SOAS University of London

Alasdair MacDermott

I have never forgotten the hard work involved in learning Japanese, have never regretted taking the course as it was the greatest linguistic challenge I think I could face.

Why did you choose SOAS as the place to study?

The Foreign Office sent me to SOAS to follow the first year of a Japanese course, following which I did another intensive year at the British Embassy School at Kamakura near Tokyo, sitting the Foreign Office Higher Japanese exam - and passing! There followed eight years in all of duty in Tokyo, lastly as Press Officer, for visits such as that of Prince Charles and the Princess of Wales and Mrs Thatcher.

What do you do now and what practical skills did you gain from SOAS to prepare you for this?

I am now retired, have never forgotten the hard work involved in learning Japanese, have never regretted taking the course as it was the greatest linguistic challenge I think I could face. Learning enough Spanish to live for part of the year in Spain, as I now do, read in Spanish and follow Spanish historical series on Television was easy compared!

What would be a seminal moment, event, achievement, academic or person during your time at the School?

At the end of our year at SOAS, we took the Foreign Office Intermediate Japanese Exam. Passing it was more a great relief than a seminal moment. It was going to be alright, I could do it, I would get to the end one day! Phew!

Can you share a memorable SOAS story?

I have no particular story to share although we did have a Malaysian student who caught out even our hard working tutor. He made us practise grammar patterns and he used one on the lines of "noun - yes, I have eaten it". He thought he fooled us by mixing up the Japanese word for prawn "Ebi" with that for snake "Hebi". Our Malaysian colleague replied that, yes, he had eaten it. Ha! pounced our tutor. I said snake not prawn. Yes, I know, came the reply, I have indeed eaten snake and understood you well. First and only defeat for tutor.

What three words symbolise the School's next 100 years?

Extraordinary, valuable, wonderful.