Joris is a 24-year-old Belgian-German national who has recently begun his journey with EDHEC Online. After completing his Bachelor’s in International Business at the Artevelde University of Applied Sciences in Gent, Belgium, and after gaining some international experiences in South Africa and Canada, Joris currently resides in the Netherlands. For the past 2.5 years, he has worked as an account manager for Innova Market Insights, an international market intelligence company.
Wishing to further invest in himself and his career, Joris made the decision to enroll in the Online MSc in International Business Management at EDHEC. We spoke with him to learn more about the journey and reasonings that ultimately led up to him choosing to study remotely with EDHEC Online.
Could you tell us about yourself?
Joris Geerdens: Hello, I’m Joris Geerdens and I am originally from Belgium and Germany. However, I’m living in the Netherlands right now. So I did the five-and-a-half-hour drive to Paris today, just for the induction session [ndlr: .
EDHEC Online: I can say, it’s so courageous of you!
Joris Geerdens: I think it’s important to make a good first impression, because it’s an online course and most of the classes will be online, events will be online. That’s why I think at least I wanted to know who I spoke to for all these past months, who will be my peers also just to make a first connection, so [I can ask] if I have a question — to lower the barrier. I’m in sales, so I’m used to driving a lot of hours. I will be driving back tonight because I have to work tomorrow. That’s why I will still be just before the curfew of the Netherlands, which is at 1:00 am, at home.
EDHEC Online: OK. I hope you do not have an eight a.m. meeting tomorrow.
Joris Geerdens: No, no, luckily not.
What are you doing now?
Joris Geerdens: I’ve been living in the Netherlands for three years now.
I graduated with my bachelor’s in international business management with a focus on international entrepreneurship. As part of my studies I had an international year — an Erasmus semester in Vancouver, Canada and a semester in the Netherlands.
For my internship, I worked for a consulting company for six months in The Hague.
And after that internship, I decided to stay in the Netherlands, not working for the same company, but I decided to work in a sales-related job.
When did you start to think about going back to school?
Joris Geerdens: At that moment during the internship, I started to think that a master’s could really be an added value, but I didn’t really know what to do. So I was like: OK, what now? Should I study? Because the Belgian way is to study and then work. And that’s it. Nothing in between.
But I decided I want to do things in my own way: start working and see what I like. So I’ve now had a sales business development role for two-and-a-half years, and I’ve got to a point where I want to do something else. I’m in a bit of a transition phase right now as well, so this master’s could be a really good opportunity.
Because I didn’t start by looking for a master’s degree at first. I first wanted to school myself with a bit more in the project management side of things.
EDHEC Online: So just developing the specific skills.
Joris Geerdens: Exactly.
How did you choose your programme?
Joris Geerdens: I was looking for a certificate at the beginning. That’s how it started, but then I didn’t really find the certificate that sparked my interest. They were all expensive for not a lot of added value. And that’s why I started to look at master’s degrees.
My thought was: I have a couple of years of experience right now, so let’s look at master’s. At first I looked in the Netherlands, as it was nearby, for a face-to-face programme, but content-wise I wasn’t happy, so then I also looked more to Belgium, not just at universities but also business schools.
The problem there was that they didn’t have very good online solutions in the Covid context — I think it was in April or May 2019 and Covid was here to stay, that was clear at the moment.
My girlfriend, who is also just finishing her master’s right now herself, she’s doing everything online right now, probably until the end of the year. So I thought, why am I looking for a face-to-face master’s?
Because even if it’s face to face at the beginning, it’s got to be online. So I started to look for something which is specialised and online. I started to look for that, saw a lot in the UK, out of University of Essex and so on. However, the credibility of a lot of those universities was not as good as I expected. I ask a lot of critical questions about what partnerships they had, and if it was a master’s degree that I could also use in Belgium, for example.
EDHEC Online: The international recognition of the diploma?
Joris Geerdens: For sure. You can use it in the UK, very well, but outside, not really. And I’m not keen on going to the UK right now and I would like to at least have European recognition, maybe global, if that’s possible, and then I actually talked with my girlfriend, who was also a former EDHEC student.
