Trinity graduate Rosa Rahimi Aminzavvar has been awarded a Rhodes scholarship to study for an MPhil in Modern Middle Eastern Studies at Oxford. Rosa is one of two Scholars-elect from Cambridge and the only Canadian undergraduate at a UK university to receive a Rhodes scholarship this year.
Rosa, who has just graduated with a BA in Politics and International Relations from Cambridge, wrote her dissertation on the links between Frantz Fanon, the Iranian Revolution, and conditions of life in contemporary Iran.
During the summer of 2020 she worked as a Constituency Assistant for David Eby, Member of the Legislative Assembly for Vancouver-Point Grey. Rosa co-founded and is a former editor-in-chief of the Cambridge Journal of Political Affairs.
Please tell us about yourself and your interest in the Middle East
My parents are from Iran but I was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada. Growing up, I was intrigued by this idea of being from another place that seemed so distant from my West Coast upbringing, but in some ways, I also felt unusually close to the politics of the region because I was raised in a very political family.
I grew up around people who were always debating politics and although the realities being discussed were far from home, they felt very real for how they were impacting our loved ones and our visions of the future. I was therefore naturally curious about the region and also felt a sense of responsibility to be informed, and to form my own opinions outside of the debates I had long been privy to.
Why did you choose Trinity / Cambridge for your undergraduate study?
It was a combination of factors, along with what could best be described as an intuition that Cambridge would be the right place for me. I knew I’d find a system of learning that would be rigorous without reducing me to a number. I was also grateful to be awarded a Trinity Overseas Bursary to cover all three years of study, which made the decision all the more feasible.
What do UK universities offer that Canadian universities don’t?
UK universities give you the opportunity to specialize early on in what you’re interested in, while Canadian universities (where undergraduate degrees take four years) follow a more broad-based approach – especially in the humanities and social sciences. If you already have some idea of what you want to study and where you want to focus, the UK approach makes a lot of sense.
How have you found the Human Social and Political Science (HSPS) course?
I have thoroughly enjoyed it. For me, it was quite an adjustment from secondary school, but I really appreciate that the course builds a strong foundation in the social sciences, while also giving you the chance to explore what you find interesting. I was excited to learn about topics like peace mediation and oil nationalization and was equally surprised by how much I enjoyed reading ethnographies and Renaissance political thought.
I am very grateful that the HSPS course has encouraged me to develop a broad education in politics that encompasses political thought, comparative politics, and international relations. Learning about themes and issues whose relevance is neither bound to time nor borders has certainly contributed to my political curiosity.
To what extent did Trinity meet your expectations?
Admittedly, I didn’t really know what to expect of Trinity. I had never known anyone who studied at the College and only knew of its reputation as a beautiful and intense place. Both of those things are true, but Trinity has also proven itself to be somewhere that can feel like home, filled with interesting people from around the world, and where I feel supported in my learning.
What does it mean to you be a Rhodes Scholar-elect?
It’s all still a little surreal – as surreal as it was when I got the call at 2am in November!
I have spent the past three years lucky enough to do what I love and study what I find interesting, and I didn’t think that alone could qualify me for a Rhodes Scholarship. I also don’t think it did; I feel incredibly aware of, and indebted to the support of my family, friends, Supervisors, and mentors throughout the years, particularly this past one.
I was the first person from my school to come to Cambridge and it was a somewhat unorthodox choice. These networks of support and this opportunity are a reminder to take comfort in that path – which will hopefully lead to using my education to be of service to the causes I care about.
Tell us about our experience working as a Constituency Assistant in Vancouver
David Eby, Member of the Legislative Assembly for Vancouver and Attorney-General of British Columbia, is my provincial representative, and I started working in his office as an intern in my last year of high school.
It was an incredibly rewarding experience to see politics up close, to learn about how policies were affecting people, and how constituency offices can function as non-partisan spaces with the express purpose of helping members of the community.
I was then hired to work as a Constituency Assistant last summer. It was a very dynamic time to start work, between new measures, policies, and benefits owing to the pandemic and an influx of activism rooted in local issues that had been inspired by movements in the US. After a year of studying and thinking about politics in the abstract, it was a welcome change of pace to engage with politics through practice.
Sometimes ideas of politics, democracy, and the state can feel like these really grand concepts (and in many ways, they are), but working in a local office showed me what the day-to-day of living in a democracy really means: the ordinary grievances that people have, the simple solutions you can offer them – and in other cases, the constraints that hold these solutions back, the often limited demographics of those who make use of the government as a resource, and profound issues the system is fundamentally ill-equipped to resolve (in Canada, the most obvious and pressing being the state’s relationship with Indigenous peoples).
What do you hope to do in future?
I feel guided by the idea of doing something good, but a major takeaway from this degree has been developing an awareness of how complicated that notion of ‘doing good’ can be in a political sense.
For now, I plan to focus on improving my language skills and knowledge of the Middle East at Oxford. Afterwards, I hope to be better positioned to work on issues relating to the region through conflict mediation, humanitarian response, or diplomacy.
I have also been profoundly inspired by how my Supervisors have impact through their research and teaching – both of which have a very real effect on how knowledge and narratives are constructed and consulted – so maybe one day, academia.