Where Dreams are Made

Published: November 27, 2019

An international student soars at Queensborough

Raised in the Land of the Eagles, Nikola Baci calls the Land of the Free, home.

“When my plane was approaching JFK airport, I had Alicia Keys’ Empire State of Mind blaring in my earphones,” said the 21-year-old international student from former-communist Albania, one of the world’s youngest democracies.

The concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There's nothing you can't do, now you're in New York!

Baci is already living part of his dream at Queensborough Community College. He was elected Student Government Administrative Vice President this year and is busily revising club by-laws, reviewing charters and studying budgets.

“It is my duty to serve the students and help the clubs get ratified,” Baci explained from his sparse office in the lower level of the student union, 4700 miles from Ersekë, the small southeastern European alpine town near the Greek border where he grew up.

Nikola Baci sitting on a step smiling during Autumn

Raised in a large, extended family, the Computer Science major and peer math tutor used to run around and compete in soccer games with his friends.

“We’d play all day,” he said, grinning.

When he was 10, Baci and his immediate family relocated 130 miles north to Tirana, the vibrant, colorful, burgeoning Albanian capital. It was a dramatic change for an outdoors kid. The transition from a rural lifestyle to a major city and one of the country’s leading schools, he recalled, was “really tough.”

His father, an economist, and mother, a law student, however, instilled in him civic responsibility and the drive to succeed. It helped that he had studied alongside his mom – “at the same desk where she worked” – as she pursued her degree.  

“I worked hard and eventually became very good at math and writing English essays. I had four close friends in school; they changed my mindset and pushed my limits too. I volunteered with the Red Cross and with an environmental group, planting trees and cleaning parks.”

Acknowledged for his academic abilities and success at high school, Baci – who started learning English in third grade – considered studying medicine in the United Kingdom. With his mother’s parents living in Bayside, New York, however, he set his sights on the USA and the opportunities CUNY presented.

“Queensborough was meant to be!” he exclaimed.

Baci is a CUNY Research Scholar, mentored by Drs. Daniel Garbin and Raul Armendariz. Last year he was selected by Queensborough to participate in the Global Citizenship Seminar in Salzburg, Austria, an annual study-abroad program focused on international relations and global interdependence. A Queensborough Milestone Scholarship recipient, also recognized for his achievements in Math and Computer Science studies, he will attend Queens College next year.

“Every day I aspire to be better. I want to change the world, and one day, Albania. It is a beautiful country with rich resources, but so many people are in poverty and cannot eat. Most are just surviving and that is not right.”

Against his office wall, on a small round table, Baci has propped-up an eight-inch square canvas he recently painted, of a deep blue sea with a red dolphin – the same fire-engine red as on the Albanian flag – at its center. Bubbles rise from its flukes as the curious, playful, extraordinarily intelligent animal dives deep.

Is it a self-portrait, of sorts? Baci reflected.

“It’s colorful and different. It stands out. It is moving forward and making its mark.”

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Contact:  Michael Donahue or Alice Doyle

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