This paper documents the identity negotiation and strategic language efforts of a female postgraduate learner of English from a rural Arab background. She needed to obtain a high score in the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam as a prerequisite to getting an unconditional offer from a UK university. The narrative inquiry reported here used a series of individual semi-structured interviews as the main data, with a variety of means, including written narrative and email exchanges. It is guided by Dörnyei [(2009). The L2 motivational self system. In Motivation, Language Identity and the L2 Self, ed. Z. Dörnyei and E. Ushioda, 9–42. Bristol: Multilingual Matters] concept of ‘possible selves’, and Norton [(2000). Identity and Language Learning: Gender, Ethnicity and Educational Change. Harlow: Longman/Pearson Education] notion of investment in language learning and the distinction between compulsory (i.e. largely regulated by cultural beliefs) and voluntary (i.e. basically internalised within the self) strategies. The data suggest that Noura's language strategic efforts were significantly constrained by her social networks, which limited her personal investment in language learning. Nonetheless, after receiving a Master's grant, Noura acted agentively to accomplish her ultimate vision of being the first women in her village to complete her postgraduate studies abroad, and participate in benefiting her country (i.e. individual and national interest). She did so through building a strong relationship with a Canadian colleague in her workplace, together with adopting other strategies. From this case study, pedagogical implications as well as areas for ongoing research are suggested.