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Postcard from Exeter

I spent three wonderful weeks as a participant in the In-Service Teachers' Course held at the English Language Centre of the University of Exeter from 9th to 27th July. I think I could divide my impressions from there into several groups:

I. Exeter

Exeter is full of history, with its ancient city walls dating from Roman times (over 70% of the structure still stands), the magnificent medieval Cathedral (claiming the longest unbroken stretch of gothic vaulting in the world), the 800-year-old Guildhall (one of the oldest municipal buildings in the UK), the Historic Quayside with the Customs House and the Quay House Visitor Centre, and Phoenixes commemorating the rebuilding of the city after it was severely damaged in the May 1942 Blitz of WWII. The best way of exploring the city is by taking one of the Exeter Free Guided Tours - Red Coat Guides will walk you round the place and tell you lots of interesting stories. Apart from the places already mentioned you are likely to see and learn about Mol's Coffee House - a favourite haunt of Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh, the Royal Clarence Hotel - the first ever building of this kind in England to be called "a hotel", the wonderful Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Princesshay - one of the first pedestrian shopping streets in the country, named after Princess Elizabeth who opened it on 21 October 1949 and many more. Exeter boasts Britain's only Underground passages open to the public, the oldest public gardens in the country - Northern Gardens, the oldest purpose-built custom house in the country dating from the reign of Charles II and the oldest pound lock canal in England. There are plenty of interesting places to visit in Exeter. The grounds of the University of Exeter are among the most beautiful.

II. The course

There were only six teachers on the course: Antonia Kakoliri, Christina Yiannoukakou, Nektaria Dressiou (all from Greece), Michela Gianola from Switzerland, Rene Louise-Julie from Martinique and me. It was very nice to work in such a small group, especially with co-ordinators Nicky Davis and Carol McCullough making every effort to keep us both busy and entertained, and in a very friendly atmosphere.

The three components of the In-Service Teachers' Course were: English Language (with the aim of expanding participants' own knowledge of the English language through the examination and discussion of written and spoken texts, e.g. newspaper articles, video clips, etc), Language Teaching Methodology (covering grammar, listening, reading, visuals, pronunciation, songs, authentic materials, vocabulary, speaking, literature, film and video, drama, games etc.) and British Cultural Studies. This was the part of the course that I found particularly interesting and enjoyable.

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III. British Cultural Studies

The content of this part of the course was really impressive, with plenty of visits and lectures. I especially enjoyed a visit to Brixham Community College. It was preceded by a very informative talk on the British Education System given by Carol McCullough and a video lecture on the role of the head teacher in modern society by Chris Turner, Principal of the College. When we were in Brixham, we talked to Chris Turner and other teachers, we saw parts of two French lessons and went round the school with pupils as our guides. It was a very interesting experience, not only from a teacher's point of view. I couldn't help comparing Polish and English schools, however. I was impressed with the number of clubs (after-school activities for pupils), I liked the idea of drama lessons very much, and I was wondering whether Polish students would enjoy technology lessons.

Shakespeare In the Gardens was an experience of a totally different kind but also quite an unforgettable event. We saw "Hamlet", staged by the Northcott Theatre Company in Rougemont Gardens, where the ancient Castle's wooded moat was transformed into a most atmospheric open-air theatre. Before the play we had a very interesting lecture on the history of "Hamlet" given by Christopher McCullough, the Head of The School of Drama and Music in Exeter.

The small Cornish town of St Ives has attracted artists for over a century. No wonder! It is definitely one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to. I was really impressed by the works of famous artists associated with St Ives displayed at the Tate Gallery there. The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden was another place that took my fancy - seeing a selection of Hepworth's major works in such a beautiful setting! A lecture on St Ives' artists by Nick Eastwood helped me appreciate works by Barbara Hepworth, Antony Gormley, Patrick Heron, Alfred Wallis, Peter Lanyon and many more.

IV. The host family

I was very lucky to meet Barbara and Andrew Kent. They were very kind and hospitable and really made me feel part of their family. Thanks to my hosts I had the chance of doing same shopping at a car boot sale (where I bought a few very cheap second-hand books). We had a lot of fun at the Vintage Car Gathering at Powderham Castle where we went in their Ford Pop of 1952. I will never forget Andrew as Teddy Brewster in Joseph Kesselring's "Arsenic and Old Lace" - the play was staged by Exeter Little Theatre Company and was an Exeter Festival event.

