Photo courtesy of Hoor Al Nuaimi and Maitha AlSuwaidi

Spotlight — The NYUAD Rhodes Scholars

Hoor Al Nuaimi and Maitha AlSuwaidi, Class of 2021 and roommates since freshman year, win the 2020 UAE Rhodes Scholarship.

Nov 21, 2020

On Nov. 13, NYU Abu Dhabi students Hoor Al Nuaimi and Maitha AlSuwaidi, Class of 2021, found out that they were the recipients of the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship for the UAE, allowing them to pursue a Masters degree at Oxford. They have been roommates since freshman year.
“When I found out, I was overwhelmed more than anything else. Going through the Rhodes process, ... then actually hearing you got a spot … felt so surreal,” shared AlSuwaidi, emphasizing how happy and grateful she felt with this opportunity given the amount of uncertainty that characterizes senior year in university.
Al Nuaimi echoed these sentiments, adding “when I found out, I couldn’t believe it … I actually was studying for the GREs at the time I applied,... now that I got accepted, I guess it does give you a sense of certainty… this has been something I wanted ever since I applied to NYU Abu Dhabi.”
Expressing a great sense of relief, AlSuwaidi shared how coming to NYUAD had opened her up to the possibility of applying for the scholarship after having heard stories of people getting accepted when she was in high school.
“In freshman year, we went to the Rhodes scholarship info session, ... and I remember talking about that we both wanted to apply, but I never mentioned the Rhodes to Maitha again...when we found out that we were finalists together, it was a really proud moment for me … we came full circle,” Al Nuaimi fondly reminisced.
When asked if she made the scholarship a goal when starting at NYUAD, AlSuwaidi said, “I made sure to think of it … not as the ultimate goal but as something I want to do when I’m a senior, because I thought if I think of it as an ultimate goal, it would blur my vision as to what are the things that I actually want to do on campus”
She further emphasized the importance of not simply trying to fill certain criteria but instead developing yourself as a holistic person by pursuing interests and bringing them together toward a common goal.
When looking back at her undergraduate journey, Al Nuaimi shared that freshman year for her was characterized by academic exploration via a variety of general electives in areas like Political Science, Economics, Arab Crossroad Studies and Literature, choosing to then settle down on a double major in Political Science and Literature and Creative Writing: “[Even now], I’m still at the crux of interdisciplinarity… I always love exploring things out of my field.”
Outside the classroom, Al Nuaimi has engaged deeply with volunteer work, including her time with the Advocacy Student Interest Group where she had the opportunity to teach English to Somali migrant workers and engage with women in the Filipina safe house. In addition, she was involved with the Sufara’a cultural exchange program where she was able to partake in many multi-faith and inter-community dialogues; bridging the gap between NYUAD and the wider Abu Dhabi community. In her junior year, she also participated in a year-long International Law Moot court competition that allowed her to study international law, participate in legal writing and led to her co-founding the Mooting SIG on campus.
AlSuwaidi was sure of a major in Political Science, which allowed her to explore a diverse set of general electives: “I ended up finding this intersection between politics, sociology, creative expression and some specializations like mental health and critical disability studies.”
Echoing the advantage of interdisciplinarity, AlSuwaidi shared how taking classes outside of the scope of political science while also keeping it as a central focus allowed her to relate issues of mental health, inclusion and accessibility back to the Social Sciences. Beyond academics, AlSuwaidi has been a proactive member of the student community. Even before joining as a freshman, she was able to advocate for co-founding an Archery SIG on campus.
“I coached a seven-year old, I think that’s something memorable.” With a passion for mental health, she also hosted events about mental health in the UAE and Indigenous psychology, which aims to decolonize and contextualize Western discourse surrounding the issue.
Both in politics and literature, Al Nuaimi is interested in a process of othering that occurs between western and non-western states or canons. In political science, she talks of the need to “restructure international systems towards a global core” to offset western hegemony which often alienates non-western actors like the UAE. In Arabic literature, particularly in translation, she finds parallel othering with overbearing narratives of empire and Orientalism. These interests have culminated in her decision to pursue a double masters in Global Governance and Diplomacy and Comparative Literature and Critical Translation.
AlSuwaidi plans to continue pursuing her focus on contextualizing mental health and related policy decisions through a masters in Evidence-Based Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation.
Both AlSuwaidi and Al Nuaimi talked about struggling with the tendency to compare oneself with peers, specifically when it comes to credentials while applying for the scholarship: “I’d look at extracurriculars [my peers] had done and try to… undermine my own achievements but… with the application, you just have to find your narrative and your story … try to embrace your story,” advised Al Nuaimi.
“When I was writing my own personal statement… I was so caught up to make it sound like something they’d want to read, and I realised that I should be writing about something I want to write,” said AlSuwaidi, adding, “I took a turn that I didn’t expect myself to,” referring to an epigraph from a song by Solange that marked the beginning of her essay. “I want[ed] them to read something that is really me … not a polished picture … of who I am. I talked about my mental health struggles and why that matters to me and why I want to study it.”
She also shared her continuing struggle with Imposter Syndrome, which is something she faces even after getting the Rhodes Scholarship: “Being vulnerable about these things is very important … especially in a community like ours … amid social and academic pressures, it's natural to feel like an imposter but it's so important to remind yourself that you are not."
While they held divergent academic interests, AlSuwaidi and Al Nuaimi expressed how their close friendship, sometimes explored through joint creative writing sessions in places ranging from the beach to cafes in New York, created a loving and supportive environment in their undergraduate journey.
“It gives me so much comfort knowing that I will be going with someone who I’ve lived with for three years, traveled with to New York, ... We’ve always been writing buddies, [and] ... that’s also something I’ve found to be really precious about our friendship, just the idea that we were always so comfortable sharing our most vulnerable works with each other … I guess this is just me telling Hoor that I really love her,” said AlSuwaidi.
“We grew together as writers, we grew together as students on campus," added Al Nuaimi, "and I’m so excited for us to grow together at Oxford.”
Angad Johar is Senior News Editor. Email him at
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