Double degree: two degrees and a helicopter view

Illustratie: Elmarye Aaij

    Every year, dozens of Avans students leave the Netherlands to spend two years abroad studying. When they return, they’ve improved their language skills and broadened their outlook. “You only stand out if you have something extra to offer.”

    Huub van den Brok completed the Bachelor of International Business and Management Studies (IBMS) at Avans. He went to Newcastle as part of his bachelor’s degree: “Virtually all the clichés about going abroad are true. The teaching methods were different, I met new people all the time and sometimes felt I was all on my own. These will prove very valuable experiences in the long term because I learnt to adapt quickly to new situations.”

    Avans’s double degree programme offers IBMS students the chance to spend an average of two years studying at a partner institution abroad. Germany, France, England, the US and Italy are among the countries students can choose, with Mexico added to the list this academic year. Students who complete the double degree programme earn two degrees: one awarded by Avans and one by the partner institution.

    No culture of mediocrity
    “It’s amazing to see how driven German students are”, Thomas Schipperen says when talking about his double degree period in Germany. He felt deeply challenged by his fellow students during the two years he spent earning his bachelor’s degree in Reutlingen. “There’s definitely no culture of mediocrity at the ESB Business School. Everyone’s completely focused on their studies. It took a little getting used to but after a while it instilled in me an eagerness to learn”, Thomas says.

    It can be hard to settle in in a new country. Huub: “While the actual distance between the Netherlands and England is not even that great, the British remain a true island people. You can tell that from anything ranging from the way they dress to the way their sometimes refer to other Europeans.” He smiles: “Like they’re not a part of Europe.”

    Employers nowadays more or less expect you to have spent some time abroad

    Learning the language was the hardest part for Thomas. “I really needed to get used to it during the first months. My level of German was fairly reasonable but suddenly everything was in German. I had a tough time”, he admits. “In the end, it’s all a matter of pushing forward. If you can make it through the first two months then you’ll be fine for the rest of your stay.”

    German student Svenja Barth wanted to stand out from the crowd. That’s why she opted for

    the programme in the French town of Reims. “Everyone is studying these days so there is a lot of competition. This means that you will only stand out if you have something extra to offer.”

    Huub also points this out: “Employers nowadays more or less expect you to have spent some time abroad if you want to qualify for a position. Someone who has studied in a different country for two years, has proven they’re not afraid to step out of their comfort zone. It gives you an international mindset, which is crucial particularly when you’re in business.”

    Helicopter view
    Not everyone has what it takes to participate in this programme. Regine Bechler, Lecturer at Avans, explains: “We notice that students find it hard to follow a full curriculum in a different language. You have to be driven and decisive.” Partner institutions, whether they are based in Newcastle, Reutlingen or Reims, have a very limited number of places, according to Bechler. “Only students with good grades are considered.”

    All double degree students have to write their dissertation in the language of the partner institution in order to qualify for two bachelor’s degrees. But Bechler says it’s all worth the trouble. “Graduates speak a second language at a professional level and have immersed themselves in a different culture for two years. The helicopter view they have developed offers them better career prospects”, she explains.

    For Huub, Thomas and Svenja, the spectacular growth of their network was the biggest plus of their time abroad. Networking remains important, no matter whether you are studying, graduating or looking for a different job.

     I have friends from all over the world. This diversity is Reims’s biggest advantage

    “In Reutlingen I met some prominent members of the business community”, Thomas says on that topic. “People like CEOs of corporations such as Red Bull and Mercedes. These meetups really make you excited about going into business yourself. Although Avans also organises these kinds of meetings, in Germany they offered a lot more possibilities.”

    A network like that of the students spans the entire globe. Huub: “It’s thrilling to be in a group with so many different nationalities.” Svenja has had a similar experience. “Italy, Switzerland, Ireland, Sweden, Austria – the list is almost endless. I have friends from all over the world. This diversity is Reims’s biggest advantage.”

    Advantage in the labour market
    Does being a global citizen with two degrees and a broad perspective really give you an advantage in the labour market? For Huub, who graduated in 2015, it certainly did. His traineeship with Philips will most likely take him to Singapore next year. “That may not have happened if I hadn’t completed a double degree. Going abroad definitely broadens the mind.”

    Thomas is also reaping the benefits of his stay abroad. “I received attractive offers from businesses who are focusing on the German market. Being fluent in German and having studied at a German business school definitely gives you an edge over the competition”, he says. Thomas now works at SecureWorks in Amsterdam, a Dutch company that targets the German market.

    He is keen to convince potential double degree students to apply. “Don’t be put off by the idea of education in a different language. You’ll get the hang of it after a couple of months. If you’re adventurous and as ambitious as I am then the double degree programme is definitely for you.”

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