From a refugee camp in Nairobi to Modelling on the shores of Western Australia. It's the journey that has shaped the lens in which she sees the world and her goals to help better shape it's future. Shudia Forgol is THE BEST. Super fun to shoot with and super inspiring to talk to, her amazing story is punctuated with positivity, humanitarian and political dreams and of course her trademark smile. An awesome outlook, an impressive timetable of study and modelling with incredible aspirations for the future. A true shooting star.
"Every time I came across a prejudiced person, I saw them as the problem and not me. I know I’m lucky to see it that way, and other people from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities may not. That’s still a problem in Australia we all need to work on."
You were born in a refugee camp in Nairobi, Kenya and moved to Australia back in 2007. How old were you when you made it over to Aus?
I was only six when I moved to Australia!
What do you remember from your time back in Kenya?
Most of my childhood then was in Kakuma Refugee camp and then we moved to a city life in Nairobi. Even though I was young I remember having so much fun living in Kakuma. Luckily families that fled from the war were settled into Kakuma by the time I was born. I was lucky enough to experience living in a nice home and going to school. To me that was the norm. Each memory I have there is a happy one.
Growing up I realised how hard mum worked to make that life enjoyable for us all. She was taking care of my three siblings, two cousins and her three youngest siblings too, who at the time were all teenagers. Her hard work has paid off because we all got to have an amazing education and life here. Even though she could only bring my siblings and I with her to Australia, she still worked hard to give our family education and life back home in Nairobi. That has made her a huge influence in my life. She’s shown me what it means to be selfless and care for my loved ones in my life. I try my best to implement some of her principles in my life every day now.
What do you remember about your first impression through your younger eyes of Australia?
To be honest, many families don’t know where they’re going until the last minute. Which is a crazy thing to think about now. I thought I was going to the United States ahahaha. I watched heaps of Hollywood movies and loved the culture I saw in the music videos, so I was so ready to live in a Hollywood dream LOL. I don’t think I still have a clear memory of my first impression of Australia. I was just happy to be somewhere that gave me a sense of security.
I remember the culture in primary schools being so different. In Nairobi, you had to be perfectly groomed and highly respectful to your teachers. We were still kids, but in school, everyone was on their best behaviour, especially when adults were around. So, it was weird to see kids express their emotions so freely around adults, especially when they pulled tantrums in class. I would think, where the hell am I?
I became very quiet when I first started primary school in Australia because it was so different from what I knew. As I got used to everything, I had so much fun. I loved the rebellion! Wearing princess themed backpacks and styling my school uniform however I wanted was the coolest thing to me. I think that was when my obsession with fashion started. And because I didn’t talk much, I had to let everyone know I was the coolest by always being best dressed.
How did you find it adjusting to life in Australia?
At first, I felt very out of place. My friends’ parents were very welcoming when I first moved here, and I had amazing neighbours. I loved how chilled and kind the people I got to know were. It was when I stepped out of my community especially when I felt out of place because I wasn’t used to being around people didn’t look like me and share the same cultural behaviours.
We lived near an Islamic School and I made some friends from there who I met at the local park. It made things a little easier to make friends with kids that shared similar culture and customs. Some of them were refugees too, so that made us even closer. My mum speaks Arabic and that must’ve made me feel more relatable to them.
I then spent most of my teenage years around Fremantle! Which was the best thing ever. The community there was great. I made some great friendships that I cherish till today. I was pretty social in High School, so I got to meet some amazing people and was lucky to get a great secondary education. I think the people around me had a huge impact on how I adjusted to life in Australia. Every time I came across a nasty prejudiced person it wasn’t the norm for me – I saw them as the problem and not me. I know I’m lucky to see it that way, and other people from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities may not. That’s still a problem in Australia we all need to work on.
I imagine you’re an extremely close family after making such a big move together. How close knit & important is your family life? What have you and your family brought with you as far as beautiful or special cultural elements from life in Kenya?
My family is my life! We’ve been through everything together, and we’re a young family too, so we still live together. We’re all extremely close and always take care of one another. That is something I will never take for granted. Other than our values and South Sudanese culture, we didn’t come to Australia with much. My favourite tangible thing we brought is our family album. All the pictures of our life in Kenya and South Sudan, pictures of our other family members, our home and everything else. Going through the album brings so many happy memories that hold a special place in my heart.
You’re studying economics & International relations at UNI whilst also working in federal politics. Did your own personal experience lead to your work in these areas?
Yeah, for sure. Growing up I had a very clear understanding of how politics can influence day to day life. Whether it’s roads or with education and health. Politics can influence everything. I saw how corrupt politics led to war and people fleeing.
In High School I knew that the government influenced the curriculum we were learning and the basic facilities we could have access to. Why didn’t we have more psychologists at school? Why weren’t schools providing sanitary products? Why are subjects we can take so limited? The more I learned about how Australia’s political system worked the more I realised I can speak up on issues because I knew the government; whether it was local, state, federal, could make a change. Whether they wanted to or not I would at least ask for an answer.
