First-year Student from Country of Georgia Quickly Makes Her Mark at YCP
Written by: Nathan Leakway, a junior Professional Writing major from York and an intern in the Office of Communications.
Baia Grdzelishvili ‘27 (Tbilisi, Georgia) stops mid-sentence and reaches for her bag. “I’ll show you,” she says, barely maintaining her enthusiasm. I’ve just asked her about her course load. Baia, an Electrical Engineering major, is taking an art class, along with Chemistry and Calculus, and she’s eager to show me her latest project. She reaches into her black messenger bag and pulls out her iPad. “It’s so beneficial,” she says. “I am taking all of my notes there.”
She searches through her tablet and pulls up an image of her “mind map." “It's really about me, about who I am,” she says.
I’ve been speaking with Baia for about 45 minutes, and none of this seems out of the ordinary—the eagerness to share, the absolutely sincere excitement about the iPad. In less than an hour, Baia has repeatedly (and probably without her knowing) established herself as a person overflowing with the desire to connect, to learn, and to embrace anyone who helps her do that.
At the center of her mind map, which she first drew by hand and then painted and edited digitally, is a self-portrait. Her brown hair becomes branches that stretch out across the canvas, and attached to them are visual representations of her passions and interests. In one corner, there is an image of Baia, arms outstretched, a Georgian flag held in one hand. She’s wearing a dress worn by traditional Georgian folk dancers. (Baia, a lifelong dancer, recently performed at YCP’s Got Talent.) In another corner, her family: two younger sisters, an older brother, and mom and dad, all of whom are back home in Georgia. There’s a piano, stacks of books, art supplies, and also a robot holding a flower. Baia smiles, recognizing herself in her artwork. “I have a broad spectrum of interests,” she says. “This is only a little part of it.”
Baia grew up in Tbilisi and had her eyes set on medicine from an early age. “When I was a child, I always thought I was going to be a doctor,” she says. “But then I was exposed to the sciences—robotics, programming, and everything. It was just so exciting.” She was a strong student, and ended up winning a scholarship that awarded her a full ride to take her studies abroad. She came to America in 2022 and finished high school at Perkiomen School in Pennsburg, PA. Baia took a quick liking to Pennsylvania. “It’s quite similar to Georgia here, the nature, the climate, the beautiful sunsets.”
After finishing high school, Baia began applying to colleges and universities. She received numerous offers, but chose York College because of its size and its proximity to friends she made in the area. “I really wanted a small school,” says Baia. “So far, I really enjoy it here. The community is really welcoming and open. [Education] is really good in Georgia, but there are opportunities for internships and co-ops here. Here, professors know us by name. It’s not like you go to a big auditorium where nobody cares who you are.”
Baia was named a Presidential Research Scholar* and a STEM Scholar right out of high school, and received a full ride to York College. She signed on without visiting the College, so her first time seeing campus was during Orientation. “When I got to the [Engineering] shop, I thought, ‘This is so cool, there are so many things that I can do here.’ ” She was also pleasantly surprised to see how walkable the campus was. “. . . especially when you know the shortcuts. I love that I can walk here and enjoy the beautiful campus.”
During Orientation, she also made the rounds, checking out the various clubs that had set up tables to entice incoming first-year students to join. After getting some information, she attended her first Student Senate meeting. “I even applied for some positions there. I want to be president,” she says, stifling a laugh. Since that first meeting, she has stayed involved with Student Senate, volunteering at Fall Fest and Homecoming Weekend and at a 5K run hosted by the Alumni Relations Office. Her wish to assume a leadership position recently came to fruition when she was named President of the Student Alumni Board.
Baia is a member of a growing international community at YCP. Some of those students meet regularly to share their culture and experiences. Recently, the group got together for a potluck where they each made a dish from their home country. Baia made Pelamushi, a pudding-like dessert made with grapes and flour. “Georgia is a wine country,” she says. “We are known for our grapes, but I couldn't bring wine here.”
After all, she is only 17 years old, making her one of the youngest students currently enrolled at YCP. You wouldn’t know it, though. Baia carries herself with the assuredness of a much older person. She is unafraid to take lengthy, silent pauses after I ask her a question, taking the time to compose her answers before speaking. “Let me organize my thoughts," she says. It’s a confidence I suspect is the result of having to grow up quickly living alone abroad.
“I am an ocean apart from my home country,” she says. “It’s a whole other level of . . . independence, of actually learning about yourself, living with yourself. When I came here [in 2022], it felt like I lived 10 years in one year. It was so immersive.”
It hasn’t just been academically immersive. Baia has tried to travel within the United States as much as she can. Over winter break, she drove with her host family to Texas in a minivan. “It was like an American movie—the host family with the kids, singing all the way.” She’s also traveled to Washington, D.C., and New York City, with plans of making a trip to the West Coast in the near future. “I want to go to Washington. I think it will look a lot like Georgia,” she says. “I would like to visit Silicon Valley as well.”
It seems as though Baia has had very little trouble adapting to her new life in the U.S., but there has been a bit of mild culture shock. When I ask her to expand on this, she suppresses another laugh. “The clothing!” she says. “In Europe, everyone dresses up. Even if you are going to take trash outside, you get dressed up. Here, especially in this school, nobody cares, everybody is concerned with comfort.” On the day that I met her, Baia is wearing black dress pants and a black shirt, over which she wears a turquoise blue blazer. She completes the outfit with a matching ring—a small reproduction of Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring—and earrings, which are tiny, circular snapshots of Van Gogh’s The Starry Night.
“I might not really dress up, but when I dress [like this] it makes me more motivated to go to school. It makes me feel professional. It was a bit of a culture shock to learn that nobody really cares how you’re dressed here,” she says.
And then, of course, there’s the food, the one thing brought up by every international student I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to. “I really miss the food,” says Baia. “Georgian cuisine is so good; everyone needs to try it at least once in their lives.” It’s unsurprising to hear this, and probably less a comment on the quality of food available here than it is on how important a role our cultural dishes and home cooking play in forming our own identities and memories. She especially misses khachapuri, a traditional Georgian cheese bread, and khinkali, a dumpling traditionally made with minced lamb, onions, chili pepper, and salt. The last time she was home, Baia told her mother, “I don’t want anything special, just . . . comfort food. Every time I’d go out with my friends, I was always eating Georgian food, because I knew I was going to be leaving again.” She hopes to make a trip back home soon.
For now, though, Baia remains focused on school and on continuing to connect with new people in her “second home.” She has plans to go into biomedical engineering in the future, but recognizes that decision is still a few years away. “I just really like to build electronics. If I can become a great engineer, with my inventions I can help so many people,” she says. “But I have four more years, who knows where I’ll end up. I’m leaving my doors open. Life is all about learning and experiences.”
*York College works with Engaged Scholars and Graham Collaborative Innovation Fellows From Day One to help them form their dreams into a personal mission, which is supported with financial and other assistance. They leave York College with a record of achievement that will gain the attention of employers, graduate schools, or others who provide entry into the next step in the extraordinary lives they imagine for themselves.