Profile: Maitha Al Memari
Maitha Al Memari is studying for a Master’s in Public Policy and is a Rhodes Scholar. She did her undergraduate degree in social research and public policy at NYU Abu Dhabi. Her TEDx talk on de-stereotyping the abaya has over 2000 views on YouTube.
Why did you decide to pursue further study? How did you decide on doing a Master’s in Public Policy?
During my final year as an undergraduate, I didn’t feel like I had enough knowledge to tackle the challenges I wanted to take on, reforming and revolutionising learning and educational systems. The way we travel, we communicate, and many things have been revolutionised, except our formal schooling has remained static. Education dictates many trajectories of life for youth, therefore it is key to understand its systems and purpose. I felt like I needed to branch out, meet different people, and converse with them about their experience with education and learning. So I applied for the Rhodes scholarship, knowing that it would make my Oxford experience a unique one. I hope the Master’s in Public Policy will give me the tools to tackle challenges but also give me the exposure to diversity and different opinions, which is crucial in this day and age because of how interconnected our world has become.
Why did you choose Oxford? What made you choose Univ?
I chose Oxford because of its history and reputation. I wanted to be challenged and what better place to do that than the number one university in the world. I chose Univ because it is one of the oldest colleges and many remarkable people have gone through University college, also it is located in the heart of Oxford and just across from my fav place, the Radcam.
Was there a particular area of your subject that you were interested in before you applied? How did you explore that area further?
For my undergrad I did a Bachelor’s in Social Research and Public Policy, during that time I really got interested in the field of education and educational systems. For my undergraduate dissertation I conducted a qualitative study to understand how young Emiratis make decisions about higher education, aiming to provide public policy that encompasses the nuances of decision making in the context of the United Arab Emirates, which I later wrote as a white paper for the Education and Human Resources Council in my home country. My time at Oxford has offered me so many opportunities to explore that field through conversations, conferences, and workshops.
What inspired you to speak at TEDxNYUAD?
During my first few months of undergrad, I got so many questions about my abaya (a traditional UAE garment that many Emirati women wear daily) so that inspired a process of questioning why I wear it and what it symbolises not just for outsiders but for me as-well. The process was one of self and identity discovery, if it wasn’t for all the questions I kept getting from others, I would have never deep dived into my own culture and traditions to understand the abaya.
How do you think you have changed since walking through Univ’s doors as a fresher?
Since walking through the Univ doors, I have become a more well-rounded person that is aware of her surroundings, immersed in her community and curious about her studies.
What else do you do apart from your subject in Oxford?
I participate in several things outside of my academics, including things that promote cultural exchange among students, events at the Rhodes House, and conference organisation. I am particularly excited about being part of the organisational team of the Global Scholars Symposium, which is an annual conference held between Rhodes and Gates scholars. This year’s theme is “Cultivating Innovation” and I look forward to bringing in keynote speakers from the Arab world who are excelling in this area to share their work.
Has anything surprised you about Oxford?
I was surprised at the level of diversity and intercultural exchange here at Oxford. While I expected some level of diversity, I have found the international community at Oxford representative of many nations and that adds to the experience and the perceptions of topics.
Have you faced any challenges in your time at Univ?
At first I struggled with moving from a city like Abu Dhabi, where the streets are always busy, the sun is always shining, and the beach is a 10 minute drive from home, to moving to Oxford where the weather is always gloomy, the streets are quiet, and there are no beaches. However, I have found home at Oxford through the people I have met and have a new-found love for parks and snow!
How do you feel about the celebration of 40 years of women at Univ? How far do we have left to go?
While women were first allowed to matriculate in the 1920s, many colleges stayed segregated throughout the 1970s it is nice to know that Univ was among the first to become a co-educational college in 1979. Women are currently thriving at Oxford, not just in their academics but also in their social and community engagement. As the world progresses, I hope nations, countries, and communities realise that educating women is educating generations as they are the mothers of the next generation, and I hope to see that every girl around the world is receiving the education she deserves.
Do you have advice for prospective and current students?
I advise prospective and current students to enjoy their time at Oxford, do all the little quirky things from punting to exploring every library corner. There truly is no place like Oxford and so we should always savour the moments we have here.
Can you describe Univ in three words?
Vibrant, humble, central.
Women at Univ 2019. Celebrating 40 years of achievement by women students, academics and staff, and recovering the history of women in the College from 1249 to the present day.
Published: 23 April 2019