Return to Essex

Essex University in the late afternoon

Essex University in the late afternoon

I left Essex for good in 1967, having only passed through frequently but briefly (usually on the M25 and M11) in the subsequent years. It’s where I was ‘schooled’, leaving memories that are not always fond. In all these years I had never visited the University of Essex. Now I did.

IntlUni working groups

IntlUni working groups

Last week I was there for an IntlUni meeting – an awkward abbreviation, somewhat infelicitous, at least in the way I pronounce it – a 27-member partnership of European universities looking into the diversity of their multilingual, multicultural academic ‘space’. The partnership is aiming to determine common ‘modalities’, as we have currently called them, that is roughly different models of multilingual/multicultural practices in European universities, and to identify common characteristics in the opportunities and challenges they face. There is explicitly no attempt to create a hierarchy or say that one ‘modality’ leads to another. No one-modality-fits-all. In between the six-monthly meetings the partners have tasks to do in their home environments. The outcome should be a series of recommendations for effective multilingual/multicultural practice in the different ‘modalities’.
Wivenhoe House

Wivenhoe House

At a time when politicians seem to be running away from ‘multiculturalism’, it is instructive to be part of a sensible and sensitive approach to the opportunities. Our universities are often a lot more multilingual than they are given credit for – we simply do not use the talents that are there. There is moreover far greater scope for stimulating understanding of other cultures (and one’s own).

No, this is not meant to be a project meeting report. Just my working week.

James Dodds. Wreck (detail).

James Dodds. Wreck (detail).

Essex University is an interesting place, a campus university set in an expansive parkland with beautiful trees and a couple of large lakes, plenty of waterfowl. Most of the university buildings are functional and closely linked through a series of ‘piazzas’ (my gloss on them) fringed by student shops and cafés. It actually looked quite good in the pouring rain with hundreds of students around. Rather bleaker early on the Saturday morning, also in the rain, when I left.

The campus has a 4-star hotel school in the impressive Wivenhoe House. The service was kind and considerate; even the new trainee on her very first day handled us pretty well. The rooms are quite luxurious, and some are named after well-known hotel chains (presumably they are the sponsors).

Wivenhoe

Wivenhoe

Somewhat oddly we noticed the total lack of art work on the walls. It was a bit too sterile for a hotel. In my room there were, however, four black-and-white photographs of old stars of the stage and screen, notably Marlene Dietrich and Olivia de Havilland – I didn’t recognize the other two. The hotel school is probably seeking more sponsors. Perhaps the Wivenhoe Artists Colony could donate some?
Wivenhoe Park by John Constable (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC)

Wivenhoe Park by John Constable (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC)

James Dodds, for example, has some beautiful paintings of Essex boats and others, only a couple of miles away. Need for a sponsor. Or host an exhibition of local Essex artists? I guess the National Gallery of Art in Washington would be unlikely to donate its John Constable painting of Wivenhoe Park.

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