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Soccer star Nadia Nadim connects with immigrant students over shared experiences

Nadia Nadim of Racing Louisville (center) meets with students at Newcomer Academy on Sept. 13, 2022.
Jess Clark
Nadia Nadim of Racing Louisville (center) meets with students at Newcomer Academy on Sept. 13, 2022.

Newly arrived immigrant students in Louisville got to spend Tuesday afternoon with Racing Louisville Football Club player Nadia Nadim.

Nadim fled Afghanistan as a child in the 1990s, and shares many experiences with the refugee students at Jefferson County Public Schools' Newcomer Academy, which is for middle and high schoolers adjusting to life in the U.S.

Students had lots of questions about how Nadim went from refugee to international soccer star and medical doctor. Nadim said she looks at life like a race.

“And right now there are certain people who are in front of you, because they already know the language better than probably most of you. They have had easier lives and they are, like, confident,” Nadim said.

But with hard work, Nadim said, it’s possible to catch up.

“And you can reach the same level, even surpass them,” she said.

Newcomer Academy has students from 65 different countries. Dozens of Afghan students have arrived since the withdrawal of U.S. troops last year.

Nadim said she wanted to inspire students to dream big.

“We need to see things before we 100-percent believe in them,” she said. “And I think me standing here showing, listen, ‘I was literally in the same spot of you guys, but I've kind of made it,’” she said. “And if it’s possible for me, it's definitely possible for you.”

Nadim left Afghanistan at age 11 with her mother and sisters after her father, an Afghan military general, was shot and killed. She first saw girls playing soccer while living in a refugee camp in Denmark.

“At that moment I wanted to be like that girl who was dribbling with the ball, because I felt like she was looking happy, she was looking free,” Nadim said.

One student, a girl from Uganda, asked Nadim if she had advice for girls who aren’t given the same access to opportunity as boys.

Nadim told her that sometimes you have to tune out people who lower expectations.

“They’re going to say ‘This is ok. This is not ok. Do this. Do that.’ But you cannot listen to people all the time,” Nadim said.

“You have to go for it yourself,” she said.

In addition to her professional soccer career, Nadim is working towards a career in medicine. She graduated with her medical degree from Denmark’s Aarhaus University in January.

News Youth Reporting
Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.

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