Article from 13th March 2003

Ian Frame - One year at Battersea

My first and last experience as a student at Surrey was one enjoyable and enlightening year (1967 to 1968) at the furniture repository at the north end of Falcon Road, Battersea, before the campus was built in Guildford. It was always referred to as a repository rather than a warehouse so I knew I was going to a classy place.

A couple of years before Surrey I had studied Spanish and Portuguese at King’s, London. The contrast was striking and delightful. The first thing that hit me and continued to please me was Surrey’s informality. At King’s the students seemed to be preparing themselves to become members of the establishment (many were already) and the Sub-Dean (what a title!) even expressed pleasure in a newsletter that not many of the students wore jeans!
And we never called the lecturers by their forenames and they for their part always addressed us as Mr this or Miss that. At Surrey it was forenames on all sides straight away and the atmosphere was so relaxed that I started regretting on my first day that I hadn’t gone to Surrey rather than London four years earlier (but, on reflexion, maybe Surrey had not come into existence in 1963).

Architecturally, as well, I preferred Surrey enormously. King’s was housed in the east wing of Somerset House in the Strand and most of the rooms and corridors were lined with cold gloomy dark stone, whereas the dear old furniture repository was bright and airy and the wooden staircases squeaked pleasantly as I loped up them.

The course I took was a Surrey innovation: the first year of a first-degree course (BSc in Russian ab initio) was combined with the first and only year of a postgrad course.
The idea was to fill our heads with Russian by putting us in a language laboratory for several hours a day – and it worked. I was a fairly diligent student because the voices that came down the headphones – those of Lydia and Olga – were so delightfully mercurial that it was a pleasure to listen, and learning was almost effortless. I had expected tapes from some ready-made course — with foreboding, knowing (since I had spent the previous year in Barcelona teaching in a language laboratory) that most of the Russian courses on the market were wholly uninspiring, so it was doubly refreshing to have a course that seemed to be being made up as we went along and could even be adjusted to our likes and dislikes, and our needs.

It was good to put undergrads and post-grads together. We oldies (in our early twenties) were told that the undergrads were apprehensive about being put in the same classes as us, but we soon reassured them. We postgrads were from a wide range of backgrounds, but so were the undergrads: another Surrey innovation was that no formal qualifications were needed for admission to the Russian degree course, with the result that the many of the undergrads had done a multitude of interesting things before finally deciding to learn Russian. So — if you’ll forgive the trendy word – there was a lot of symbiosis. We all got on well with each other and were united by the intensity of our learning experience. In fact, the worst thing about the course was having to say goodbye at the end of my brief and happy year to those who were staying on for a another three years.

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