Profile of French Alumni n°6 : Lim Kah Bin, Programme manager of the French Double Degree Programme at National University of Singapore (NUS)
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In order to celebrate the launch of the France Alumni in Singapore platform on 14 January, the Embassy of France invites you to discover each week the profile of a Singaporean student, who has studied in France, regarding his/her journey. This week, we met Lim Kah Bin, in charge of the French Double Degree Program at the National University of Singapore (NUS). He received the Officier’s and Knight’s title in the Order of the Academic Palms
Can you first briefly introduce yourself ?
My name is Lim Kah Bin. I am Singaporean, I studied in Singapore until 1978, when the French government gave me a scholarship to do my studies in France at the Ecole Centrale de Paris. In 1981, I returned to Singapore and started teaching at the National University of Singapore. I’m still there today.
Can you tell us about your educational background and your experience in France?
Thanks to my good academic results, in 1978, I had the great fortune, to obtain this scholarship for France. That year, there were only two French scholarships for higher education: it was an honor to get one of them.
I was admitted at the Ecole Centrale Paris after a Bachelor in Singapore. So I obtained from Centrale a DEA in 1979 and a Doctorate of Engineering in 1981. My specialty was metallurgy.
I studied French for 5 weeks before leaving, that is to say nothing! When I arrived, I could not even buy a baguette! I spent two months in Vichy to take intensive French courses. French is a beautiful language, but very difficult. At Central, all courses were in French! But I became a Chinese tutor with French students, and I improved a lot by helping others to learn Chinese. I also learned a lot in the street, communicating with people in restaurants and cafes. It led to some problems. In a homework, I wrote "the temperature is bloody ("vachement" in French) high! ". I thoroughly enjoyed learning French. Even today I read a lot in that language.
Can you tell us about your professional background and links with France?
Once back in Singapore, I had to work for the Singapore government. So I joined the National University of Singapore (NUS) as a lecturer. I started working on robotics and image processing.
I was always committed to thank France for the scholarship she granted me. So when NUS suggested I could set up a cooperation program with France, I saw this as an opportunity to give back to France what she gave me. This is the French Double Degree Program (FDDP). We thought that the program would not be attractive if students had to join preparatory classes in France before joining the engineering school. We managed to negotiate so Singaporean students would directly integrate the school. How to ensure the quality of students? By only selecting the top 5-10%. With the French, if you work with reason and "good faith", it succeeds. After 3 years we have managed to convince the best French schools: Polytechnique, Ecole Centrale Paris, Telecom Paris, Paris Mining, Civil engineering, Supélec. NUS is the only school in the world that has managed to work with these top French engineering schools. We are very proud of this program. It is a showcase for NUS.
In 2000, I had a second opportunity to work with France since I was offered to create a Franco-Singaporean laboratory in Paris: the Sondra project. This project was even more demanding. Sondra stands for all our partners (Supélec, ONERA, DSTA and NUS), but in Greek it also means the protector of peace! I was appointed director of this project. Today it is still at Supélec. The negotiations were tough. It’s a great satisfaction seeing this project through the project after 5 years.
Here are the two things I do to thank France. The work is not finished yet. Today, I make sure to maintain these programs. This is a big challenge to convince young Singaporeans to go to France, often for a longer time, compared with English-speaking countries where they already know the language. When they return, they do not regret. Many senior people in Singapore today were educated in France.
What have you learned from your experience in France?
As you can see, France has had a tremendous influence on my career, but also on my vision of life. During my three years in France, I learned many things, of course the language but also about life in general. How to live independently? How to overcome difficulties when they arise? I learned to step back for example. I remember one time when I spent the night in the metro station Châtelet-Les Halles (in Paris), after missing my last train, talking to people, it was a very good experience. I had the chance to meet lots of great people. I went to visit them in Britanny, to eat pancakes; Chamonix to ski. I always kept the link with France via the French Alumni, which I chaired in the 80s. I still travel regularly to France to visit my friends, almost every year. I thank France and the French government for giving me the chance to study in France. Whenever I begin a speech, I begin by saying, "Why have I worked so hard for France? To thank awarding me this scholarship. " In Chinese, there is an idiom: 飲水 思源, which means "when you drink water, think of its source". I do not forget what I owe to France. Long live France! Vive la France !