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Rhodes Scholarship: what does it mean to be a scholar in 2023?

Marinos Bomikazi Lupindo, from South Africa, and Summia Tora, from Afghanistan, are studying at the University of Oxford under the Rhodes Scholarship. They share their experiences applying and being chosen for this opportunity.

    Marinos Bomikazi Lupindo


    Summia Tora

    August 21 2023
    Oxford university with students


    The Rhodes Scholarship provides exceptional people from around the world with the life-changing opportunity to study at the University of Oxford.

    Over 8,000 Rhodes Scholars from more than 50 countries have gone on to serve at the forefront of education, business, science, medicine, the arts, politics and beyond. Past Rhodes Scholars include former US president Bill Clinton, Jamaican-British cultural theorist Stuart Hall, and Indian constitutional lawyer and LGBT rights activist Menaka Guruswamy.

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    This year marks 120 years of the Rhodes Scholarship, and this milestone presents an opportunity to reflect on how the programme has changed since its start in 1903. Previously, only people from certain countries, including Australia, Canada, China, India, South Africa and the US, were eligible to apply for the programme. Now, the Rhodes Trust’s Global Scholarship means that students from anywhere in the world may apply. The 104 scholars in the Class of 2023 come from 31 countries, studying 74 different courses.

    To mark the scholarship’s anniversary, two Rhodes Scholars in-residence, Marinos Bomikazi Lupindo and Summia Tora, discuss their journeys to Oxford, their academic pursuits and what it means to be a Rhodes Scholar today.

    Marinos is from South Africa and studying for her DPhil in experimental psychology at Oxford. Her research is focused on trauma and developing interventions to moderate its effects within contexts of continued exposure to trauma.

    Summia is the first Rhodes Scholar from Afghanistan. She is pursuing a master’s in international human rights law, having recently completed her master’s in public policy. She is currently taking a year out for her service project to work on the Dosti Network, an organisation she founded, which provides Afghans with access to resources and information to flee persecution.

    Why did you decide to apply for Oxford and for the Rhodes Scholarship?

    Marinos Bomikazi Lupindo: There are many prominent trauma theorists and specialists within the University of Oxford, so it felt like a good fit in terms of my research interests. I also thought that the scholarship would help refine and harness my vision and create opportunities to make it a reality.

    Summia Tora: I actually didn’t intend to apply for the Rhodes Scholarship. When the Global Constituency was created, initially, I didn’t want to apply because I thought, “It’s open to the rest of the world and the likelihood of me getting it is very small.” I applied after a lot of encouragement from my professors, and to my surprise I was selected.

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    What steps did you go through to study abroad and how did you apply for the scholarship?

    Marinos: Applying for the scholarship evoked a lot of cognitive dissonance (mental discomfort due to conflicting beliefs). I didn’t feel qualified to be a “Rhodes Scholar”, and I applied because someone who had a better perspective encouraged me to do so. I started with the online application, which required me to challenge the idea that I wasn’t the “ideal” Rhodes Scholar. I then attended regional interviews in Gauteng, South Africa and later the national interviews. The process was reassuring and made me realise I was capable of being a Rhodes Scholar by simply showing up as myself.

    Summia: After sending in my application, I had to go through a round of virtual interviews with two alumni. Then I flew to Oxford for the final round of in-person panel interviews. When I was selected, I was shocked. Other students were from very prestigious institutions, so I felt slightly out of place. However, the trust said that they view the scholarships as an investment in the students they think would make the biggest impact within their communities.

    How has the scholarship helped you?

    Marinos: Being a Rhodes Scholar has helped me understand that what I have is enough and if we all come together with our “enough”, we have the power to transform the world around us. The scholarship has helped me build lifelong friendships and networks and created unlimited opportunities.

    Summia: The scholarship – and more importantly the people within the scholarship – played a significant role in making my experience positive and helped me grow as an individual. It has not only allowed me to learn but has also supported me in building the Dosti Network.

    What advice would you give to other international students who are considering applying for the Rhodes Scholarship?

    Marinos: Go for it! The risk of being disappointed and unsuccessful in your application is outweighed by the prospect of succeeding and the experience and perspective the opportunity gives you.

    Summia: Go ahead and apply! It’s better to try than not know what could have been. Even if you don’t get selected, applying is a good experience. It’s also important that you start preparing for the application several months ahead.

    How has the Rhodes Scholarship assisted you in your studies and during your time in Oxford?

    Marinos: Beyond just making it possible to study in Oxford and having a stipend that allows me to live comfortably, the scholarship has also helped me gain access to mental health services. Being in a new city comes with many challenges, and having access to these services has been invaluable. I’ve also received the Warden’s Discretionary Grant, which made a meaningful contribution towards me being able to attend a conference I was presenting at in South Africa.

    Summia: The Rhodes community has played a vital role in supporting me throughout my academic journey. Not only have I had the privilege of having Rhodes Scholars as my closest friends, but they have also been my unwavering support system during my time at the University of Oxford – from studying together in libraries to having meals in college.

    How to apply for the Rhodes Scholarship

    There is no one “type” of Rhodes Scholar. In fact, the strength of the programme comes from its diversity. Marinos and Summia are just two examples of how its current cohort of students are redefining what it means to be a Rhodes Scholar and helping make the Rhodes Trust community focused on inclusive excellence.

    The Rhodes Trust is looking for young people of outstanding intellect, character, leadership and commitment to service – no matter who they are or where they are from.

    If you’re interested in learning more about the Rhodes Scholarship and how to apply, click here.

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