UEA alumni reconnect and remember UEA in the 70s and 80s
As we look back on UEA’s 60-year legacy, we had the pleasure of sitting down with two alumni who studied at UEA during the 1970s and 1980s.
In September, we hosted Dr KeeWee Tan (ECO78) and Omar Alattas (EAS83) on campus to revisit their time at university and to visit Professor Colin Cooper’s prostate cancer research lab.
The idea for the visit came after KeeWee and Omar met Professor Cooper at an alumni networking event in Singapore, where they were so impressed hearing about Professor Cooper’s research lab, they wanted to see it first-hand.
Read on to see why UEA still holds a special place in their hearts after more than forty years.
I understand that you were students in the late 1970s and 1980s. Can you share what brought you to UEA?
KeeWee: Hailing from Singapore, I chose to enrol at UEA because I really wanted to experience the different pace of life offered by an on-campus UK university.
Omar: I wanted to go to a university surrounded by nature. I visited several universities in the UK, and immediately fell in love with UEA. I was also so impressed by the English department which boasted a pool of talented teaching staff, including Sir Malcolm Bradbury. There was such a vibrant atmosphere and that the culture was captivating, and I couldn't wait to immerse myself in it!
Norwich is still renowned for its vibrancy and creativity today. What was it like when you were living here as a student in the 1980s?
Omar: To me, it was vibrant, but in a different way. Back in the '80s, Norwich was very insular in terms of its demographic mix. The most vibrant, cosmopolitan community was right here on UEA’s campus, it was such a welcoming and international community.
KeeWee: When I arrived from Singapore, I remember it being quite a shock! Norwich was much smaller than I had imagined. At that time, in the late '70s, the pace of life was much slower. However, Norwich really grew on me, and I look back on fond memories. I would always encourage friends who are considering sending their children abroad to choose a university based in a smaller city. It provides a rich experience, and I think that most of us coming from Singapore would benefit from experiencing a way of life so different from our own.
Did you live on campus during your studies?
Omar: Absolutely, I refused to move out for all three years! (laughs). I stayed in Waveney Terrace for the first two years, which I’ve learned has since been demolished. In my final year, I moved to Norfolk Terrace, the Ziggurats. I have so any happy memories of university life from my time on campus - the cooking, the social life, the sports - it was all right here. Campus life played a vital role in shaping my university experience. Some groups would host international weeks, while others would organise cultural shows, providing opportunities for us to socialise with other students. I threw myself into sports too, from football to badminton!
KeeWee: I stayed in both Waveney Terrace and the Suffolk Terrace Ziggurats. The accommodation was nice and warm, which was particularly helpful for international students like me who were still adjusting to the UK climate.
Did you have a favourite place on campus?
Omar: Well, there are many buildings now that didn't exist back then! What is now Congregation Hall used to be the sports arena, and the SportsPark certainly hadn't been built yet. I loved playing indoor football in the sports arena and enjoying games of snooker in the Union House. Opposite Waveney accommodation, there was a hill we fondly referred to as "Waveney Hill". In the winter, it would get covered in snow, and we used to have epic snowball fights!
KeeWee: I spent a lot of time in the library and the bookshop. There used to be a two-storey bookshop on campus which I loved, there were so many books I could browse through and buy. The old VHS video tapes in the library were a treasure to me, because you could catch up with all the old BBC and ITV documentaries.
What are some highlights from your lessons? How was the approach unique to UEA?
Omar: I was part of the English and American School, where we were encouraged to try various modules and approach topics differently. I loved this culture of innovation, to the point where I couldn't wait to get to class. I would lie awake at night, so excited to share new ideas in class the next day.
KeeWee: What I'll always remember about coming to UEA is my introduction to the British education system and how remarkably different it was from the system in Singapore. In the 1970s, questioning the teacher was not the norm. I remember mentioning something at my fist UEA tutorial, and the professor told me that what I had said was interesting! I was genuinely taken aback that my professor was not only interested in my comment but also wanted to hear more about my thoughts. Since then, the Singaporean education system has, of course, evolved, but during that time, this approach was truly an eye-opener for me.
Omar: Yes, some of the things our professors said were deliberately provocative to spark discussion and encourage disagreement. This UEA approach was radical in its encouragement of freedom of thought and expression.