What would you love to see change with Australian refugee policies? Big question.
That is definitely a big one that I still don’t have an answer to! I always think about this. I think we just need to have a government that has strong humanitarian values. It’s important to understand, before anything, that refugees are not fleeing by choice. They are fleeing from war, hunger, and the worst possible circumstances.
They’re not here to steal jobs or harm anybody. In fact, they aren’t even thinking about that. They just want safety for their families. It’s so important to understand that nobody is ever just willing to leave their home, community, culture, dignity, and everything they know; they are looking for safety. To have good refugee policies we first need to change the way we view refugees. We need to provide better education and resources about immigration. For example, when we learn about the world war in high school, there should be discussions included on how people in the first and second war were also refugees, they also had to flee their homes. That part of history I feel like is not discussed enough. A social change in our perception might give us better refugee policies. Of course security policies are important, so procurement in government departments is a huge factor as well. If we have more diversity in this department, we will have policies that reflect different perspectives and create better outcomes.
What are your career ambitions post uni?
I’ve always wanted to be a diplomat!
Do you have any mentors in life or work?
I don’t necessarily look up to or look down on anyone. I think that has allowed me to learn from anyone! So technically I have mentors all around me. People from work, my friends and family are obviously huge influences in my life, and I look to them for advice. Sometimes I do enjoy just not taking advice and see what happens from the situations I get myself into LOL. I don’t really fear making mistakes, they’re fun and it’s good to learn from them.
Something I have really valued overtime is the relationship I’ve built with my agents. My VIVS agents have pretty much watched me grow up and I look to them for guidance. I remember how much I loved our development training. We would do runway workshops, our own hair and makeup, styling, yoga and lol even some acting. I’m still friends with some of the girls I’ve met at that workshop and it was so good to remember each other’s faces at castings and shows so we didn’t feel so awkward. The skills that were taught in our workshops have helped me come a long way.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given or personal mantra do you live by?
I kid you not, my name! In my language, Nuer, “Shudia” is pronounced “Chu-dier” which means “don’t worry” in English. Because my name is pronounced very westernised, I never thought about it until one time when I was really stressed about uni, so I took a deep breath and said “chu-dier”. Then it hit me, that’s literally my name. LOL. Generally speaking, I don’t actually worry about much, sure anxiety is normal and hits me here and there, I’m no superhuman, but I’m very quick to remind myself that things will be fine and that has definitely been something I live by on a daily basis.
We’ve been following your Insta (@shudia__ ) since we met on the shoot day and we can’t help notice your love of music and fashion. What’s on high rotation on your playlist right now?
Hardest question! Considering summer is around the corner my playlist usually switches to something more Chill. “Blessed” by Buju Banton is on repeat for sure.
What have you learnt about the fashion industry since you started modelling 6 years ago?
So much! I know that it’s changing now. I remember having such hard times when they didn’t have dark foundations on set and just the lack of diversity front and behind the scenes. Along the way I’ve learned that your personality and kindness will put you in good stead and lay a good foundation for a long way in the industry.
I’m based in Perth where the market is fair bit quieter than Sydney or Melbourne. It is a small and tight knit industry here where everyone knows each other well so word of mouth (good or bad) travels, you always need to be on you’re A game. It’s really important to get along with the people you’re working with and always show respect as in any work place.
I used to be a big ‘yes’ person but now, whether I lose jobs or not, it’s really how I can align myself with the designers and brands that I work with. I enjoy working with creatives who I can genuinely appreciate their talent and work. Before, it felt like models were just a prop. Now, you can see in any shoot whether a model wanted to be on that set or not. I’ve stopped seeing modelling as just “job” and I try my best to work with the team well so we can create something we are all proud of, it’s always a team effort.
Being a model it’s part of the job to take good care of yourself, what’s your wellness regime?
My skincare routine is everything to me! I invest a lot of time and energy into it haha. I’m not a big fan of fast food or anything so it’s easy for me to eat healthy, also great to have a mum who can cook some amazing meals. I always look forward to dinner! In terms of fitness… I have let the chat! That is something I’m still working on. I like yoga when I actually have time to do it. Luckily, I enjoy long walks so it’s something I make sure to squeeze into the day.
You look so incredible in the It’s Now Cool swimwear we shot at the Campaign, what was your fave piece?
This was a dream job to shoot of mine since I was 15! I was thrilled to be booked for Its Now Cool and shoot with Josie Clough!
Favourite piece - this is a hard one, I still don’t think I know! Ok if I must choose one, I did feel like the hottest person at the beach wearing the Duo string set!
What are you looking forward to this Summer?
I literally can’t wait to be at the beach on a Monday, speakers check! sunscreen check! bucket hat check! new book check! and the hottest swimwear check! That is ALL I can think about...Oh, and day parties!