V. The British people

Some people say that the British are a nation of rather reserved people - I found them open and friendly. Several times in the morning I was greeted by people I had never met before. I liked queuing which the British people are famous for as well as thanking the driver before getting off the bus. I was impressed by the popularity of voluntary work (e.g. Exeter's Red Coat Guides are volunteers) and the number and variety of charity shops, collecting money for all sorts of people in need. Finally, I could not help joining people lying on the lawn in the Cathedral Close, almost in the centre of the city.

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VI. The food

Staying with an excellent host family helped me appreciate English cuisine. I've tried dishes such as quiche, pasties, custard, rice pudding, oranges with brandy, apple crumble - all beautifully prepared by Barbara Kent. What I strongly recommend to visitors to Devon is Devonshire cream tea - scones with clotted cream and jam. The dish is delicious and the one served at Roger's Cafe at the Exeter Quay simply defies description.

VII. Devon

It is a very green and picturesque county, with lots of interesting places to visit.

Torquay is certainly one of the places that visitors to Devon should not fail to explore. It is famous as Agatha Christie's birthplace and very popular with holidaymakers because of its beauty and mild weather. Torquay, along with Paignton and Brixham is advertised as "The English Riviera".

Brixham, known as the 'Mother of Deep-Sea Fisheries', is a very old and historic town. It is the place where King William III landed - there is a statue of the King in Brixham Harbour. In 1588 Brixham watched Sir Francis Drake attacking the Spanish Armada and you can see a full-sized replica of the ship, the 'Golden Hind', in which he circumnavigated the globe in the Harbour.

On the Exe estuary is the historic port of Topsharn with its Dutch houses, waterfront, museum and many antique shops. It lies just four miles from Exeter and is famous for stunning views of the Exe estuary.

Castle Drogo, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens for Julius Drewe, co- founder of Horne & Colonial Stores, is the last castle to be built in England. Building of the Castle began in 1911 and was finally completed in 1931.

According to Medieval legend, Totnes was the place where the founder of the British people, Brutus of Troy, first came ashore. The Brutus Stone is set in the pavement, marking the spot where Brutus is said to have landed in 1170 BC. This ancient market town and river port at the heart of the beautiful Dart Valley is also famous for the Guildhall (created in 1553 out of the Norman Priory and still the home of the Town Council) and Totnes Castle which is a perfect example of a Norman 'motte and bailey' castle.

Plymouth has long been associated with the sea. One of the city's main attractions is the Hoe - the historic waterfront with views of the harbour and the Royal Citadel. Sir Francis Drake is said to have played a game of bowls on the Hoe, while waiting for the Spanish Armada. The Mayflower Steps - where the Pilgrim Fathers set sail for America in 1620 are not to be missed either. Another place worth visiting is the National Marine Aquarium. The Barbican - the old historic district with lots of interesting small shops and cafes and the Barbican Glassworks, is also very popular with tourists.

The eighteenth century Saltram House was the home of the Parker family. However, admirers of Jane Austen's novels will recognise the Dashwood family home in it as Saltram starred in the 1996 film of Austen's Sense and Sensibility. Salfrom House along with its beautiful park hosted Hugh Grant as Edward Ferrars, Kate Winslet as Marianne and Emma Thompson as Elinor Dashwood.

There are two national parks, Dartmoor and Exmoor, in the county of Devon. We made a short visit to Princetown on Dartmoor. The town is famous for a men's prison, very difficult to escape from. It is also the home of the High Moorland Visitor Centre with the audio-visual theatre, Dartmoor Gallery and wonderful displays giving a visitor an insight into Dartmoor, its landscape and cultural heritage. Just outside Princetown green, the open spaces of the moors begin to stretch.

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VIII. The weather

It wasn't exactly the sort of weather that people dream of. Windy, rainy and rather chilly - this is how I found the English weather during most of my stay in England. There were sunny spells however; it got nicely warm in the last week of my stay and the day I was leaving turned out to be a real scorcher!

IX. Good day, Mr Magpie!

These black and white birds are very common in Poland as well, but no one believes that One is for sorrow, Two are for joy and ... salutes them when there's only one. There are usually lots of various birds hopping on lawns and they are delightful to watch. Seagulls are another story. You can see those big birds with yellow beaks almost everywhere, busy city centres being no exception, and you can hear their crying everywhere. They are not shy of people and they are becoming a nuisance, especially in popular tourist resorts.

Ewa Groszek

Produced in Poland by British Council 2003. The United Kingdom's international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. We are registered in England as a charity.