"Are you the guy who fought 8 years to enter the University of Oxford?" Andranik Israelyan.

12 December, 2019
Andranik Israelyan is an expert of international relations,. He Worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the Parliament of Armenia.. He was a recipient of My Step Foundation Scholarship in 2018.

A brave boy from Ijevan and a T-shirt with the University of Oxford image

My parents are astrophysicists. When I couldn’t read and write, my mother was reading Jack London to me, which I think expanded my mind a lot. From a young age, I seemed to perceive the whole world as one.

I am from Ijevan and have always been proud of it, especially after the revolution, because I never thought that the person who brought freedom to Armenian society would be my compatriot. It's a special feeling. My homeland is beautiful; it also gave some romanticism to my character. Like all people from Ijevan, I am a little bit insane and try to direct it in a positive direction. So far, I have only benefited from it. As for me nothing is impossible, I’m doing something for the sake of great value, as I once said, it is in my character to go against everyone and win.

When I was at the 7th grade, I already knew that I was going to pursue a degree in the humanities, but I was hesitant about which field to choose. Eventually, I decided to go to the Department of History. Then something interesting happened. One of my school friends, Khanumyan Hayk, who is now an MP in Artsakh, said, "Why did you decide to go to the department of history?" I said that I have heard that YSU Faculty of International Relations is new and still in the process of formation. But Hayk was able to persuade me, and I applied to YSU Department of International Relations. Even my teachers did not believe that I would receive the full scholarship from Government. And I swore if I didn’t receive the full scholarship, I would never go to my High School in Ijevan. It was almost impossible to receive the full scholarship at that time. I remember teachers asked my mom secretly to tell me not to have big hopes to enter the University because the places had long been bought. I am very grateful to my mother for not telling me that. In 2004 I entered YSU Department of International Relations with full scholarship. And then I realized that I can achieve anything if I work hard.

During my studies at YSU, I received 20% of my knowledge. I could get much more in other circumstances. I understand that the department was new, of course, there were amazing professors to whom I’m thankful, but unfortunately they were not the majority. After graduating from the department of international relations, I already decided that I should go to a good university to continue my education. At a young age, I received a gift with a picture of the University of Oxford, and it may have generated subconscious love for Oxford. Of course, I also monitored the University's academic performance and rating. I knew it was the best in the world according to different ratings. And as I was confident that I deserved the best in the world, I opened the University of Oxford website for the first time in 2010. I was looking at it and thinking that it was just a dream. I applied. I was rejected, of course, because in my biography there was still nothing to be proud of, and I even English knowledge was poor . How could I know if the university didn't teach me well, and I only learned French at school? My next attempts to enter Oxford were also unsuccessful.

"If life wants to take away those three hours from me, even then I will try" or the price of a dream

In 2014, I had a physical trauma during the sambo wrestling training. I spent two years in the hospitals, learning to walk again, undergoing major surgeries. It was a really difficult time for me. I even lost my hope to walk again. When I knew that I was going to have to undergo a second operation, I decided that even during those three hours of surgery, I would not lose my time; I would have to train for Oxford for those three hours. I had downloaded podcasts to my computer for listening before and after surgery. Even during the surgery, I asked the doctors to speak low, and I said that I was preparing for entering Oxford. I know they thought I was crazy. But it was not important to me; it was important for me that I had the right attitude toward challenges and my dream. I didn't want to break my heart . It was clear that I would not learn much in that condition, but the principled stance was important for me: if life wants to take away those three hours from me at that moment, I will use them to get to Oxford, which was really my dream. There are episodes that I will never forget. I remember when I was under local anesthesia, I immediately felt that my brain wasn’t working well. I asked angrily, what has happened? The doctors asked me if I felt bad. I said “No, but I feel as if the memories are gone and I have to study for the exam.”

Half an hour later, when my memory was restored, I was in the operating room and loudly repeating the oral questions of my IELTS exam. I was very weak physically, but I was satisfied spiritually.

Lying in the hospital, I wrote my next motivation letter for Oxford University. I wrote that students can prepare for exams in the most interesting situations in the world, so I was preparing in the operating room. I saved this letter, by the way. Of course, it hurt me that I was not accepted. I was sure that life would be fair, and at least after this hard year I would be accepted. But not only I was not accepted this year, but there was a need for a second surgery on my leg. I didn’t walk for months. Then in 2017 I was finally accepted, but even then I could not find the full tuition fee. It was really very painful when I had to write a letter to Oxford and say: you know, I finally got in, it's my dream, but I don’t have enough funding, and I have to withdraw , asking to keep my place for the next year. But, of course, they couldn't keep the place. And the next year I applied again.

In 2018, I entered Oxford. When I got the email, I screamed all over the house. It was my 8th attempt.

Oxford. More than knowledge.

