British Studies Web Pages
The Countryside, Starbienino, and the British Studies Summer School 2001
Welcome to ‘The Countryside’, an issue of the British Studies web pages which was created during the Starbienino, British Studies Summer School, 2001. In this introduction you will find out about the aims of the summer school, the theme of the countryside and its relation to language, and the centre where the school was held which played a vital part in the production of this issue.
The summer school
From July 6th to 15th, 34 participants, mostly from Poland but also the Czech Republic, Slovenia and the UK, and ten trainers, all based in Poland, met to work interculturally in Starbienino, near Gdynia, Poland. The aim was to produce an issue of the British Studies webpages on the theme of The Countryside and what you will find in this issue is the product of their hard work.
The approach to the summer school was different to many other courses in that it was accepted from the beginning that it would be a community of trainers and participants working together to a common goal. The trainers provided experience in methodology, the theme and ICT skills but equally expected to develop their own skills and knowledge alongside the participants. This ‘holistic’ approach also had the aim of involving the participant’s own knowledge and experience, the venue itself (a Kaszubian cultural, educational and ecological centre), and the surrounding countryside. This emphasis will be apparent as you look through the pages.
You can also find a full list of the participants and trainers, more detail of the organisation of the course, and a picture gallery from the summer school. For an offbeat, participants angle on the 10 days in Starbienino, try Mrs. A’s Diary.
The countryside was chosen as it is a theme very much in the news in both the UK, (the foot and mouth crisis causing the 2001 general election to be postponed), and Poland, (where the projected entry to the European Union and rural unemployment are strong emotional issues). However it is one which is not dealt with much in language coursebooks or British Studies textbooks. Misconceptions about the UK countryside are apparent from the responses we got to four questions in the Introduction to the Facts and Figures section. This section goes on to give valuable background to the cross-cultural differences between the Polish and British countryside, and is followed by more detailed Facts and Figures on the UK, plus links where to find out information about Poland.
In collecting impressions about the countryside and exploring contrasts, (Teenagers, Intercultural, Eye Witness Accounts, Holidaying in the countryside, and Past, Present and Future), we reflect some of the differences apparent when looking at any cultural issue: age; generation; region; and nationality (English, Scottish, Polish, Slovenian, Czech).
Our approach to issues in the countryside considered similarities and differences both within and between the UK, Poland and other societies. This can be seen on the features on the European Union, rural housing, alternative lifestyles, Britain’s farmers, organic foods, Britain’s disappearing songbirds and threats to lake districts caused by tourism.
For teachers and students, the countryside can be a valuable opportunity for trips, investigations and exchanges. After offering some advice on how to make the most of these, you can read about three examples, an investigation into Starbienino, a Socrates exchange involving Bodzentyn and the Cotswolds, and a report on a culture study tour of the UK undertaken by a group of Polish teachers. Our academic angle offers an article on Language Learners as Ethnographers, and a book review on the same theme, both of which develop the argument that undertaking intercultural investigations can considerably enhance trips and exchanges.
It is through language that we both comprehend and express countryside and landscape, and it is language that gives a sense of identity to it. To take an example that arose during the summer school, how successfully can English convey the meaning of a Polish expression such as ‘uroczysko’ (a clearing in the forest where ancient rites would take place, and which for many Poles still has a mysterious connotation)? Equally someone not from the UK, (but who may understand English), may not catch the emotional feeling of a phrase such as ‘the moors’ in the same way. This connection is acknowledged in several ways: a set of activities in The Countryside in Landscape and Literature looks at how writers such as Forster, Wordsworth, Mickiewicz, Heaney, Miłosz, and Grass express the countryside through language; countryside idioms are given full vent in Mrs. A’s Diary and the follow-up quiz; and a Countryside Competition gives teachers and students the opportunity to express the countryside through the use of English.
Many of the classroom activities in these pages are supplemented by interactive games and quizzes, and some of these can be found in the quiz corner, such as an idioms quiz and a countryside crossword.
Finally, useful links collects the addresses of other web pages which may be of interest on this theme.
The Kaszubski Uniwersytet Ludowy/Kaszebsczi Uniwersytet Ledowi in Starbienino is a Kaszubian cultural, educational and ecological centre in the Choczewo Gmina, near Gdynia. The intention was for the centre itself to contribute to the summer school because of its aims through its location in the middle of the countryside. There are many examples of how this happened, not least with the interviews with the director about Starbienino, and the local Wójt about about the EU.
For those interested in alternative technology (wind and solar power for instance), the centre’s website, www.kfhs.com.pl, has useful information. An institution in UK with similar aims is the long-established Centre for Alternative Technology at Machynlleth in Wales, www.cat.org.uk, with many interesting educational ideas as well as further links.
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