SOAS University of London

Roy Wilson

There was a freedom of learning for learning’s sake when I began my undergraduate degree in 1995...It’s not what, but how they make you think about the world that is important.

Why did you choose SOAS as the place to study?
A family holiday at the age of 14 in 1991 to visit my grandma and attend a cousin’s wedding in Kenya dramatically increased my curiosity about other countries and cultures. A couple of years later in my sixth form at Pimlico school, I spotted a poster on the wall advertising SOAS. I think the picture was of a masquerade performance in Mali - it made me think of previously unconsidered options after A-levels and types of university degrees I hadn’t thought about before. It seemed natural to follow my interests and motivation and SOAS seemed the best place for the study of Africa.

What did you enjoy about the course?
Every module carried my imagination and curiosity further forward and I simply enjoyed the journey of learning about other places – the politics, history, geography, languages and cultures. There was no pressure or anxiety to learn something for purely practical or instrumental reasons, only the joy of learning and discovering – perhaps a maverick and novel notion in the current climate of perceived practicality and immediate ‘impact’ of degrees! There was a freedom of learning for learning’s sake when I began my undergraduate degree in 1995 (at least in my mind) and I still believe that undergraduate courses should be that way. It’s not what, but how they make you think about the world that is important.

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

Spending the third year of my degree immersed in Swahili in Tanzania, living with a local family in Zanzibar and studying at the Institute of Swahili for the autumn term, and living on the campus of the University of Dar es Salaam for the spring term. So much was learnt and realised during that year, and of course being able to put the first two years of Swahili tuition at SOAS into immediate and effective practice was inspirational and rewarding.

What does ‘The World at SOAS’ mean to you?
On the African studies programme, as with any programme at SOAS, there are ‘outsiders’ to a place - people drawn to the study of a place, culture or language because they are curious about it and want to study more about it. Also, those who are from the place, culture or language under study – all on the same course (‘insiders’ of course also very much learn something new), this is a crucial mix of people on any course, made up of both ‘outsiders’ and ‘insiders’. Wider perspectives and insights on the subject can be gained in this way as well as preconceptions and long-held beliefs challenged on both sides.

Diversity is often talked about in terms of ethnicity but another aspect of diversity is age. One of the most valuable characteristics I appreciated about SOAS during my time there was the generational mix, young adults straight out of high school mixing with people a lot older than them with rich life experience. Again, all on the same courses, a lot more so than at most other universities, challenging each other and realising and appreciating each others’ perspectives sometimes with heated arguments but almost always with mature debates. This is very important and characteristic of SOAS, certainly when I was there in the late nineties.  A university only comprising ‘young’ people is not as rich an environment.

What three words symbolise the School's next 100 years?
The Humanities, Empathy and Humanity