Zinah Hasan wears a blue graduation cap and stares at the camera. Photo: Mark Newsham

How relocating to Australia changed the way Zinah saw the world

How relocating to Australia changed the way Zinah saw the world

International studies graduate and emerging football star on breaking free of labels

Growing up in Iraq and Syria, Zinah Hasan wasn’t allowed to take part in many activities outside the house. Simply because she was a girl. Playing sport was not considered an appropriate pursuit for young girls. 

But after fleeing Iraq, and later Syria, with her family to escape the violence unfolding in the region, Zinah arrived in Australia and was given an opportunity to push against the limitations that had previously been placed on her.   

Today (Wednesday 1 November), Zinah celebrated her graduation from the University of Wollongong (UOW), with a Bachelor of International Studies, majoring in Spanish.   

In addition, she is an emerging sports star, a footballer who has firmly cemented her mark on the Illawarra competition. She is a trailblazer in the local community, encouraging women from diverse backgrounds to break free from the label of “Once a refugee, always a refugee” to pursue their passions for sport.   

Zinah, who moved to Wollongong with her family at the age of 9, said she is delighted to have finished her degree in international studies, a field she chose after her own experiences.   

“It is a massive achievement to have completed my bachelor’s degree and be graduating, and I’m only 20 years old. I worked so hard for three and a half years of studying, but the stress and the late-night studies were worth it,” Zinah said.   

At the age of three years old, Zinah, along with her family, left her native Iraq for neighbouring Syria in the hopes of forging a better, and safer, life. But seven years later, conflict would come to Syria and the family would again relocate, this time to Australia in 2013. Zinah was nine years old and faced with learning a new culture and a new language.   

Her experiences across different education systems meant that Zinah finished high school at the age of 16, two years younger than most other students. She was offered early entry to UOW, which she chose for its international campuses, high rankings, and convenience to home.  

Moving countries twice in her formative years was tough for Zinah; it harnessed her tenacity, changed the way she saw the world, and inspired her to do what she could to help other young people from unique backgrounds.

“Coming to Australia was an amazing and a difficult journey at the same. The freedom and the peace were the most important thing for me and my family. It opened my eyes on how massive the world is, and how much opportunities I have. There is so much to see and as well as explore the rest of the world,” she said.  

“I chose to study International Studies because I was curious to know how Australia and the United Nations deal with different issues around the world, including but not limited to, refugees”. 

Zinah worked with different organisations and schools to raise awareness about racism and to raise awareness that the word refugee is not part of one’s identity, nor is it a label. It is an experience one goes through. She joined the Multicultural Communities Council of Illawarra, a way to meet new people and engage with others from diverse backgrounds. But along the way, she unexpectedly found a new joy: football. She has played competitively for the South Coast Flame as well as Coniston.   

“Back home I wasn’t really allowed to do much outside the house, simply because I was a girl,” said Zinah. “Therefore, years later when I came to Australia, I came across the game of football, and I have fallen in love ever since. I have been playing for the past three or four years.  

“Football just made me a better person all together. This sport has taught me so many things, from working hard, being confident, challenging myself, discipline, and learning new things on and off the pitch. It is a big part of my life. It’s my little escape when things get hard.”  

Earlier this year, Zinah was named the Young Sportsperson of the Year in the Wollongong Youth Week Awards hosted by Wollongong Youth Services. She was also named the Young Leader of the year by the Multicultural Communities Council of Illawarra. She is also a host on the Youth Power Hour Podcast where she interviews local young sportswomen and discusses her passion for football. In addition, Zinah is an Ambassador for Diversity and Inclusion with NSW football clubs and is passionate about shining a light on sexism and racism to ensure that football clubs encourage and support female players from diverse and multicultural backgrounds.     

“I work with different organisations and school to raise awareness about racism and discrimination so that we have a more level playing field, not just in sport, but in life,” Zinah said. “I also want to inspire young women to pursue Football and encourage them to play and participate.”  

With one degree finished at the age of 20, Zinah is now undertaking her Master of Marketing at UOW. She is thankful for all the support she has received along the way, and for her friends who are to accompany her on her postgraduate journey.   

“I have so many mentors through my high school years, all the way to now. Amazing people who have gone through the same experience I have, and the others who were passionate about helping a young person who has gone through the refugee experience and come out the other side like me to reach my full potential and achieve my goals and dreams,” Zinah said.   

“Now I am doing my Master of Marketing, I will be completing that while working part-time to find a job and an area that I really love. I will keep the hustle and do what I do, to find my next adventure. It’s time to leave the refugee label behind.”