Two Emirati students headed for Oxford University have already chalked up plans to shape public policy and serve their country once they complete their research studies.
Maitha Al Suwaidi and Hoor Al Nuaimi, seniors at NYU Abu Dhabi, were awarded the prestigious Rhodes scholarship to pursue their master’s degrees at Oxford University.
Ms Al Suwaidi, 20, will research mental health and social intervention in the fall term next year.
The Covid-19 outbreak brought the global mental health crisis to the fore and Ms Al Suwaidi said starting conversations was crucial.
"[The affects on mental health] are expected to last months after the coronavirus pandemic. This is something important to talk about," she told The National.
The subject is personal to her, having dealt with anxiety as an adolescent, and she now aims to guide others experiencing similar concerns.
When Ms Al Suwaidi joined NYUAD as a 17-year-old, she felt less alone in her struggle to better understand her emotional well-being.
She led events and conferences to educate youth about burnout and positive psychology.
“Awareness is really important,” she said.
“On joining NYUAD, I found communities that focus on talking about mental health and normalising it, basically taking away the stigma from it. That was a huge step forward – understanding how I feel minus the stigma and all the social pressures.”
At Oxford, she will study for a master's in evidence-based social prevention and policy evaluation followed by a second master’s degree in public policy.
When she returns to the UAE, she aims to work with the ministries of education and health by focusing on understanding mental health issues facing different populations in the Emirates.
A professional archer, who represented the UAE in international competitions, and a poet, Ms Al Suwaidi is also keen on increasing the involvement of people with disabilities in society.
Hoor Al Nuaimi, 21, is interested in the study of international law and the role of Arab states.
Passionate about Arabic literature, Ms Al Nuaimi is working on a collection of short stories that will touch on the lives of Emirati women.
At Oxford, she will study for a master’s in global governance and diplomacy and a second postgraduate degree in comparative literature and critical translation.
She too intends to work with the government on her return to the Emirates.
“I hope to be part of the UAE diplomatic corps and engage with the movement that is currently being led by small states to develop up our multilateral organisations and institutions,” she said.
“As a Rhodes scholar, surrounded by Oxford’s rich intellectual legacies and an impressive array of global leaders, I will continue morphing the borders between politics and literature,” she said.
Like students across the world, both women have adjusted to a final undergraduate year on virtual calls for classes and project work.
“It has been quite alienating to complete my entire senior year away from the Saadiyat campus. I miss the community the most,” Ms Al Nuaimi said.
“Our NYUAD community is a unique one, a utopia of sorts. But something we learnt from the pandemic is you can always stay a part of a community even from the comfort of your own home.”
The Rhodes scholarship is one of the world's oldest awards for international fellowship and academic study.