Resilience in the Rift: Navigating Identity, Academia, and the Shadows of War

By Arman Simonyan
PhD student at the Department of Drug Design and Pharmacology, University of Copenhagen.

Image generated by OpenAI’s DALL-E, used with permission.

In attempting to escape the external wars and reconcile with my identity, I’ve unwittingly waged a war within myself.

I have learned to live with anxiety from an early age. You see, in post-Soviet space, especially at its outskirts, life is always sort of on the edge. I grew up in a seismic zone with the constant anticipation of war and an early realization of death and its imminence. People of these territories learn to live like its mountains, heavily and resiliently.

Academic life is strict and archaic. A lot is expected from you as a kid, and academic success is a necessity. It is a source of familial pride or shame. Those might be the most deeply rooted emotions in my culture. Another source of pride for a family is military service, or starting your own traditional family for that matter. And both can also be a source of great sorrow or shame if you die in war or if you are queer.

Naturally, pursuing academic excellence became a refuge for me – a means of escape. In fact, I escaped so hard that I ended up in a university on an island with no mountains in the far north. Life on an island is different from life in a landlocked seismic land. There is more silence and water around and less pomegranates.

I have a terrifying fear of academic failure intertwined with the specter of war and death. Last week I was lighting another cigarette in the backyard of my department, thinking about the computational model I have been painfully working on for the past year. Sometimes when I think of my project or before I enter an exam room, it feels akin to stepping onto a battlefield. In these moments, I like to imagine myself as a warrior on the edge of understanding.

Reflecting on my journey, I realize that in attempting to escape the external wars and reconcile with my identity, I’ve unwittingly waged a war within myself. The very act of conceptualizing a model becomes a battle, a clash between doubt and determination.

Developing a profound self-criticism has been an unexpected byproduct of this internal war. Looking back, I’ve come to understand that every moment of uncertainty, every struggle with my project, is a step towards growth. I’ve learned to tap my own shoulder, especially on days where the progress may not be visibly substantial, and tell myself quietly, “Good job.”

In this ongoing battle, I’ve discovered that the war within oneself can be transformative. It’s not about conquering fears but acknowledging their existence and continuing to move forward. It’s a battle where every small achievement is a victory, and every day survived is a step toward resilience.

Author Bio
Arman is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Drug Design and Pharmacology, KU. Born in 1999 in Armenia, moved to Denmark in 2020. He likes to read poetry and have walks across the coastline.