Stefan Nikolic is a Serbian student, currently finishing his Bachelor of Arts in International Relations at Hult International Business School in London. However, he is also closely connected to Vienna, a city that is even one of his options for master studies.
Hi Stef… tell us, what made you decide to study abroad? When I decided to come to London for my bachelor studies three years ago it was mostly due to the economic reasons, because I would have not been able to afford studying and make a decent living in Serbia. I wanted something more than a regular routine-like life of a Serbian student – I wanted to travel, interact with some leading figures of my studying field, have a job or an internship, be surrounded by international students… things that might generally be natural to most of the Western-European students, but which are still quite abstract issues to Serbian conditions.
Ok, so it was “The West” that you were striving for. Why UK as a final choice? Actually, first I was applying to the United States but I changed my mind, since it was impossible for me to finance it, and Europe is something I consider home. In Serbia it is quite difficult to get a credit or a loan to finance your studies or a scholarship to start your studies abroad and since it is a “third world” country, all study fees are usually doubled. Eventually I found a university in London, or dare I say it found me, that was more or less affordable for me.
And when you speak about economic reasons that motivated you to go to the UK, what exactly do you have in mind? Financial situation can sometimes be a very relative term, depending a lot from a social background and one´s nationality. The unemployment rate in Serbia is very high and living standard low. For example, both of my parents are unemployed, I depend on my grandmother´s pension, which isn´t really much – approximately 200 euros a month. So of course, I have to work a lot and manage my budget wisely if I want to escape existential difficulties. High educated people, even PhD graduates experience many difficulties when trying to find a job and often work for low money that is way beyond their qualifications. For students for example it is quite impossible to find a part-time job, while on the other hand, finding one is something very normal in the UK.
What is your connection to Serbia since you left? When you leave, the most important thing that stays are some very personal connections. Had I not had that many loving friends, family, memories, I am not sure I would have ever wanted to go back. I am not saying I never consider coming back to Serbia and try to change things that actually made me leave. Even though Serbia has not been able to provide quality of life for me when I lived there, it gave me knowledge, experience, taught me how to deal with difficult situations and have a somewhat different perspective than regular students in the UK…I treasure that a lot. If I ever had an opportunity to share my experience with youth in Serbia, to inspire them to have courage, believe and develop, I would be more than happy to take it.
As for London – was it difficult for you to decide to go there? To be honest, in the first place I was afraid to go to London. The US was my first choice, I had spent a year there as a high school student, it had been already familiar and I was really disappointed when I realized, it would not be possible for me to go there. However, a positive thing about London was that it was in an English speaking country as a capital of the English state, as a matter of fact. Some of my friends had already started their studies in Vienna, Germany, Italy, the US, and I knew the troubles they had been through to learn the language.. It is somewhat ironic that because of economic reasons I came to study in one of the most expensive cities in the world, but you know what – sometimes you have to do bizarre things and have faith in yourself in order to find your own way.
Is there any funny story from your life in London that you would like to share? Definitely so! I could tell you actually about my first day in London. I didn’t really know where I was going to live… I just packed my suitcase, which was around 30kg and fell apart while on the airplane, so I had to drag it around London…When I came from Heathrow to the central London, the main idea and mission was to find where I was going to sleep that night. I didn’t know anyone and had no clue the structure of the city. At first I stayed in some youth hostels, but couple of days later I moved to Kensington - I need to say that because it in fact is the most posh area in London and it´s quite ironic that the first affordable apartment I found was in that area.
Were there any cultural differences you had to adjust to? Ironically, it was actually really hard to adapt to the language. I know it sounds weird, I thought I knew English very good when I came, but the accent and slang are so different, that sometimes I really didn´t have a clue what people were saying. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for students in Vienna, for example, who did not know German at all and had to adapt to all sorts of accents. Speaking of the culture, in London you can find everything from the whole world, it´s very live and international, you can easily meet new people and I never had a feeling that I was different because I was a Serbian student. However, what I find for example bizarre are people on the tube, especially how they dress up. They don´t mind how the things they wear don´t really go together, or how extravagant or weird they are. Running shoes and a suit, that´s my favorite. I find it very interesting that people here don´t mind the style that much, it shows you that London is a huge city, where people simply don´t care what others think about them.
When we speak about economy and finances – what do you think should be the role of money in young people´s lives? You know when you say money, I sometimes think it is the biggest problem world has, because everything is dependent on money. You need money do to almost anything you want. I don´t mean just pure shopping, I also mean covering existential needs, having some sort of a standard, investing in education… It all costs.. Sometimes one´s talent cannot be fully developed because of the money. I strongly believe that money should be used for development of oneself, one´s intellect and one´s dreams. Unfortunately, it isn´t used in those ways, or at least not as much. Especially here it´s all about business – even at university a lot of my friends already start their own companies, we literally learn how to make money and how to exploit other people to get it and I think it is very wrong.
Now that you´re almost finished with you bachelor, what are your plans for the future? I am definitely perusing my education further to do a master degree, possibly in Vienna at the Diplomatic Academy, but also I am planning to develop an organization in Serbia with a goal to educate young people and motivate and inspire them to take action in their lives and in their communities. I am planning to develop a concept of non-profit and not-for-profit in people’s lives so they may act to obtain a happy standard of living and thus make their communities better. Academia and social entrepreneurship is where I see myself. Recently I had a chance to speak to Baroness Patricia Scotland of Asthal and she said that instead of setting a goal to become something great in the future, one should focus on doing great things in present.
Thank you very much for this interview Stefan!
Thank you for the opportunity!