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Meet Humaira Rahbin, Afghanistan | MPhil in Public Policy

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

Next, we spoke to Humaira Rahbin, a courageous activist by heart, a wonderful friend (who cooks the best Afghan dishes!), and a beautiful mother to her little son. There's just something special about her, and in the words of one of the scholars:

"You have an effortless way of bringing light to every room you enter, and I can't wait to see what you go on to do in the future!"

Could you tell us a bit about your journey to Cambridge?

When it comes to pondering about my life before Cambridge, my mind dwindles between the whole journey that led me to Cambridge and my recent past - my bewilderment at several online applications to various university in the UK.

Talking about the entire journey, I was the first girl from the second generation of my big Afghan family (cousins and relatives included) to compete among more than 100,000 people and succeed to start tertiary education in Afghanistan's most prestigious and most prominent university -- Kabul University. Unfortunately, other girls in my extended family had gotten married in young ages, and they never had the chance to finish even high school or pursue higher education. I graduated from Kabul University, and after a while, I went further to study for a master's degree in International Relations. I earned years of work experience at civil society organizations, and I also worked for the USAID and the Dutch diplomatic mission in Kabul.

But I always had the dream of studying abroad, preferably the UK. But I had Cambridge on the bottom of my list to apply for because I thought Cambridge was simply not attainable! I did, though, have a photo of the university on my dream board – where I glued a sign or picture of the things I wished for...

How did you find out about the Rowan Williams Cambridge Studentships?

Gradually, while searching for university options to study in the UK, I stumbled on various scholarship schemes at Cambridge. As I dived into them, positive thoughts sparked about possibilities of getting into Cambridge. They only grew when I learned about people coming from similar countries and backgrounds to the University of Cambridge.

I had already been rejected by one of the funding programmes when I received an email from the university encouraging me to apply to the Rowan Williams Cambridge Studentship (RWCS) since I already had an admission offer. The fact that I belong to a war-torn country also added to the possibility of succeeding to become an RWCS scholar.

How would you describe your first month at Cambridge?

I admit that at first, I could barely find Cambridge a place I could belong to. The grandeur of the colleges, the high standards of Cambridge academics, and most importantly, all the students around me whom I thought were much smarter than me – they left me astounded! I remember I couldn't stop my tears while standing at the gate of Magdalene College as I was observing students attending a formal with their gown on; it felt like I was dreaming or watching a Harry Potter movie. In the meantime, the immense support I received from the Cambridge Trust, my college (Lucy Cavendish College), and the Cambridge Refugee Scholarship Campaign (CRSC) was highly enabling and encouraging.

My first month at Cambridge was an amalgam of excitement and confusion. I felt so proud when I stepped into Lucy Cavendish College to receive the starter pack and do the initial registration. On the other hand, navigating through studies, parental responsibilities, and adapting to a new life was confusing, which, as other challenges I had faced before, gradually withered away.

What was the biggest challenge you faced?

One of the biggest challenges in Cambridge was the Imposter Syndrome, something I was completely unaware of at that time, and it affected my self-confidence and communication abilities. I remember I started developing self-doubts, self-criticism and found it hard to connect with other people. Luckily, after sharing it with my close friends at Cambridge, especially the amazing CRCS team, I found out that I am suffering from a particular syndrome, and then found ways of tackling it. Since then, I talk about the Imposter Syndrome in any relevant platform in order to raise awareness about it.

What would you cherish most from your time in Cambridge?

I cherish and miss everything about Cambridge. One of the things I cherish the most is that ‘Cambridge feeling;’ the combination of academic richness, history, architecture, formals, gowns, and a sea of opportunities to engage in things that matter. From a personal point of view, I also miss the calmness and smooth flow of life in Cambridge, which I think make it a very nice place for children to grow (my motherly feelings intervene here!).

What are you most proud of about your time in Cambridge?

I feel proud of successfully graduating from Cambridge while lone-parenting and during a global pandemic! That gives me a sense of strength too.

I feel like if I managed to graduate from Cambridge with an MPhil degree accompanied by myriads challenges, I could possibly do anything in life (a good trick to keep my spirit high in difficult times, nothing else!).

What are some lessons from the past year that you’d like to carry with you to your next season?

I believe Cambridge is not just a conventional university where you at the end of the day graduate with a degree in your hand, ready to be catapulted to the job market; Cambridge is beyond that. Two of the most important things I learned at Cambridge (apart of from what I learned of the degree program) are:

1. To doubt and to question
2. Humility; no matter how much you know, you still know very little, and the journey of learning never ends.

Do you have role models? What is it about them that you admire?

I cannot point out to one or two names; I always admire whoever possess the audacity to stand against all the odds around her and never gives up. But I have been profoundly touched by Tara Westover's memoir, Educated.

What are your ambitions for the future?

In the short term, I hope I succeed to secure a funded PhD position and become a PhD candidate in Gender Studies. For longer-term, my list is long and maybe exhausting for our readers – I am fond of academia, and I hope in some years' time, I manage to make it to that level. Overall, I think Cambridge has really widened my perspective towards any personal, academic and professional choices I will be making in life, and it has also been a turning point and a milestone for my future achievements.


We are so grateful and love having Humaira and her son as part of the Rowan Williams' community - she has special abilities to make those of us around her feel special!

We hope that you found this interview encouraging, and if you relate to her story, you can "contact" us using the function above. You can also sign up to our mailing list here so that we can send you a quick email whenever we have new content from the scholars!

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