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December 2009 Issue
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Iraqi student has real-world perspective


As a child living in Baghdad, Khadhraa Glen would watch a convoy of United Nations lorries deliver food to Saddam Hussein's Royal Palace - supplies that were meant for the Iraqi people under the Oil-for-Food program but redirected elsewhere.

"I was supposed to be a recipient of that food so it really made an impact on me," the now 23-year-old student said.

"It was at that point that I thought, 'One day, I will be in a position to help my people, or those less fortunate' - and that day has finally arrived."

This month, Khadhraa will complete her Bachelor of International Studies degree from the University of Adelaide and has already secured a highly sought after position working in the international field.

No doubt her impressive resume helped tip the scales in her favour.

Her three-year degree was interspersed with a long spell in Iraq, working as an Arabic/English bilingual and cultural adviser for the Coalition Forces in Basra.

The internship was certainly an extraordinary one, where she literally put her life on the line to extend her international knowledge and to better understand a war that has divided the world.

As one of only a handful of women among a 20,000-strong military occupation, it was a tough environment for a young Muslim woman, but she soon earned the respect of the soldiers.

"It wasn't at all what I expected," Khadhraa said. "I had visions of living in a war zone with shots being fired all around me, but it was different. Although it was certainly dangerous and we were shelled constantly, the US forces were also implementing a lot of development projects for the Iraqi civilians."

Khadhraa's main task was to assist the military in liaising with the Iraqi people, providing language, religious and cultural training.

"Through my logistics and liaison job I helped avoid a lot of potential conflicts because I was able to act as a mediator between the soldiers and civilians. It was a very satisfying experience and I also learned a lot about the military in that time."

Returning to Adelaide and her studies required an enormous adjustment, but informed with a broader view of the world, and the Middle East in particular, she has completed her International Studies degree with a unique perspective.

"The internship has certainly helped my job prospects, but I think the degree in itself equips students with the knowledge to work anywhere in the world.

"It is certainly a course of study I would recommend to Year 12 students who want a transportable career and a job that is valued both in Australia and overseas. The options are also very broad - you can work in intelligence, politics, on development projects and in private enterprise as well as government."

Khadhraa's parents immigrated to Adelaide in 2000, and after topping Croydon High School in 2005 with a TER of 93, she was accepted into the University of Adelaide.

In her first year at university she worked as a volunteer with the former Democrats Senator Natasha Stott-Despoja, (now a visiting lecturer in Politics at Adelaide), whom she regards as one of her role models.

"She encouraged me to pursue my dreams and career goals and face up to the obstacles along the way," Khadhraa said.

In 2007 Khadhraa also became the first South Australian Muslim to be awarded a gold medal for the Duke of Edinburgh Award and in the same year was a semi-finalist for the SA Young Achiever Award.

Story by Candy Gibson

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International Studies student Khadhraa Glen with a Military Police officer at the Coalition forces base in Basra, Iraq

International Studies student Khadhraa Glen with a Military Police officer at the Coalition forces base in Basra, Iraq
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