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Postcard from Chester

Aleksandra Gelner from ELC Katowice was one of the winners of the British Studies web pages ‘Identity’ competition. Her prize was an Advanced Course of English Language Methodology in West Cheshire College in August 2001. This is the story of her visit to the United Kingdom.

Getting there

I didn’t expect it to happen, BUT I did win this course on the internet. The competition was organized by the British Studies web pages, part of the British Council in Poland. I flew to Manchester via Frankfurt and arrived in Chester on the 14th of August to stay for almost three weeks in this peaceful and historic place. I didn’t have time to unpack, as the first day was busy and a trip to Wales (Cymru) was organized for us just after classes.

Learning languages – English, Welsh, and Spanish!

To make it even funnier I was the only 'foreigner' among a group of 40 Spaniards, teachers from primary and secondary schools in the province of Toledo. So, as they laughed at me, I had the only chance in my life to have a bilingual course in both English and Spanish…

Well, as you can imagine, my knowledge of Spanish improved rapidly (especially gestures, as they are a body-language loving nation). So, the first day in Wales, in a picturesque and tourist- loved place called Llangollen (you pronounce it with a ‘h’ sound rather than ‘l’) proved to be very successful, especially for breaking the ice with my Spanish friends. I really didn’t have time to get bored.

The classes and lectures in West Cheshire College proved to be interesting and methodologically valid.  I really envied them their resources, particularly the language laboratory which was really impressive.

In the Lake District

After spending about three days in Chester, we went to a fantastic weekend in the Lake District (3 days in a Youth Hostel overlooking a big, green lake). As people had warned us, the weather in the Lake District was hardly ever good. We could see for ourselves, it wasn’t… No, the sun appeared on the second day and disappeared on the third, but when it shone, we could see what a magnificent area it is! It was different from what I had expected, as everybody has some kind of image of things and places. On the second day we managed to go for a walk and see many beautiful valleys, streams and rivers.  One of the highlights of the stay was a visit to the Beatrix Potter museum and house where she used to live. The National Heritage guides showed us around and told us a lot of interesting stories about her life. She was an extraordinary woman of her times and seemed to have had a lot of interesting ideas about life, culture, nature, ecology, love and marriage. The illustrations from her 'Peter Rabbit' books seemed to perfectly match the decorations in her house. The same applies to the garden and a little orchard. It must be remembered that the museum and the house where she used to live are left to this day as she wished them to be. Her words were: “I want it to look like I’ve just popped out to the post office and am coming back any minute now…”

Home life

I have to say something about my landlady, Mary, who was my sweet and pleasant companion for these 18 days in Chester. As 'a typical English person' she hated tea and had coffee instead.  English tea is my favourite, though, so I guess I’ve become a real English person. I don’t know what it is, because IT TASTES GOOD in England only. I also tried ”Marmite”, because as one advertisement in the UK says – you love it or you hate it. Well, I don’t know yet… I had it only once, thinly spread on toast as recommended.

Social activities – making museums come to life

I really can’t complain about our social activities in the college. Some other attractions included a friendly country estate run by the National Trust (the whole idea of it is to be widely recommended all over the world) called Dunham Massey, where you can visit the old estate, its gardens, stables, and so on, brought back to life. Most rooms and displays are kept as close to the original as possible. Another event was a trip to the old cotton mill, which is one of the oldest and largest working attractions. As the description states, you 'can hear the stirring story of cotton from real spinners and weavers'.

A word of comment here. What I really like about English museums is that they are often “made real”. You can touch things, play with them, experiment, fiddle, see how things work. It’s never just looking at exhibits in the glass cabinets, but much more than that. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that there are always children on school trips in the museums, so they need educational aids such as quizzes and interactive activities. No wonder they never look bored.  This is another cultural difference that I would like to make popular in Poland. 

Our last weekend included a trip to London, which is always attractive. The only problem was the famous English weather, it was raining, man… Hallelujah…  

The local attraction which we were kindly invited to by my Spanish friend’s landlord, was an Ox Festival in a small village, about 10 miles from Chester. It was a Bank Holiday, August 27th, and it is held every year as a kind of Harvest Holiday. The main activity involves grilling an ox on an open fire, and then the first piece of meat is sold for about 20 pounds. But, don’t worry! The money goes to charity and the next pieces are cheaper.  Other events included a tug-of-war, a hound race (they all ran away), a ride on a crazy bull (an artificial one), a falcon show, a shooting competition (among many others). Of course, there is place for the people to meet, talk, drink beer, have a picnic and have a laugh. The weather was very merciful this time. I even got a suntan. Can you believe it?

Going home

When I was leaving for the airport it was pouring down with rain, but I really regretted having to go back home. I’m going to miss all my new English friends. Forget what they say about the English reserve, I’ve never had such a good laugh in my life! My new English friends were in their 50’s and 60’s and were the best company ever! Besides, I adore the English abstract, intelligent sense of humour!  By the way, I’m not going to miss my new Spanish friends for long. I’m going to Spain next year…


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