“When I came to Australia, I only had one backpack” – Samim Sultani’s journey from refugee to VE Student of the Year

“When I came to Australia, I only had one backpack” – Samim Sultani’s journey from refugee to VE Student of the Year

Samim Sultani’s hard work, determination and, above all, compassion led him to receive the 2023 Vocational Education Student of the Year Award, which was announced last month.

Arriving in Australia as a refugee from Afghanistan, Samim faced many obstacles that most people will never know.

He and his family had to rebuild their lives while settling into a new country and dealing with significant financial hardship. This experience instilled a tremendous work ethic in Samim, and an appreciation for education.

“While seeking asylum in Australia, I felt everything I had lived for was in vain. We had to start from zero – getting familiarised with the new environment, getting drivers licenses, knowing about buses and trains, getting jobs. And I did not know where and how to start my higher education pathway here,” Samim said.

Studying at RMIT helped me gain self-esteem and hope.

As part of his RMIT Vocational Education studies, Samim completed the Certificate IV in Education Support and Diploma of Teacher Education Preparation, graduating at the end of 2023.

VE student of the year Samim Sultani

Grappling with feelings of isolation that young refugees often endure, Samim found solace in going to class and connecting with his peers and teachers, as he was able to develop his language skills and gain confidence to step out into the world.

“My classmates were supportive and when I asked them to help me learn conversational English, they happily assisted me. My teachers gave me effective feedback on grammar, the usage of words, the differences between American and Australian English, and much more.”

Samim hopes to create similar positive learning environments for young people in his future career as a teacher.

His passion for teaching came from experiencing first-hand how a good teacher can be life changing. Samim had a difficult time settling into high school in Afghanistan – something that may have continued if not for the kindness of one special teacher.

“I had difficult times during school myself. Sometimes, I thought my mind would explode.”

“Luckily, one of my teachers was very nice – I had one-on-one sessions with him, and we would discuss philosophy, life and my future goals. His impression on me was very strong and ignited my interest in teaching.”

Samim is already having a big impact in the lives of students, working in classrooms with children who have recently sought asylum in Australia. It is here where he has put his love of teaching into practice – drawing on his own experiences to connect with the kids and help them grow. 

“I remember a student in prep who was shy and barely spoke any English. I assisted her with basic activities – simple words such as colours, toilet, water, food, book and pen. We gradually involved her in teamwork where she could speak, and I saw her confidence improve.”

“One day, she smiled and told me that she could do all her activities by herself and asked me to assist other students. I was proud of how much she improved."

VE student of the year Samim Sultani two

“People who come to Australia as refugees face similar challenges as I did, so I consider it my responsibility to help them adapt to the new environment and support them.”

It is this compassion and empathy that led to Samim receiving the 2023 VE Student of the Year Award. 

In their nomination of Samim, his teachers noted his incredible persistence and desire to learn and improve from every challenge and opportunity that comes his way, as well as his ability to support and uplift others in the classroom.

When reflecting on the award, Samim’s characteristic humility and selflessness is on display as he praises the people who got him to where he is today.

“This award is a recognition of my RMIT teachers’ hard work and my classmates’ support. VE Student of the Year means I still have a lot to learn, and it encourages me to continue to work even harder.”

As for what’s next, Samim is looking forward to using the skills and qualifications gained in his VE studies to complete a Bachelor of Education with RMIT. 

“After I finished my Diploma, I had to start working due to some financial difficulties. I hope to start a Bachelor of Education next year!”

28 May 2024


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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.