International Student Story - Sothea Sao

Sothea strawberry farm

Sothea Sao is a student in the Master of Global Food and Agricultural Business program. As she approaches the end of her degree, Sothea reflects on her time at the University of Adelaide and what she aspires to do once she has graduated.


Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am fortunate enough to have received a number of opportunities to pursue higher education, despite growing up in a remote village. This is thanks to my parents, who despite being small farmers, kept sending me to schools to finish my undergraduate degree. Studying abroad was always one of my dreams, and with the Australia Awards Scholarship, that dream came true.

I am currently studying a Master of Global Food and Agricultural Business. While undertaking this program, I also had the opportunities to work as an intern and a consultant for five business projects in three Australian and two international organisations. My program has been an incredible journey for me to develop wisdom, skillsets, professional networks, and most importantly to seek adaptive approaches to enhance the performances of Cambodia's agri-food sector.  

Prior to studying in Australia, I worked for several years in market research, product and enterprise development in a field of water, sanitation and agriculture. I have worked with hundreds of farming communities across rural Cambodia and this experience allowed me to understand certain pressing issues along agricultural value chains, as well as to develop my strong interest in searching for effective solutions to agricultural market issues in Cambodia.


Sothea University
What is your goal once you have completed your degree?

I've always believed that there are a number of opportunities to unleash the potential of the Cambodian agri-food sector. Cambodian farmers are able to produce food at good amounts for some commodity markets, like rice and cassava. But I think we need to think beyond commodity. This means that we have to perform differently in marketplaces. I want to be a person who inspires and supports the agri-food industry to think ambitiously about the future of our farm and food business.

After completing my degree at the end of this year, I will return to Cambodia to start consulting services for agri-food small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) on market development and food business management, with the aim of strengthening firm competencies and their positioning in competitive marketplaces.  

In addition, I also believe that leading by example is another key to effectively engage with different stakeholders to enhance our agri-food industry performance in both local and international markets. This is why I will work with my parents on leveraging our current agri-products, like rice, banana and mango, by adding value. This new value potentially helps to diversify new selling channels for our village's raw-products with an increase of extra income for the village. I am keen to employ my skillsets, experience and networks to make food better for market needs, meanwhile promoting sustainable practices along a value chain.  

I admit I do not know everything about the agri-food sector and I have no specific formula to ensure this goal succeeds. But, I strongly believe that being adaptive and agile will be key attributes for me to validate these ideas, to learn and pivot solutions for better in the real business world. Plus, working harder and smarter will potentially enable me to make a difference.


From the COVID-19 pandemic, have you picked up any new hobbies since spending more time at home?

I would say cooking and virtual hangouts with industry experts are my new hobbies. On the bright side, the pandemic has enabled me to learn from and ask questions to Asia Pacific food and beverage industry experts and leaders, through actively participating in a number of free webinars and virtual conferences organised by Food Industry Asia. In addition, I took several online training courses on SMEs preparation for international market development by the International Trade Center.


What do you miss about your home country?

I think food! I do miss korkour soup with Phka Rumduol rice, cooked by my mum. It is a very typical dish at home. Korkour soup is a kind of Cambodian green curry, containing catfish, chicken and mixed varieties of local vegetables. As I write this, it reminds me of the delicious smell – a combination of lemongrass fragrance from freshly made curry paste and aroma in the Cambodian rice. I feel so good just thinking about it. 


Sothea koala

Speed round!


Adelaide Hills or Adelaide's beaches?

Adelaide Hills - I like trekking and I love seeing views of orchards in the hills. 


What's your go-to study playlist?

I often listen to musicals (at the moment Hamilton) or sometimes chill-out music


Reading books or streaming TV/movies?

I love watching TV. Shark Tank is one of my favourite shows. For the Australian version, Janine Allis is my favourite shark. Another show I like is Landline where I learn and explore business innovation and development in agricultural and rural industries across Australia. I also enjoyed watching Neighbours and Killing Eve during the pandemic restrictions. 


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