Name: Zahidah Mohamad Sharif
Course Studied: Master in Sustainable Food Technology and Management
University studied at: ISA Lille, France
"Real experience - study with ISA Lille!
Bonjour ! Je m’appelle Zahidah. J’ai passé 2 ans en France à L’ISA Lille dans le programme de Master en Management Durable Des Productions Agro-Alimentaires, grâce au programme de bourse MARA du gouvernement Malaisien. J'ai obtenu mon diplôme en décembre 2015. Actuellement, je travaille pour Cargill Cocoa et Chocolat en Belgique".
Hello! My name is Zahidah. I spent 2 years in France at ISA Lille in the Master Food Tech (Sustainable Food Technology and Management), thanks to the MARA scholarship program of the Malaysian Government. I obtained my Master’s Degree in December 2015. Currently, I am working for Cargill Cocoa and Chocolate in Belgium.
What made you decide to study in France?
Before I came to France, I was working as a Halal food industry consultant for 2 years. Europe is one of the biggest markets for the food industry. Furthermore, most of the advanced systems and technologies that apply in food industry come from Europe. It is therefore a real opportunity that not everyone can get, to be able to grab that knowledge and experience. It is even more interesting to be able to apply it back in Malaysia because the sectors of agriculture and food industry in the country are still developing. There is a huge potential and a great need for improvement and skilled professionals in this sectors in Malaysia.
Why France specifically?
I did some survey and found out that not so many Malaysians go to France to study Food Technology. Therefore, I thought that, with such a French experience, I would bring an added-value on the Malaysian job market that would make a difference.
Why did you choose to study at ISA Lille?
ISA Lille is actually the only University in France that provides courses in English in the field of Sustainable Food Technology and Management. During my work as a consultant, I provided solutions for a sustainable management for Halal and Quality in the Food Industry. Sustainable management is very important in providing effectiveness and efficiency of work process in a company. Therefore I was looking for a program focusing on more Sustainable Management for food industry to enhance my skills at the international level. I tried to search such a course in several different countries but I could not find such a Master course, except at ISA Lille.
As a Food Technology student, there are a lot of advantages to be at ISA Lille. The city of Lille is located in the northern part of France in a region called Nord Pas de Calais. This region is well known for its development and research for in the food sector. Therefore there are many food industry leaders in the region, such as Cargill who is very well known in the food business all around the world, Mc Cain which is one of the world’s largest manufacturer of frozen French fries and potato specialties, Roquette which is the largest starch manufacturer in France and second largest in Europe, Sethness-Roquette who is one of the world’s leader of caramel colour manufacturer and Le Saffre which is a very well-known yeast producer around the world.
Masters’ programs at ISA Lille are different and unique because they give the students the opportunity to do 3 professional internships during the program, in companies in France or abroad: students start with an operator internship (3 weeks), then an assistant-executive internship (3 months) and finally they carry out their final executive internship (6 months). I did my first operator internship in Cargill Starch and Sweeteners in Haubourdin, France, for 3 weeks. Even though it is only 3 weeks, I had the opportunity to be a part of the production team and learn how they do their work as an operator and a team leader. During this internship, I also had opportunities to meet their production manager, quality engineer and supply chain manager. They shared their experiences, knowledge and even gave me advice for my future profession.
I did my second internship in Sethness-Roquette, France, as assistant of production manager for 3 months. I had the opportunity to interact much more with the team and was given specific project for caramel production. During this internship, I improved a lot my French language skills because it is a French company and the operators only spoke French. My final internship has been done in Cargill Cocoa and Chocolate, Belgium in the research and development (R&D) team for 6 months. I learned how to make chocolate from it recipe, process and final product example bar chocolate. I did different projects, covering different activities such as recipe, ingredients, processing and regulatory.
What were the main differences you found between studying in your home country and studying in France?
The main differences are the duration of a Master’s degree course, the environment and context of the studies (learning methods) and the real work experience. In Malaysia, a Master course would usually involve classes, exams and short project and it is shorter than in France (1 year). All the Masters’ courses in France last for 2 years. The most interesting difference for me is the real work experience that you can get in France. As a Master’s student, you are given the opportunity to experience real professional immersion in companies, through the internships. Most students have to spend some time immersed in the corporate world.
What did your family and friends think of your decision to study in France?
Since I did not speak any French before I decided to come to France, they were worried. They would have preferred me choosing an English speaking country. Nevertheless, after I explained them that the Universiti Kuala Lumpur (the University which has given me the opportunity for this Master program in France) would provide some intensive French language classes and above all, that the ISA Lille Master’s course I would follow was fully taught in English, they supported me with my decision.
How did you adapt to living in a different country?
Honestly I succeeded in adapting fast. Before I came to France, I was worried about how I would live there without any knowledge of French language. As a foreign student at ISA, it is not a major problem. On arrival, the school offers a “buddy” system, where each foreign student gets a French “buddy” who speaks English and helps you getting used to the new environment. This program helps foreign students adapt to their new life in France. Besides the buddy program, ISA Lille also offers French language courses according to the students’ level, all along the year. Furthermore, there is also a French culture class once a week.
I still remember my first day at ISA when I have been introduced to my buddy, Caroline. Caroline was a student from the third year of the French engineering course. She helped me understand the school system and always encouraged me to improve my French language. Learning French in France is not as difficult as it is when you are in Malaysia, because you can practice and speak the language every day and after 2 month of study, I was able to talk with my friend Caroline in French!
What did you enjoy most about your experience?
I enjoyed learning and working with my international and intercultural classmates. We started the course with 10 different nationalities. They were students from the Philippines, Taiwan, India, Ghana, Turkey, Afghanistan, Mexico, Poland, Slovakia and me from Malaysia. At that time, I was the only Malaysian in ISA Lille and in my class. It is very interesting to experience and share different ways of thinking and visions of the world. Two of the most enjoyable events at ISA were the international dinners and the responsibility module where we have CSR activity in primary school. On this occasion, I could present Malaysian food to children. One of the typical dessert is cake Batik in French called as “Gateau du Batik”. They loved it a lot!
What advice would you give students thinking about studying in Europe?
Go for it! Explore the unknown! You will never know what you are capable to do until you do it.
How do you think your time abroad has helped your studies and/or your career?
Every single minute I spent there was worth it. I never imagined that I will be introduced to an international food company. It happened in my final year when my resume was sent by my ISA Lille supervisor to an international chocolate company in Belgium, Cargill Cocoa and Chocolate. At first, I did not know about it until my Supervisor; Mr Pierre Vandendriesshe and ISA Lille international officer; Mrs. Florence Malaise told me to be ready to receive an email from the company. I received the mail and went for 2 selection interviews. The first one with the R&D Director and then with the R&D Manager. A few weeks later, I had a call from the R&D Director offering me to join the company for my final 6-month internship. I was given a great opportunity to learn Chocolate pilot line set-up technology directly from the R&D Director. Even though it was only for 6 months, it really helped me build up my skills in leadership, intercultural communication and management and it allowed me to improve my French too. Currently, I’m now employed as a Technical Specialist Support in this very same company. I continue to learn more about chocolate and am involved in one of their sustainable management project.
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