couple relocated again - this time to Melbourne – and Kim saw an opportunity to continue her fashion career at RMIT.

She applied for the Bachelor of Fashion (Design Technology) and went on to also complete the Master of Fashion (Design).

Her international experience, along with her background in marketing and commerce, influenced her design work, and saw her excel in her studies.

She said RMIT had given her the ability to maximise her own potential.

“The program is so well designed, and the teachers are amazing.

“I am so excited to be graduating and feel I now have been equipped with the solid skills to face any new challenge.”


Story: Jasmijn van Houten

17 December 2019


17 December 2019


  • RMIT Vietnam
  • Student experience
  • Society
  • Equality, Diversity & Inclusion

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