GGC’s Ardit Berdyna finds commonality in diversity

Ardit Berdyna at computer

Ardit Berdyna

For many, America is the land of the free, the land of plenty and the land of opportunity. But for those outside the U.S., life can be very different.

Life was especially different for Georgia Gwinnett College’s (GGC) Ardit Berdyna, a business major with a concentration in economics. He will join more than 460 other students who will graduate at GGC’s fall commencement ceremony, scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 12, at the Infinite Energy Center, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway in Duluth.

At the tender age of four, Ardit Berdyna lived in a tent in his native Kosovo. The now-independent republic, smaller than the state of Georgia, was a former province of Serbia until it plunged into a three-year war. Many homes in Berdyna’s village burned to the ground during that time and its residents were left to survive amid death and despair in makeshift tents that dotted the war-torn countryside.

“I remember sleeping in the tent and waiting on food aid until we gradually started rebuilding, little by little,” said Berdyna. “I also remember a lot of sad faces around because we lost many of our loved ones – people I would never meet, like my grandfather and my uncles.”

But according to Berdyna, there was one word that would bring a smile to people’s faces: America. 

“Every time America was mentioned in the news or in conversations, it would bring a huge smile to people’s faces because a huge country like America had stood up for a tiny drop in the world and helped stop a genocide,” he explained.

Years later, when Berdyna had a chance to go to the land he admired as a child, he took it.

GGC’s English Language Institute (ELI) offers long- and short-term programs for English language learners. Participants are exposed to the English language as well as American culture and the experience prepares them for success in a higher education setting.

Berdyna was one of 20 students who completed an ELI summer program. And he was hooked – on America and GGC.

Leaving one’s home, family and familiar surroundings is no easy task. But Berdyna found a new home in Lawrenceville at GGC. And the things he had most in common with his fellow students were their differences.

“At GGC, I had the chance to meet a lot of amazing people coming from different backgrounds and different walks of life,” he said. “Each one of them was unique, but we worked toward common goals of getting a better education and finding better opportunities for ourselves.”

Georgia Gwinnett College was recently ranked the most ethnically diverse Southern regional college for the sixth consecutive year by U.S. News & World Report.

Along with the diversity of the GGC community, Berdyna said he benefitted from the college’s small class sizes and ability to make personal connections with faculty.

“It made me feel important and that I matter,” he said. “GGC has opened so many doors and opportunities.”

Berdyna’s success in the classroom has earned him a full-time spot at a local technology company. His long-term plans include a return to school to pursue a master’s degree. And perhaps one day, he said, he will return to his native Kosovo and apply his skills to better his community.

“GGC challenged me to ‘Go Be Great,’ and now it’s up to me to go and do it.”

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