Why did you choose the EDHEC Online MSc?
So she recommended EDHEC, but since I do all my financing myself, it was quite pricey for me. That’s why I first was a bit doubtful.
But then, after I had all the interviews, I could see there were a lot of valuable partnerships. You have classes from the CEO of Fleury Michon, for example, companies who I also talked to in my current job. So I’m thinking this is a real added value that there’s not only the content but also the network you can build from it and the job opportunities you can get.
Next to all the things you can learn out of the course, the network you can get from it, the partnerships are a ticket to get you into a better company, or a nicer career. Because at the moment I’m in a shift in my career. I’ve worked now as an account manager for the last three years.
So the first half year I worked for a consulting firm, but then I switched to a market intelligence company.
EDHEC Online: And now you’re account manager for this company.
Joris Geerdens: Exactly. However, like I said, I’m in a bit of a transition phase towards a trader in ingredients for a company similar to Lactalis even though Lactalis is also manufacturing, not just trading.
EDHEC Online: I understand now the link with Fleury Michon.
Joris Geerdens: Exactly. But I’m actually moving from the Netherlands to Antwerp at the moment, changing jobs to the trader position after two-and-a-half years and starting with EDHEC, so it’s kind of a new start during these Covid times.
And it’s also because of these Covid times that I’ve looked at these opportunities. But before I was mainly working as an account manager first for Belgium and the Netherlands, and then last year there was also a lot of focus on Scandinavia.
Before Covid, I travelled mostly to Denmark, Finland and Norway. But that, of course, came to a stop at a certain point. And then I thought business is quite slow at the moment, so for two-and-a-half years I thought it could be a good opportunity to start studying again. And as I didn’t get a part-time solution from the company I was working for I decided to look for something else to have a new start.
Which added value at EDHEC retained your attention specifically?
Joris Geerdens: What I like about EDHEC compared to other universities is that a lot of universities in Belgium are very knowledge based. So you need to know a lot, study a lot, but at the end you don’t really know how to apply it.
And that’s the opposite of EDHEC. OK, you have to know the theory, but if you can’t apply your theory it’s a bit useless. At EDHEC everything you learn, you will apply in project form in a case study.
I think the consulting project is a perfect example: you’re not just writing a thesis about a subject that might be interesting. No, you’re really working on a new strategy or recommendations for a new strategy for a particular company. Something that could be really useful and also show the skills you have — it can be perfect proof of what you have learned during this 15-month programme. Something you can really use in business. You need to know a lot of stuff to become an engineer, for example.
But if you’re in business, you need to know how to apply them and you need the soft skills to apply them, too. And that’s what I was missing in a lot of other degrees that I was looking for. And I didn’t want to just go to university every day and learn everything, but I really wanted to learn to apply. And that’s what EDHEC stands for, I think.
Did you have any fears about the online format before starting?
Joris Geerdens: Well, I’ve been thinking about the flexibility and the deadlines because I will be working straight about three to four days per week and certain days I have to be at work or I will have meetings. So I wonder how flexible the programme is and what do I have to attend at certain times during work time.
And that’s still my biggest question. Also with exams, I think the exams are going to be the toughest one to combine with work, because I don’t want to go back to just student life, I want to be a professional worker who is studying on the side to develop my skills.
What about the financing? You said that you’re financing on your own.
Joris Geerdens: I come from a one-parent family with three kids. So let’s say I don’t have it bad at home, but it’s not that there is so much money to pay for a considerable investment. However, I have been working since I was 15, doing student jobs all the time, saving money from that. In Belgium and in Sweden you can make quite good money because, as a student, you don’t pay taxes. Being a student it’s a really good deal in Belgium. So I could save a considerable amount then.
And also I work now for three years. I wasn’t earning too bad, so I have saved enough to pay for it. So I just need to break even. I don’t need to make money in any way, but just so I can finance my life for the next 15 months until of course I get a full-time job again.
