Valentin Vassilev has a Masters degree in International Media Studies from Deutsche Welle Akademie and the University of Bonn as well as a Bachelors degree in Applied Linguistics from the University of Veliko Tarnovo. Valentin is currently a content writer and editor at business education services provider Advent Group. In this interview, he talks about his experience studying abroad and how the Masters degree contributed to his professional growth.

Can you tell us how you decided to continue your education with a Masters degree?

Studying abroad was something that I was certain I would do at some point, and I was lucky enough to find the right Masters programme at the right moment. In a way, I was eager to test myself and see if I could live up to the challenge of pursuing a Masters degree in a different culture, far from home.

At the time I was working in media and realised that if I wanted to become better at what I do I needed to acquire more skills and knowledge. So I started looking for opportunities.  First I narrowed down my search to the UK and Germany, partly because of the languages I know and partly because of the quality of the media there. Then I started comparing the Masters programmes in these two countries. This led me to the International Media Studies Masters programme offered by the academy of Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster. It appealed to me right away. The programme offered a mix of research, lectures and practical experience. It was exactly what I needed.

I was lucky enough to gain admission and get a partial scholarship covering the tuition fees.

How valuable was your Masters in preparing you for your professional career?

My Bachelor’s degree is in Applied Linguistics and I had been working as a journalist for several years. I already had some professional experience before enrolling in the Masters programme, so I don’t know if ‘prepare’ is the right word. But it was indeed valuable in preparing me for career growth. First, I had the chance to witness how a big media organisation works and what independent media and responsible journalism look like.

Apart from this, I acquired video and audio editing skills, learnt how to record and edit digital audio, as well as various interviewing techniques. These are very valuable skills, and although my current job is primarily focused on content writing and editing, I hope to be able to use them in the future as the company is diversifying its content formats.   

My experience living in a foreign country was also valuable. I had studied the German language and culture during my Bachelor’s degree programme, but studying in the country allowed me to immerse myself in them. I was introduced to a culture where the pressure to do things right is immense and where settling for less than your best is highly unusual. This was new to me.  

For example, I had never worked in TV before enrolling in the programme, which meant I had no experience working with a video camera. I thought my instructors would show leniency given my lack of experience when rating my projects, but I was wrong. They expected me to deliver a top-notch project. This was a harsh but very valuable lesson for my professional development.

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It was difficult at the beginning and it took some getting used to, but once I accepted that I couldn’t make compromises in my work things started to improve.

I am currently working in an international company, but more importantly, we serve a truly global audience. We also serve prospective Masters applicants. The intercultural awareness, which I developed while studying abroad, and my personal Masters experience, enables me to share and better understand the perspective and needs of our audience.

What types of courses did the programme curriculum consist of?

The programme prepares students for careers in the communications and media industries – the field I chose after my Bachelors in Applied Linguistics. It offers a mix of research, lectures, and practical experience in a four-semester, full-time programme. The curriculum combines the disciplines media and development, journalism, communications, and media management with courses like Media, Education and Communication, Media Economics, Media and Communication Science, and Empirical Methods. The curriculum is made up of 16 modules including the Masters Thesis. The courses were delivered either in German or English, so it was a truly bilingual experience.

How practical was the programme and did you have internships or projects for real clients?

Practice-oriented projects were a vital part of the programme. All students go through journalism training and have to present practical media projects at the end of each of the first three semesters. Students work independently on reports for TV, online, radio, and print. They have the creative freedom to come up with ideas and are encouraged to be bold as they look for stories or people to interview. The practical media courses make up about a quarter of the total academic credits.

In terms of internships, they are easy to come by because the academy is in Deutsche Welle’s main building in Bonn and students can just go to any department and ask for internship options. Most of the students have taken advantage of this opportunity, including me. DW provides information in 30 languages, so you have ample choice, irrespective of where you come from.

Did you get involved in any extracurricular activities or student jobs that enriched your overall learning experience and career prospects?

Yes, I did. In addition to the internship, I worked as a freelancer for a news agency in my home country during most of my studies. But it was more a matter of necessity than anything else. As I mentioned, I got a partial scholarship covering the tuition fees, but I still had to work to cover my living expenses.

There were many extracurricular opportunities. I personally played for Deutsche Welle’s football team. Some of my classmates joined a dance troupe, and others participated in various student associations. But other than that, the nature of the programme encouraged us to look for interesting and unusual things that can count as extracurricular activities. For example, as part of one of my practical projects I got the chance to witness life in a German fraternity. Fraternities in Germany and Austria are secretive male-only student associations which don’t like media attention. They are keen on upholding traditions and a particular understanding of manhood. With a little help and luck I secured interviews with “fraternity brothers” in Bonn and was allowed a peek into their daily life. Some of my classmates did a piece on a local rock band; others visited a ballet dance club. Another one accompanied a garbage truck driver for a whole day. There were many opportunities to immerse yourself in life outside the classroom.     

Was there a great emphasis on networking and did you get to attend any networking events?

There wasn’t a distinct emphasis on networking, but it was inevitable, so to speak. The class consisted of 30 people from 25 countries. Even if you are not intent on building a network, you are provided with one spanning from the United States to Cambodia. We were a close-knit group and I still maintain contact with many of my former classmates and can count on their professional assistance if it is necessary.  

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In addition, we were in constant contact with other students in the academy and there were many conferences and workshops, which provided additional networking opportunities. We also visited the headquarters of several publishers in North Rhine-Westphalia and had the chance to meet the executives running them. Additionally, many of our lecturers and guest lecturers were established journalists, who were open to a chat and exchange of contact details.     

If you could give one piece of advice to prospective Masters’ applicants from all around the world, what would it be?

I would advise them to fully focus on the preparation for admission once they settle on a programme. Find out what documentation you need to provide as well as the exams you need to take. I would also encourage them to study abroad if they want to expand their horizons, acquire knowledge and skills, and face new challenges. It will be worth it.