I studied at the Department of Russian and East European Studies, because this region includes Armenia. This Department in Oxford is considered one of the two best educational programs in this field in the world. My Step Foundation supported me to pay for my studies. I already had a considerable part of my sum, and thanks to "My Step" I had the whole amount for the tuition fee. I thank everybody.

I was studying at Oxford University in 2018-2019. My professors were legends in this field, especially Roy Allison, who was also the supervisor of my thesis. I was lucky to attend lectures by , Jan Zielonka, John Mearsheimer, John Ikenberry; whose books influenced me a lot when I was young. I will say that in Oxford I conducted an extremely relevant research of Armenia's foreign policy, which, I am sure, will be useful to our state. But the University was more than just studying. I lived a year in this city, studied at this University and there was no single day, when studying at Oxford was usual for me. I enjoyed every second of my student life, being in such an educational environment was just a happiness.

I walked along the streets nearby the University and admired the architecture of the city. Each College had its own history. At Oxford I also got great network. I had a big dream after the injury when I couldn’t walk yet. I dreamed to return to the sport and to train with British runner David Hemery. So on Sundays I went to Marlborough and trained with David. It was one of the most impressive periods of my life, because David Hemery was both a Harvard graduate and an Olympic champion. I was astonished when I talked to Dave. I knew he wouldn’t be surprised that I returned to sports after injury and that I am studying at Oxford, because he himself graduated from Harvard University. David has given me very important lessons both in terms of life and sports.

I want to add. Oxford is more than just knowledge. I also gained network in Oxford, meeting there boxing legend Manny Pacquiao, a lot of famous political figures, including presidents. There were at Oxford Union meetings, which were organized for students once a week. Of course, it was a great benefit and amazing experience to meet such interesting, intelligent students from different parts of the world. My friend Sos Avetisyan, now a parliament member, who studied at Oxford before me, once said-you will go to Oxford and , you will see that you're not the only smart guy. These words really impressed me. And indeed it was the case: in a pub, you talk to someone with a cup of beer, and somebody tells you so much that you want to take your notebook to make notes. They did not come to Oxford merely because of their knowledge, but because they were very interesting people. I especially remember that many students, each of whom has passed a respectable path, came up to me and asked: "Are You the guy who struggled for 8 years to come to Oxford?"

The first prerequisite to be in any good, competitive educational system is that you have to believe that you, it’s you who deserves it. It's a winner’s approach. What is the difference between the champion and other participants? The champion believes that precisely he should be the winner. This is exactly the case in education. If you decide, for example, to go to Oxford, then you have to believe that you have to be the winner, because thousands of applicants from two hundred countries of the world apply and, in fact, you compete with the best and in order to win, you need to have not only knowledge, but also have great faith. Great faith will not allow you to break down after a couple of rejections. Faith gives you strength and patience.

The importance of analytical thinking

In Oxford, I received lessons in research ethics, the correct application of scientific methodology, got acquainted with the latest ideas of scientific world, and learned analytical thinking, which, unfortunately, is absent in the social sciences in Armenia.

For students of post-Soviet countries, the Oxford system has certain difficulties, because the system is based on "narrative" here. Meanwhile, there is a lot of analysis in Oxford. You have to give your own ideas, write essays very often. There is also a new phenomenon for me that I learned in Oxford called autoplagiarism. If you have already published an article somewhere, you cannot use even one paragraph from this article in another publication. Certainly, it is yours, but it also belongs to the edition or magazine that published your article.

The most vulnerable side of the educational system of Armenia is the lack of requirements for independent work of the student. Unfortunately, in Armenia there is the memorization system. Everything is based on narration of facts, not analysis.

Future plans

I have already received an offer to teach and, frankly, I do not mind, because I really want to pass on my knowledge to young people. I will think in what University I finally decide to teach. Most likely, I will work in the Government. I have already a number of offers, I still think what to choose. Of course, I continue to be in sports. I have very big plans and dreams about the advancement of the young generation. But for now, we will not go into details. I'm sure you'll hear about my plans.

"When people make fun of your dreams, don't take them seriously"

Gor, my nephew, is ten years old. He is a very talented guy, has a bright mind, likes sports. I always tell him: you have to achieve the best in the world. I convince him that he should not be satisfied with the limited opportunities and boundaries built by others. From this age he should believe that he will reach the best in the world. Why can’t Gor be the UN Secretary General in fifty years ? When I speak with Gor, he looks at me with his round, big eyes, and I know that what I have said has deeply rooted in him. He really feels the power, that is inside him. It is very important to encourage, inspire a person. I know that children’s dreams are often broken by adults. I always say, when people laugh at your great dreams, don't take them seriously, because the only thing in the world you need is faith in yourself. If you really want something, then you will work hard and it will definitely happen. This winning mentality needs to be installed from childhood. Cowardice leads to nowhere.

12 December, 2019

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