When I think of the British Council three expressions come to mind: beacon, soft power, ripple effect. This organisation has a history of acting like a beacon of light in an often-dark world, reaching out to people soft-power style through language, quintessential British culture and arts. For every one person the British Council interacts with there is a ripple effect, spreading far and wide, having a far greater effect that could possibly be quantified. This is about more than just what the British Council has done for me, it is about its wider perceptible and imperceptible reach.
That reach started at school, with the assistants who helped me develop my French and my German skills, going further than just teaching, introducing me to people who have become life-long friends. They helped open a door, put me on a path away from the monoglot to the multilingual world. When it came to my own year abroad, working with the British Council was an easy, obvious and worthwhile choice. They gave me a placement in Germany that was to prove the turning point in my language and professional development, consolidating my abilities, opening my eyes to the country, the culture. It changed my direction – I knew I enjoyed teaching, but I knew I needed to pursue research, too. That academic year in the German city of Münster provided me with the tools I needed to pursue my goals – from the language development, to the time to hone my research skills. Without the British Council, I doubt I would have the career I have today. I have been able to work with so many students, to influence their lives positively, and in turn I have seen the British Council provide them with life-changing opportunities. There’s a real pleasure in watching from afar as your students blossom on their year abroad, and when they return meeting those people again who stand that bit taller, that bit more self-assured.
What the British Council has done for me does not just end there, though, rather in that ripple effect I mentioned, the British Council has facilitated my own research – indirectly – but without them the project I went on to develop would not have come into being. Gathered together with my students in a Cologne café – all of them language assistants with the British Council – coffee, cake and conversations on the go, I listened to their chatter, their experiences and I began to ponder questions about the positive impact of the year abroad experience on wellbeing. As I went from city to city, placement student to placement student, these thoughts began to crystallise, developing into a project the results of which were published just as the pandemic began to grip the UK. https://research-publishing.net/manuscript?10.14705/rpnet.2020.39.1048
All of this is what the British Council has done for me, but what they have done for me also extends beyond me as an individual and into what they have done for knowledge, and what that knowledge may yet do to inform university policies and procedures. The British Council may not seem like a government priority right now, it may seem niche, only affecting a minority of people, that there are other sectors in greater need of financial aid, but the British Council is far more than the sum of its parts. Its loss will be felt for years to come and in ways that have not yet even been anticipated.
Hilary Potter, Lecturer in German, Newcastle University