Annette Riziki, University of Manitoba
Annette Riziki came to Canada as a resettled refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the age of 14.
She had spent most of her life to that point in Uganda, where her mother fled to when Ms. Riziki was just two years old. She recalls both good and bad moments in Uganda. At times, she was treated as an outsider, she said. “People could always tell I wasn’t Ugandan and that had its own implications,” she said. “We would be called economic leaches and told we should back to our own country.”
Her mother told her to enjoy her childhood and focus on her studies and she would take care of the rest, Ms. Riziki said. She never knew it was possible they would end up in Canada. The family travelled as part of a large group that split in Toronto’s Pearson Airport as they went their separate ways. They had never heard of Winnipeg and arrived in May to temperatures the locals basked in but which struck Ms. Riziki as freezing.
She thought the transition at school would be easy, but it was not. She was placed in Grade 10, but forced to redo a number of Grade 9 classes to catch up to her age cohort, which she did in just one semester.
“I had to teach myself math, English, social studies,” she said. “Coming here was my redemption as a student because I was able to pursue so many opportunities.”
Her first week at the University of Manitoba, where she studied psychology, was difficult. She remembers telling her mother that she couldn’t do it.
“Her advice was ‘It’s just the first week, things will change and when you get through this you will learn what steps to take,’ ” Ms. Riziki said. “It can take me hours to learn something, but once I get it, I get it.”
Ms. Riziki said she had given up hope of winning the Rhodes scholarship on the day of the announcement. She had been told to expect a call in the morning and it was already 11:45 a.m. when her phone rang. She texted her mother with the good news, and her mother came home that day and danced for five minutes, she said. Her father, though, was not surprised at all. He had been telling people for months that his daughter would be at Oxford next year.
“It took me a week to believe it was true,” she said. “I kept asking myself. ‘Why me?’ To see yourself as someone who could be picked out, it was very difficult to imagine.”
Ms. Riziki plans to pursue a graduate degree in forced migration and refugee studies at Oxford.