After finishing his postgraduate studies at the University of Bristol in the Southwest of England, Hamse Abdilahi was literally packing his bags to return to his home country of Somaliland when he received a university offer letter. It was none other than Oxford University. ‘Congratulations …… welcome to Oxford University’ read the letter. The letter changed his plan and potentially the course of his life. It was an exhilarating moment for Mr. Abdilahi as his struggled to absorb the good news. ‘It felt that I was realising my childhood dream of going to Oxford’ Abdilahi reminisced.
Mr. Abdilahi came to the UK in 2016 as part of the UK Government’s Chevening Scholarship, a postgraduate scholarship for young emerging world leaders. While studying at Bristol University’s School of Policy Studies, Abdilahi had one other big prize in mind:joining Oxford. It was too big an ambition for a homegrown Somalilander to aspire to join one of the elitestcolleges on the planet. Oxford University is the oldest university in the English-speaking world and its name is often associated with enormous prestige, elitism and more importantly social class.
‘Despite being pre-occupied with the enormous course work at Bristol University, I spent a great deal of time in the application and other procedural activities for being admitted to Oxford’. The Oxford application selection process is incredibly tough. The university receives thousands of applications from around the world and only a limited number of people are accepted. The graduates are believed to make up a significant portion of the global elite. ‘I don’t think I was admitted because I was special or genius, but I was simply honest about my story of which the application assessors found touchingly moving’ Abdilahi said. ‘This is contrary to the popular that to be accepted to Oxford University, you have to be super-intelligent, white and middle class’ he added.
‘In my personal statement I talked about growing up in internationally unrecognised, poverty-stricken, semi-desert post-war Somaliland and how the experience shaped both my childhood and my adult life’Abdilahi said. His application was not entirely paper work. After being shortlisted, he was interviewed by a panel of Oxford Professors. The in-person interview was a very tense moment for him. ‘I knew if I don’t impress them, they won’t accept me. I had to prove to them that I am an Oxford university materialand after the interview was over, I wasn’t entirely sure if I really did that. But it was a memorable moment anyway’ smiled Abdilahi.
Oxford University is a collegiate university where students, apart from studying at various departments and faculties, they are also members of certain colleges. ‘It is the first time I am attending a collegiate university. It is feels great to be enrolled at Kellogg College, which is Oxford University’s largest college by student size’ said Abdilahi. While studying at Bristol, Abdilahi volunteered at WECIL (West of England Centre for Inclusive Education). ‘The project I volunteered involved getting people back to work like people recovering from medical conditions, drug-abuse and mental illnesses and it was a great experience for me to understand people’s suffering and how they strive to rise from difficult times’ said Abdilahi. In his postgraduate thesis at Bristol, Abdilahi wrote about Economic Implications of Somaliland’s Diplomatic Non-Recognition’. ‘In my dissertation, among the numerous economic challenges that Somaliland faces, I wanted to make a clear distinction which ones are really due to non-recognition and which one are due to bad governance and I believe the earlier that distinction is made by the Somaliland leadersthe better for finding a solution to Somaliland’s mass poverty and fragile governance’ Abdilahi argued.
But this is not the first time Mr. Abdilahi won a significant study program. His undergraduate studies came as an EU funded scholarship in Kenya in 2005, after he finished top ten nationwide in his high school leaving examination. In 2015, because of his community activism in Somaliland, the U.S. State Department selected him for the Mandela Washington Fellowship where he did Civic Leadership at the University of Delaware on America’s east coast. After returning home, it wasn’t too long when the British Foreign and Common Wealth Office selected him for the Chevening Scholarship. ‘Being at Bristol University and living in the beautiful city of Bristol were one of the best things that happened to me. Without being at Bristol university, I don’t think Oxford would have accepted me, period’ Abdilahiemphasised.
Mr. Abdilahi was also nominated for numerous awards including a Forbes Magazine entrepreneurship award, Africa Entrepreneurship Award and UAE’S Prince Bin-Rashid Al Makhtoum Arab Hope Makers Award. In 2016, he was also shortlisted for Miles Morland Foundation’s Africa Fiction Competition. Abdilahi’s story titled ‘Dove in the Horn’ was a movingfictionalisedaccount of Somaliland’s armed struggle against former Somali military leader Barre and the subsequent unilateral declaration of independence.
Mr. Abdilahi’s acceptance to Oxford University makes him post-war Somaliland’s first non-diaspora to be accepted to an Oxford University postgraduate program.