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Youth & Economics – Vienna Meets London

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Irena Ilic


The world is becoming more and more international every day and it is not that uncommon anymore to be connected to several cities at the same time and migrate with ease. All of us have friends or family strolled around the globe. Their lifestyles and perspectives can sometimes be a great way to gain a little insight in different habits and problems, but also to learn more about our own cities.

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!

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