Editor’s Note: This post was written and submitted by Adrian Balaj, International Vice President for Division 4.
My name is Adrian Balaj, and many things define me. I am an immigrant from Romania, a first-generation college student, a college dropout, and most of all, I AM PTK. Coming to the United States in 2003, my parents had the vision most have for their children, which was giving their children the opportunity for an education and a brighter future than they had.
Being the youngest of four children, I like to think that I am the brightest and most different, the black sheep of the family. Growing up, I saw all of my siblings leave the nest by the age of 19 with no education, married, and by the age of 20, each one had their firstborn. In the Romanian culture that is the norm, but I knew that was something I did not want to follow.
I decided in high school that I was going to graduate two years early, jump into a four-year college to get my bachelors, and after two more years attain a masters. At the time, I thought that life was like a straight line. Plan; do the right thing; and follow through, and you will get to your goal, no doubt about it.
In May 2016, I graduated early like I planned, and in August, weeks before enrollment and school started, I packed my bags and flew to Nashville, Tennessee, to attend a four-year private university. When I arrived, I walked into the counseling office to choose classes and declare my major. One of my biggest regrets is that I listened to my counselor who told me to sign up for 18 credits. I did not know it at the time, but that decision would set me up to fail.
That year was the most challenging of my life. Not only did I have to manage a full workload, but I also had to adapt to the culture, environment and pressures of my church but most of all my mother whom I wanted to make proud by earning my degree. I was faced with the fact that pursuing a theology major was not something I wanted to do. My church aspired for me to become their next bishop, and my mom was so proud because of this. How could I let them down? I began to feel depressed. I failed three of my classes, got placed on financial probation, and my GPA plummeted. After classes were done, I returned home to California and faced the challenge of telling everyone that I was not going to attend college anymore.
The following year, I felt like the biggest failure anyone could ever be, and I kept asking myself, “What am I going to do now?” It took me that spring and summer to say, “Adrian, get up and try again.” And that’s precisely what I did.
I enrolled in my local community college, this time as a political science major, and was happier than ever. I began to realize that life is more like a winding road than a straight line. It twists, it turns, and it does not always line up with our perfect plans. Yet, the critical quality of any human being is the ability to learn from mistakes and adapt to our circumstances. That is just what I did, and it made all the difference.
Near the end of 2018, a friend asked me to join an honor society. My initial reaction was, “I don’t think so.” I told him that I was not a preppy kid and that was not for me even though my academics told a different story.
He asked me come to their usual Thursday meeting, and I hesitantly said okay. One week later, I received an email to join Phi Theta Kappa, still with little knowledge of what it really was. One month later, I found myself baking 200 pastries and being sworn in as a member. Not long after I was inducted, my friend told me to think about running for an International Officer position. Even though I was so new to the organization, I said yes.
As the semester progressed, I began to submerge myself in PTK. I helped with our college project, which raised one ton of food for low-income students on campus, and got involved in creating a three-part student speaker series which dealt with issues the campus was facing at the time.
In 2019, I ran for an international office in PTK and was humbled to be announced 2019-2020 VP for my division after an intensive campaign. I began reflecting back on where I was a year ago and how far I’ve come. Since becoming a member and being surround by like-minded individuals, I’ve begun to realize my full potential. Seeing my peers get into colleges like UC Berkley, UCLA, and Stanford gave me the confidence and motivation to shoot for the stars and transfer to one next year. It is my hope that you too take advantage of the opportunities before you in PTK. Though we take different journeys and travel different pathways, the one thing that we share is that WE-ARE-PTK.