Empowerment: Najila Al Zadjali

April 21 – In 2004, Najila al Zadjali became the first-ever female Omani student to enrol at the University of Waikato. One English certificate, one bachelors and one masters later, she will walk across the graduation stage again, proud to be graduating in a city she now considers home.

When Najila won an Omani government scholarship to study at the University of Waikato in 2004, she lacked confidence in her English and knew very little about New Zealand. She enrolled in a Certificate of Attainment in Academic English to develop her language skills, before starting her Bachelor of Social Sciences in 2006. At first she was homesick, but decided to make the most of her time abroad.

“Moving to a completely different environment and culture was a big challenge for me, but I knew this was an amazing opportunity and I couldn’t give up,” she says.

Najila immersed herself in life at Waikato, becoming an active member of the Omani Students’ Association, joining the Muslim Students’ Association, and volunteering for charities whenever she had the chance. Her commitment to helping others did not go unnoticed, and Najila received an award from the Australian Omani Consulate in 2007.

After graduating with honours in 2010, Najila moved back to Oman to take on a welfare officer position in the Omani Navy. Two months into her post, Najila received an award from the Head of Navy. She has continued to climb the ranks ever since, receiving numerous national awards from the Ministry of Social Development and the Oman Navy.

“The military is male-dominated, so I knew I would need to work twice as hard. My job involves looking after a large number of women in the Navy. Although it can be hard work, the most important thing is helping people, so I love what I do.”

But Najila soon began to miss New Zealand. She couldn’t wait to return to the University of Waikato so enrolled in a Master of Social Sciences in 2017. Her experiences in the Navy drove her masters research, which focussed on the challenges women face in male-dominated workplaces.

“Completing my masters in New Zealand has been incredible. I’ve developed so much as a person in this country, and it’s been great to re-unite with old friends.”

After graduating with her Master of Social Sciences, Najila will return to Oman where she will become a lieutenant in the Navy. She hopes to continue developing, both personally and professionally.

“I’m excited to go back to the Navy and see what’s next for me, but I am extremely grateful I had the chance to come back to the University of Waikato. I’ve travelled around most of New Zealand, but Hamilton will always be my favourite place – it’s home.”