Minah postcardsAward-winning postcards: Minah with Round Table Chairman Stuart Mole, in Cambridge and at Marlborough House during her scholarship [credit: Minah Ahn]


When I received my acceptance to pursue my Masters in Understanding and Securing Human Rights at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study through the Routledge-Round Table studentship, I never imagined the incredibly nurturing Commonwealth network that would offer me so many invaluable experiences during my time in London.  The award is already extremely rewarding, providing me with the opportunity to further my studies in human rights, which I am deeply passionate about.  It has allowed me to spend time abroad in the UK, away from my home in Canada, and gain insight into how cross-cultural understandings of human rights issues often play a role in shaping the discipline in practice.

The course, an intimate and rigorous programme, is exceptionally well designed to ensure we broaden both academic and practical skills sets that we can effectively translate into the human rights field, while our distinguished lecturers continuously offer their vast knowledge ranging from their academic expertise to their experience working with various NGOs and at the United Nations. Undeniably, the studentship for me has opened up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study at the center of a global hub, the cornerstone of where human rights work is prevalent in the legal, political, non-profit and civil society sectors.  But my time here, especially in the last few months, has proven to surpass these benefits and offered something more: a unique chance to partake in high-quality Commonwealth events.

Upon arriving in London, I soon realized the close relationship my school shared with the Round Table, the Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs.  As a result, after the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) took place in Malta, November 2015, I had the privilege to attend the Round Table Post-CHOGM conference hosted at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge University.  The conference was intended to discuss the successes and failures of the Malta conference, in addition to reflecting on the challenges and advantages of the Commonwealth.  The conference boasted prominent attendees with a connection to the Commonwealth, including many who had attended the 2015 CHOGM.  While it was not only beneficial to interact with and learn from a wide array of highly successful individuals, I was also inspired by their commitment to the Commonwealth.  It was evident that these individuals were working fearlessly hard in their varied capacities to advance the well being of the Commonwealth, and to harness the potential it has to promote and ensure human rights.

In maintaining my link to the Commonwealth community, I was fortunate to attend the 2016 Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh. The service beautifully showcased the diversity of the 53 countries that make up the association of Commonwealth countries.  I was surrounded by members of the royal family, high commissioners representing member states, and leaders both young and old.  Additionally, Kofi Annan, as well as His Excellency Kamalesh Sharma delivered statements, while Ellie Goulding sang a beautiful piece.  It was a wonderful occasion to attend, and it was one of the proudest days of my life.  I felt immensely grateful to be the recipient of the Round Table studentship for the endless opportunities it has brought, and was reminded of my role moving forward in my career – that what is important is how I apply my experiences and what I am learning to better serve others here, abroad and back home.

Over the course of my Masters, I have also been able to hear a number of esteemed individuals working outside the Commonwealth network speak.  At the 2016 Commonwealth Lecture, Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, shared her thoughts on education as a transformational force for development and peace.  In addition, a partnership event with UNA-UK and Chatham House invited His Excellency Ban Ki-moon to discuss the United Nations at its 70th anniversary.  And last but not least, as part of the Literature Festival in Bath, I listened to Gloria Steinem tell her stories as a travelling feminist.  Bearing in mind the key points each of these speakers shared at these events, I was motivated to continue working hard, and was reminded not to take anything for granted, including my life in the UK.

It would be an understatement to say that the Round Table studentship has been gratifying. The life that has unfolded as a result of receiving this award is still very surreal to me.  Moving abroad and building a life somewhere new has its challenges, and constant ups and downs, but an amazing supportive Commonwealth network has helped to mitigate such hardships.  Moreover, in the free time between my studies, playing the violin in the University of London Symphony Orchestra and serving as a research intern at Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative – an NGO working to ensure the practical realization of human rights in the Commonwealth – has allowed me to build strong relationships in both my personal and work life.  I am only half way through my Masters, and can only imagine what exciting possibilities the rest of the year holds.

The Routledge-Round Table Commonwealth Studentship Award is in celebration of Routledge’s continuing association with The Round Table: the Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, and the journal’s connection with the Institute of Commonwealth Studies.

The award is open to students from Commonwealth countries outside the United Kingdom, who have been accepted by the Institute for the MA course in Understanding and Securing Human Rights.