At age 15, British homeschooler Nika Strok Underwood is already qualified to attend one of her country’s most prestigious universities.
She was only 12 when she contacted admissions officials at Oxford and Cambridge to ask about their acceptance standards. By age 14, she’d completed the academic component of these requirements by finishing three Advanced Level courses.
In the United Kingdom, A-Levels are the most rigorous courses high schoolers can take. Students generally enroll in two or three of these between the ages of 16–18, in hopes of earning high enough grades to be accepted into college.
Despite completing her A-Levels in French, Latin, and geology, Nika was told that she would have to wait to enter Cambridge because the university does not accept students under the age of 18.
However, she doesn’t view having to wait as a setback because she plans to spend the next three years doing what she loves—learning.
Since homeschooling grants her the flexibility to pursue the subjects that interest her, Nika intends to take as many as eight more A-Level courses—a goal she said is “apparently unheard of.”
So, are her academic aspirations too ambitious?
“I don’t think so,” she said. “My mum always says, ‘Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.’ So, it can only go upwards.”
New Country, New Places to Learn
Nika’s accomplishments most certainly derive from her own gifts. But she was free to develop these talents thanks to her parents, who were willing to adjust their family’s lifestyle to improve their children’s education.
These changes include homeschooling and moving to various locations throughout Europe to access different learning opportunities. Nika’s parents, Julia and Shaun, have jobs that allow them to work remotely from just about anywhere.
They first homeschooled their older son Ivan and daughter Annie when they lived in Ireland. Subsequent moves took them back home to England, on to Croatia, Austria, France, and then back to England.
Annie and Ivan are both finishing master’s degrees in criminology this year, and then they’ll be starting another master’s program in marine biology. During their homeschool journey, they also enjoyed studying music and many other activities across Europe.
As for Nika, she switched to homeschooling after a stint in a traditional French school. Her program at home allowed her to proceed at her own pace, which turned out to be quite accelerated.
Julia recalls local education officials being impressed with Nika when they assessed her in accordance with the previous homeschool law in France.
“They said, ‘No child in France can know as much as Nika knows,’” Julia said.
In addition to her advanced academic goals, she pursues a wide range of interests and activities.
She rides horses, plays piano, dances, programs computers, trains in martial arts—and crochets toy animals to give as gifts to family and friends.
Nika is particularly passionate about languages, an interest she said provided her with a creative outlet when she and her family were quarantined on the Croatian island of Murter for several months during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She translated a local author’s book from Croatian to both French and English. The book was about the situation of the island and its children during lockdown, and what it was like to be stranded there. Local children drew illustrations for the work.
“It was a mad period,” recalled Nika. “It was loads of work—lots of research—but [it] kept me occupied, and I loved it. And all those little ones who were drawing, they were occupied, too, and we felt so much better.”
One of Nika’s main present projects involves her interest in environmental stewardship.
She founded her own organization, Teens and Friends United Nature Conservation Organization (TAFU), which provides a forum for likeminded youth to appreciate nature and wildlife, discuss these topics in-depth, and plan events to clean up trash and other illegal dumping.
Nika's especially excited to announce TAFU’s student photography contest, which is accepting entries through April 22.
“We have world-known wildlife photographers as judges,” she said. “It’s going to be a super opportunity for teen photographers to get recognized.”
Nika also runs the nature and conservation student interest group of Minerva’s Virtual Academy, the online school where she continues to take several courses. She is a member of a student mentoring group as well.
In between all these activities, Nika plans to keep preparing for college, where she hopes to pursue degrees in music and earth sciences.
Meanwhile, when she reflects on her experiences, she only feels thankful for everything she’s been able to do and what the future might bring.
“I can tell you that I loved being homeschooled,” Nika said. “I felt loved, respected, and my parents gave us such an amazing upbringing. They were and still are opening doors for me and my siblings without pushing us to enter any of them, and firmly believing that we could do anything we want.”
Photo credit: Photos courtesy of the family.