Sara Alnajjar, a UAE national, found herself caught off guard as she received the life-changing call while seated at the weekly family gathering.

Sara, along with another NYUAD student, Monika Mitova, is headed to Oxford University this coming fall, after being awarded the prestigious Rhodes scholarship.

“When I first noticed the incoming call and heard the subsequent announcement, I was surprised…felt a rush of excitement and pride. It was honestly an indescribable feeling, accompanied by an overwhelming wave of gratitude, making the moment truly extraordinary. My family’s reactions ranged from sheer joy and happiness to a collective sense of pride,” Sara told Khaleej Times.

She plans to pursue a nine-month MSc in Global Governance and Diplomacy followed by a nine-month MSc in Criminology and Criminal Justice.

“This twofold approach will allow me to pursue a thesis incorporating the UAE’s commitment to combating human trafficking in the global sphere, and contributing to my nation as a diplomat,” added the 21-year-old.

Shedding light on the rigorous application process involving personal statements, academic transcripts, and interviews with top-performing candidates from leading universities across the UAE, Sara said she spent significant time and effort perfecting essays and ensuring her application reflected her true potential.

“I believe that being interviewed by an esteemed committee added a layer of pressure, and it required me to articulate my thoughts and experiences in a concise, genuine, and compelling manner,” said the student, who is in the process of finishing her undergraduate studies, majoring in legal studies, social research, and public policy.

But despite the uphill task, throughout this period, Sara ensured to dedicate her time not only to her academic pursuits but also to community building.

“Balancing personal growth with contributions to my community has been a cornerstone of my journey. It’s not just about personal success; it’s about utilizing that success to make a positive impact on those around me.”

Emphasizing the importance of authenticity in her applications, she added, “Be genuine in expressing your experiences, aspirations, and the impact you wish to make. The difficulty of the application process was, in retrospect, a testament to its rewarding nature aligning with my inclination towards pursuits that require resilience and foster personal growth.”

‘I was so surprised'

Like Sara, Monika Mitova also experienced a tidal wave of emotions as she visualized herself entering the dream school.

“When I picked up the phone and received the good news from the Rhodes committee, I experienced an ocean of emotions. I was not able to say much. I was so shocked that all I could say was ‘Thank you for the opportunity’ and I think I just repeated it a few times,” Monika told KT.

Describing her most dominant emotion she said, “Receiving the scholarship is very empowering” as she expressed her excitement for the new chapter of her life as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford.

The Bulgarian expat, who is currently pursuing Political Science, is planning to pursue a two-year Master of Philosophy in Modern Middle Eastern Studies and aspires to be a journalist.

Explaining her future objective of entering the world of newsrooms, she said, “I want to participate in culturally sensitive and impactful reporting on ongoing events in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.”

Shedding light on the most difficult part of this journey the 22-year-old year-old added, “The most challenging part for me was writing the personal statement because it is not easy to capture who you truly are in just 750 words and do so memorably. I changed my mind about the stories I wanted to share in my personal statement a few times until I eventually felt satisfied with what I wrote.”

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