Nikolai Checkin’s Inside Scoop on Being an International Student

Nikolai Checkin is a freshman hoping to major in finance on a pre-business track at Wake Forest University. Outside of class, Nikolai participates in the school’s club rugby and field hockey teams. He was also recently initiated into Alpha Kappa Psi. Although Nikolai was originally born in New York, he has spent the past 14 years of his life living in London. Her Campus got the inside scoop about what it’s like to be an international student with American roots. 

Her Campus: Why did you decide to come to school in the U.S.?

Nikolai Checkin: I just wanted a change of scenery. I think the main thing about being in a big city is it’s really nice to be able to walk out of your house and know if you’re hungry there’s food here — the grocery store is two blocks away — but I felt like I wanted to change it up, go somewhere more rural. I think it’s [also] probably because I would come back to visit my Grandma and we I’d always talk about the whole living here in the U.S.. I always wanted to come back and live here and maybe that’s just because I would come during the summers and I wouldn’t have work to do. But it always seemed like the thing that was most natural that I was going to go to university here in the U.S. after I finished my high school in London.

HC: How did you feel about moving so far away for university?

NC: I was really excited and I didn’t think I was going to be homesick. I was here and I was a little nervous because it’s going to be kind of weird being the British kid here. But overall I was really, really excited to get a change of lifestyle and be exposed to this whole different way of living. I didn’t expect to get homesick and then when I made the move from Johnson to Luter, I kind of lost that group of friends there. When that happened, straight after I kinda wished I was in London but it’s passed now. But, of course, I miss London massively. I can’t wait to go back. 

HC: How did you choose to come to Wake?

NC: I had an international applications advisor in my high school and she would always have meetings with me. One time she asked me for my high school resume and I handed that in to her. She took a look at it and said well check out these universities and one of the big ones that she mentioned was Wake. So, I checked out Wake and it seemed to be a perfect fit for what I was looking for as well as the ability to do so many different things on campus, like if you want to join different clubs you can. Although, the clubs I’ve joined haven’t been that diverse, the opportunity is always there which is really nice to know. 

HC: What’s the major difference between universities in the U.S. and in the U.K.?

NC: Here, you can have a chemistry major in an art class or a finance major taking some sort of geology course. There’s so many different things you can take here, even if it’s unrelated to your course it might still help you out with credits for graduation or just out of your own personal interest you can just take it. In the U.K., everything specializes very early and once you decide what you’re doing you’re just going to stay there. So, for the final two years of high school, I only took three subjects which were physics, math, and psychology. After that you go into university, although university is only three years long, you have to choose straight away. If you know you want to go into the field of finance, you have to focus on an economics courses with a small thing in math. If you want to do art, you go straight into art. It’s very specialized and I just felt trapped. I like to have a lot of different interests and things to learn about. 

HC: What’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed between people in the U.S. in comparison to people in the U.K.?

NC: Americans are a lot more open. It’s easier to read people about how they’re feeling or what they’re thinking about compared to Brits who are very stone-faced. The social aspect here it’s a lot easier to meet new people and talk to new people compared to London where there’s already a cultural aspect of sharing too much is a little bit socially inappropriate. That’s their whole mentality so people end up sharing less and it becomes harder sometimes to get to know someone else that you’re meeting for the first time because they don’t want to share that much. Whereas here, people are more open and it makes that a lot easier to meet new people and get to know them a little better. Which I’ve enjoyed because I like to meet new people, I like to get to hear their stories and learn more about them.

HC: What do you miss most about London?

NC: For me, a big thing in London is I’ll walk outside my house and I’ll be able to see a little plaque on the wall that says that this person lived here. It’s always nice to see those little historical bits in London on some of the buildings or just going to historic areas that have been there for hundreds and hundreds of years. Coming here, in general, America as a country is 200 or 300 years old so it doesn’t have that same amount of history that a lot of London does. That’s something that I miss a lot, the whole historical aspect because it’s a thing I took for granted when I was there. There’s just certain cultural things I miss. 

HC: What are you most looking forward to going home for break?

NC: My dog and my parents. I can’t wait to see them because I didn’t even get to see my parents for Thanksgiving. I FaceTime them quite a lot, so I still talk to them, but I think it’ll be really nice to hang out with them again. I’m also really looking forward to that whole London Christmas vibe. London Christmas when the skies are clear at night with the lighting and all that it’s just such a nice, rich, deep blue color in the sky. I can’t wait to see that.