Mysteries - memories
Fiona Cullen - Skowroński
1984-1986 Assistant Director of Studies British
Council Centre w Katowicach

Memories of the Częstochowa courses 1984-1986

by Fiona Cullen

I landed in Warsaw one evening in October 1984. I was driven by a British Council driver to my British hosts' house. My hosts were going out for the evening. So I phoned the only person I knew in Poland: Violetta, a Bulgarian married to Antoni, who was Polish. (I'd met Violetta on an Albanian language course in Prishtina in Kosova in the summer.) Antoni drove over to get me. I didn't know he used his whole month's petrol ration to do this. As we drove in the dark, he pointed out a block of flats where the whole block had agreed that they would only switch on the lights in the flats that would form a letter S. Antoni and I joined Violetta in a queue snaking down a long pavement. I was given a lighted candle and a hymn sheet. I couldn't speak or read Polish. Violetta explained in Serbian that Fr Jerzy Popieluszko had been buried that day in the churchyard of the church outside which we were queuing. I didn't know anything about him. But by the end of the evening he had become one of my heroes.

We prayed at the freshly-dug grave and then went to drink to Fr Popieluszko in a cafe in the rebuilt Old City. We drank Soviet champagne. I'd never had such a bubbly drink before. I loved it.

Then we went back to Violetta and Antoni's flat. It was on Aleje Jerozolimskie, the street where the British Council was. Violetta and Antoni's friends were at the flat. One was a photographer. He gave me a photo of Fr Popieluszko comforting a mother at the grave of her murdered son. Antoni translated his friends' Polish into English for me, and Violetta translated some of the conversation into Serbian. Antoni drove me back to my hosts. In the morning, we had Kellogg's cornflakes with UHT milk from England. Then we went to the British Council office. There was nothing for me to do until lunchtime, so I walked along to Violetta's flat. She gave me a second breakfast: dark rye bread with unsalted butter and white cheese (Twarog) and huge delicious tomatoes. We poured thick cream from a milk jug into our coffee.

I went back to the British Council and my hosts took me for a burger and chips at an Amercian club. Then I picked up my bags and train ticket. I got on the train from Warsaw Central. It took a few hours to get to Katowice. Once I got there, my working life began. And it was wonderful. I started by teaching on the residential courses run by Tony Clarke for academic staff of the University of Silesia. Then Tony asked me to run the courses for the staff of the Technical University of Czestochowa.

I recruited teachers to join me. The ones who came with most often were Gwen Procter and Grazyna Soszynska. Henryka Rabenda would rent a venue and a coach and we would travel from Czestochowa to the venue - in Zloty Potok or Poraj, for example - with our course participants. The venues were warm and comfortable and the food was great.

We had lessons in the mornings and afternoons, and activities in the evenings. The activities would be language games, and the academic staff we were teaching were willing to do any kind of activity in order to be communicating in English. They threw themselves into everything with enthusiasm. After the activities, they would put a cassette tape of dance music in the little cassette player I used for listening comprehension, and they would dance. They'd all been taught to dance at school, and I didn't have a clue how to do it. They could all do every kind of dance - waltz, tango, the lot.

Other times, we'd sit in a huge circle and sing traditional Polish songs - Ukraina, Pije Kuba, Sla dzieweczka etc. After Christmas, we'd sing carols. My favourites were Lulajze Jezuniu and Christus sie rodzi nas oslobodzi.

On Sundays we would all walk along the village roads to Mass together and then go back for lessons.

The first time I went to Mass with the participants, they were surprised when I got up and went with a crowd of people behind the high altar at some point during or just after the Liturgy of the Word. After Mass, they asked me how it came about that I was related to the people who got up. I still don't know why those people got up. I just tend to join in things.

Tony lent me a video player and some videos to take on the Czestochowa courses. Often after activities,instead of dancing (at which the men had to wait their turn as there were more men than women), they would put on a video to give them a relaxing bit of listening practice.

I remember one afternoon, we went to the monastery of Jasna Gora in Czestochowa. Unfortunately, the chapel with the picture of the Black Madonna in it was closed, but it was still a special afternoon. An English-speaking priest took us into the room where Mary's 'dresses' (oklads) are kept. Then we went on to Zloty Potok, and after supper I went off to plan our programme of lessons with the other teachers while the participants watched Confessions of a Window Cleaner. They watched it again on two more evenings. I always say that repetition is a great way of learning.

Henryka, Gwen, Grazyna and I were always a dedicated, united teaching team.

The participants were intelligent, warm, and keen to be proficient in English and they were fun. I'll never forget the kindness and warmth of Henryka and the participants on the Czestochowa courses.

Fiona Cullen była Naszą pierwszą szefową kiedy zaczynaliśmy współpracę z British Council jako filia Studium Intensywnej Nauki Języka Angielskiego Uniwersytetu Śląskiego w Katowicach. Obecnie jest właścicielką szkoły językowej w Hastings: Możecie też odwiedzić profil na Facebook'u:

Ponadto, Fiona jest pisarką - w swoim dorobku ma powieści np. The Smugglers' Cave (która z powodzeniem podbija serca czytelników w Niemczech, Szwajcarii czy Austrii). Kontynuację przygód bohaterów znajdziecie w "Phantom of the Hasting's Caves", "Hasting Rock" oraz "Byron's Vampire" (dostępne już na a wkrótce również w druku). Co więcej, na prośbę czytelników Fiona napisała też uproszczoną wersję swojej powieści a także wiele innych uproszczonych opowiadań, przeznaczonych dla osób uczących się języka angielskiego na różnych poziomach, tzw. easy readers. Fragmenty tych opowiadań np. "David's Last Words" oraz wiele innych (w tym rozdziały z nieopublikowanych jeszcze powieści) znajdziecie na blogu autorki:

Serdecznie polecamy i zapraszamy wszystkich którzy chcą poznać pisarkę osobiście :)