One late afternoon in early March 2020, I stood in front of a room full of my ESMT Berlin EMBA classmates, about to introduce the speakers that would take the floor. The audience consisted of people that had been on this EMBA journey with me for the preceding eighteen months. I had laughed and argued with many of them, agreeing and disagreeing as we worked together on various assignments, our business simulation, and everything else that ESMT threw our way. Of course, there had also been many hours of eating, drinking, and partying together. Now this group and I were gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa, partway through our International Field Seminar, at a visit I had organized to Impact Hub Johannesburg.
This visit, coming towards the end of my EMBA experience, was a great occasion for me to reflect on how the whole thing started. I live in Armenia, where I work as an independent consultant on corporate social responsibility and social entrepreneurship. If you strip back away the fancy talk, this means I’m a freelancer – someone with no boss, but dozens of different clients. It’s a lifestyle I chose for myself when I quit my last full-time job 5 years ago. As a freelancer, I had become a member of Impact Hub Yerevan, which is an organization that runs coworking spaces globally and is generally a cool environment for solopreneurs, start-ups, and other organizations to mix and learn from each other.
It was at Impact Hub Yerevan that I first learned about the opportunity to pursue an EMBA at ESMT Berlin. I was excited for two reasons – the program content seemed great, plus there was the chance to apply for a scholarship. I did not have an employer that could foot the bill, and the tuition plus travel costs were beyond something I could afford – work in Armenia is not at the same pay scale as in Western Europe or North America. There was also an additional cost. Being in Berlin for a week every couple of months and the workload between modules would reduce my capacity for consultancy work to a certain extent. But I dove in headfirst and got the good news a couple of weeks later – I was accepted into the program and had been offered a generous scholarship by Allianz, covering my full tuition and including a travel allowance!
The fall of 2018, when all this started, seems a long time ago now. The group of fifty-plus professionals that I first met in October that year is still on my mind all the time – my phone buzzes with a WhatsApp message or more almost every day. The best part of my ESMT experience has been this group of people. But there are many other contenders, very close to the top spot. The content has been amazing – I enjoyed both the “hard skills” courses like Finance and Operations Management (they pushed me to develop in areas where I was quite weak) as well as the “softer” ones like Decision Making, Organizational Behavior, and Business Ethics (where I had already done plenty of reading before the EMBA but found myself with a lot to learn nonetheless).
It all culminated in an amazing international experience in South Africa in March 2020, with a group of people that I am proud and happy to call my friends. ESMT did not just limit itself to Berlin and South Africa – I did Global Network Week in Mexico City, took small network online courses with universities in Costa Rica and the US, and I learned a lot from my classmates and their experiences in 30+ countries. I don’t know who’s reading these words now – if you’re one of the many great ESMT alumni out there, perhaps my flashback has woken up some memories of your own, with your classmates. If you’re considering ESMT as a place to study, perhaps you can think of it as a “flashforward” – I know that my experience with this business school is not unique, and it makes me happy to think that thousands of people have had a similar experience or will have one in the future.