So you already see this online master as an investment for later?
Joris Geerdens: Of course, you have to see it as an investment. Because it’s an investment in myself. In Belgium you pay 1,000 euros for a whole year of studies at the university. And it’s great, they are really great universities. I get a lot of comments from my family asking why are you paying this much? But I also don’t think they see the whole picture.
As with a study at KU Leuven in Belgium, for example, you pay 500 euros per semester. But with a degree at Leuven I would be studying at least forty hours per week, to maintain everything. At least here I have a lot more flexibility and because of that, the ability to also work on the side. So if you count the tuition fee minus the amount of pay I will get during the year and compare that, then it’s actually even.
EDHEC Online: Inès told us that. For her, even more in this Covid situation, she doesn’t want to waste her time. With the Online MSc, she can continue her studies and get one year of professional experience at the same time.
Joris Geerdens: I fully agree. I think that is also one of the reasons why I wanted to do the master’s now. It was good timing after two-and-a-half years of working there and wanting to do something else. And now because of Covid, everything is a bit on the lower end, I feel like, also in my work.
EDHEC Online: It’s a good time to be part-time, and not fully focused because it’s a bit flat so you don’t miss too much.
Joris Geerdens: Yeah, I hope after Covid it’s going to spike up again and then I’ll be there with my master’s degree applying at one of the bigger companies.
EDHEC Online: And one of the advantages of this online MSc is to be internationally oriented.
With your parents, your life, and your friends you are international at home. But do you also have an international career in mind?
Joris Geerdens: Yes, I would like to seek an international position.
For example, I can make the comparison because between my high school and my bachelor’s degree, I spent half a year in South Africa doing some volunteer work. So it taught me that it is a really nice place to stay as a holiday, but I would never be able to work there.
It taught me that I would really like to stay in a westernised country, like North America, Europe, Australia or some parts of Asia like Singapore, Hong Kong. Definitely one of the bigger cities.
Before I decided to move to Antwerp, we were also thinking about Hamburg, Luxembourg or Paris, for example. We chose Antwerp because it was a bit more convenient, but we’re actually thinking of going to Australia for a year at least after my degree. But with Covid, I don’t think that will happen for the time being since the borders are closed there.
But there is no rush, I’m just 24 years old. There’s so much out there. I would like to settle but after a couple of years of changing jobs and changing locations.
Belgians are very Belgian minded. Those who don’t live in the big cities like to stay in the country. I’m a bit the opposite of that. I like to just travel. I think I have reinvented myself in all the places where I went, like in Canada or South Africa. I think that’s a great way to become more open-minded. For instance, it helps you to ask yourself how can you work in a different way and how that might be better? It’s challenging but in the long term, it’s definitely nice to gain this perspective.
How do you involve your personal life in this kind of e-learning project?
Joris Geerdens: Indeed, when I will have exams or group work to do, it will have an impact on my personal life. I think, in a way they’re already used to it because I was always kind of the weird one in the family.
As for my girlfriend, she’s actually been doing the same as me: she’s also working part time and she’s doing her master’s at the same time. She will just finish off a year before me, but she knows how it is. And she’s also a Polish French herself, so she’s already an international connection, and we think alike. And my family already knows I’m like that — they always lived in the same place, stayed in the same place, and they know I like to be a bit different in that way.
But I think you can also see studying as kind of a working day. I’m happy that I work now for a couple of years just to have a bit more experience — for me, working is definitely harder than studying sometimes, in its irregularity. And I think because of that understanding, now I can divide my classes more as a working day.
EDHEC Online: You will conduct your diploma as a project.
Joris Geerdens: Yes, for example, if I will work three days per week, I will study three days per week and I have one Sunday to rest or something.
And that’s how I see it. Now, I’m not sure if it’s going to be like that, in terms of time investment, but that’s how I pictured it myself. And that’s how I did with my sales job as well: I had a lot of meetings abroad during the week and every Sunday I just rest. When I go back to study, I’ll try to do it like that as well.