After fleeing war as a toddler, U of M student earns prestigious Rhodes Scholarship

Two decades after her family fled war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Annette Riziki, 22, plans to use her scholarship to study the psychology and resilience of immigrants and refugees like her.

Annette Riziki wants to study psychology, resilience of immigrants and refugees at Oxford University

University of Manitoba student Annette Riziki is the province's latest Rhodes Scholar, one of 11 Canadian recipients of the prestigious scholarship for 2019. (Submitted by Annette Riziki/University of Manitoba)

Annette Riziki wants to challenge the way she's seen refugees typically represented, as victims of trauma and always in need of help.

Two decades after her family fled war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the 22-year-old University of Manitoba graduate plans to study the psychology and resilience of immigrants and refugees like her.

She earned multiple student awards before graduating in October, but the biggest one came last: Riziki is one of just 11 Canadians to receive the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to the University of Oxford.

Riziki's family moved to Uganda as refugees when she was two, before coming to Canada in 2011. In Uganda, they faced discrimination and prejudice, although her parents shielded her from some of it, she said.

"I like to say that my parents took most of the heat of resettlement, in that they tried as much as they can to cover us from some of the realities of life," Riziki said.

"But sometimes … I became content with understanding that it can be difficult to find a place to call home at times."

Riziki said she likes to see her life as always on the move. Her biggest challenges were adjusting to new systems and cultures, she said — and when they came to Canada, she had to catch up with the school system.

Won scholarship, lost $100 bet

Riziki says her family, her faith and great teachers along the way have been crucial to her success.

"I like to think it's support systems. I've always had great teachers, since primary school to where I am right now," she said. "It's all about people who see something in you, even at times when you don't see it in yourself."

When she found out she'd earned the Rhodes Scholarship, she texted her dad, who responded: "I always knew it. I knew you were going to go somewhere in life."

She also now owes her sister $100, since her sister bet that she'd get the scholarship and she bet that she wouldn't.

Rhodes Scholarships are postgraduate awards supporting outstanding students at the University of Oxford, valued at more than $90,000 a year. They cover all expenses for at least two or three years and can allow funding for up to four.

Riziki plans to use the scholarship to complete a master of science in forced migration and refugee studies, looking through the lens of their resilience in resettling in new places.

"Just applying a different lens in their journey and understanding that they are resilient and having that knowledge and working with that in the clinical psychology field would be very interesting."

With files from Samantha Samson