As a recent Masters graduate, Zornitsa Licheva did not know what to expect from her future career. She first graduated from her Bachelor’s degree in Communication and Media at Erasmus University Rotterdam (the Netherlands), followed by a Masters in Media and Business at the same institution. She is currently a Content Writer and Editor for international business education at Advent Group. Through this interview, you can follow her experience of studying abroad and learn what it brought to her as a marketing professional and an internationally-oriented person.
Can you tell us how you decided to continue your education with a Masters degree?
If I have to be honest, getting a Masters degree was a no-brainer for me – I knew all along that I wouldn’t be satisfied with just a Bachelor’s degree. I come from Bulgaria where your higher education is an area that employers really pay attention to. If you want to land a job in an international and well-established company, your studies will be very important to your employer. Although it’s certainly not impossible to be successful as a Bachelor’s graduate, a Masters degree speaks volumes about your determination to learn and grow. And I kept this in mind when planning both my Bachelor’s and Masters studies.
Then, when it comes to choosing what I wanted to study and where, I suppose I started with the basics. I was doing my Bachelor’s in Communication and Media at Erasmus University Rotterdam and during my second year I started thinking whether I like this professional field and whether I wanted to move elsewhere in Europe. I realised that finance and management studies are not really my thing. I was more passionate about the creative and “human” side of business and marketing. I was quite happy with the university, its reputation and learning facilities, and I also felt inspired and curious in the Netherlands. This is how I decided I had no reason to move elsewhere. In the end, I applied to Erasmus University’s Media and Business Master and I was accepted!
How valuable was your Masters in preparing you for your professional career?
It’s interesting because the value of your studies is not always obvious from the start. Of course, you plan your Masters with your future career in mind but my point is that it helps you in many nuanced ways that you may not even expect at first.
For example, many of the courses I took really emphasised the importance of adopting a customer-centric approach when delivering a product or service. Whether you are working on a marketing campaign for a brand, or outlining a business model for a new project, one of the first questions to ask yourself is always “For whom am I creating value?” We practised with case studies, small in-class assignments, and bigger projects with real-world organisations. Now that I have gained even more experience in my current job, I can really see how I have learned to apply this principle in different work scenarios. It’s exciting!
What types of courses did the programme curriculum consist of?
The Media and Business curriculum consisted of a combination of compulsory core courses and free-choice electives. As part of the core courses, we studied different research methods designed to prepare us for our Master thesis which concludes the programme. We even had a course on digital research methods teaching us how to collect and analyse data from contemporary media channels such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
As for our electives, courses covered specialised topics such as corporate social responsibility communication, new media marketing, and media entrepreneurship, to name just a few. I would say they were quite diverse and really allowed students to choose whether they wanted to focus on a particular subject or explore less familiar topics.
How practical was the programme and did you have internships or projects for real clients?
Doing an internship was not obligatory since it was a one-year programme and it was already packed with quite a few courses and thesis meetings across all four terms. However, we worked with real companies on many different projects. For one of my electives, dedicated to social media campaigns, I collaborated alongside some of my classmates with a local cinema to devise an innovative social media strategy for them. We met the cinema’s PR and Marketing manager and we had to think of ways to help them maintain an engaging social media presence. It’s truly exciting to work on real business cases that can have immediate implications.
The entire process is very interesting from the beginning because it is up to students to find an organisation to collaborate with. So, as a team, we had to contact different companies, convince them to engage with us, and set up a plan to help their social media efforts. You definitely have a feeling of responsibility and you learn to take ownership of your work.
Did you get involved in any extracurricular activities or student jobs that enriched your overall learning experience and career prospects?
There were quite a lot of extracurricular activities available. The university has its own gym and sports facilities as well as tennis courts. Many of my peers also took advantage of taking very affordable courses in Dutch and many other languages taught by native speakers who were also current students at the university. This experience allowed them not only to improve their language skills but also to meet and interact with new people and learn about different cultures.
Students also had the chance to take part in actual research projects as study participants in our university research lab. I took part in several experiments testing different research theories. This was extremely interesting because I got to experience what it’s like to be on the other side of research.
Another side project of my own which I really enjoyed was volunteering for various local festivals and cultural events. Rotterdam is very multicultural and offers diverse events every week. So, in my desire to immerse myself in the culture, meet people, and get to know new places, I was an active volunteer at film festivals, art exhibitions, and music events. I didn’t have to do anything complicated or even related to my future career path, but these experiences were definitely enriching and inspiring.
What was the emphasis on networking and did you get to attend any networking events?
The great thing about university life is that you can network anywhere and with anyone. I would say this activity is taken quite seriously at Erasmus University and at the programme I attended. There were weekly events hosted on campus such as presentations of industry professionals who would visit our university and talk about their work. And, of course, even a lecture or a presentation is a great opportunity to network because you get to meet these highly experienced people as well as students from other faculties that you don’t get to meet during classes.
Another valuable opportunity was when a group of students and our faculty organised a networking cocktail where we met professionals from companies such as Microsoft and Vice. There was also a photographer on-site and we were able to get a professional picture to use in our CVs/resumes and LinkedIn profiles. Overall, students at Erasmus University are very ambitious and curious, so gaining access to similar events is not difficult at all.
How does your study abroad experience help you in your current job?
My current job as a content writer and editor for international business education requires good communication skills, an understanding of different cultural norms, and awareness of international business education trends. Completing both my Bachelor’s and Masters degrees abroad actually taught me much more than just these skills. I learned to develop them over time and to adapt them to different contexts and audiences when needed. I learned to feel at ease in my communication with people from all over the world. And I learned how valuable it is to be able to tell the stories of these people and to help them walk the same path that you have already been through as a student.
If you could give one piece of advice to prospective Masters applicants from all around the world, what would it be?
My advice would be to research the curricula of different Masters programmes in advance. The available courses and electives can always be found on the school website, usually with detailed descriptions of the course content and learning outcomes for students. This will help you see how innovative the programme is, what its focus is, how flexible it is, etc. It’s not possible to get this type of information simply from the name of the programme. You may even contact professors and lecturers teaching particular courses and ask them whatever you are interested in. I never thought of this approach when getting to know the Masters programme I applied to, but I think it could be quite useful in determining whether you will end up liking it or not.