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Summia, the First Rhodes Scholar to Hail from Afghanistan

16 December 2020

Growing up as an Afghan refugee in Pakistan, bloodshed was never far from Summia's life.

"I was just living in this violence, but it was a given, so I couldn't do anything about it," she said.

Despite this, Summia considered it a privilege to be there compared to Afghanistan, because at least she got to go to school.

Thanks to a fortuitous online search, she learned about UWC and decided to apply. She was selected to attend UWC-USA in New Mexico in 2014, but even that experience was mired in violence.

The hotel in Kabul where the UWC selections took place was attacked by Taliban militants a day after she took her test, leaving nine dead including the head of UWC's selection committee, Dr Roshan Thomas. 

Summia recalls how Dr Thomas had urged the students to take the opportunity and one day "come back to Afghanistan and do something to change the situation, because that's the real purpose". And she added: "She was the main reason I applied. Because she risked her life. Because she believed that students like me, from countries like Afghanistan, or refugees from Pakistan, should have the opportunity to get an education."

A recent graduate of Earlham College in the US, Summia is now one of the 102 students who earned a place in the 2020 class of the Rhodes Scholarship, the world's oldest postgraduate scholarship programme, and is the first Rhodes Scholar to hail from Afghanistan. 

Summia’s outlook is bright and she laughs with ease, the fluent torrent of her words belying the traumas of the journey that has taken her from refugee to Rhodes Scholar. Summia plans a post-graduate course on refugee and migrant movement, and after that, she says she will return to the country her family once fled. It is there for those like her to build. (Source: