April 2003 issue

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South and east England

The south and east of England offers traditional pastimes and a variety of cities, towns and beautiful countryside. Bethan Norris looks at the attractions for language students in this area of the UK.

The south and east of England offers many different language learning experiences, from small towns with few international visitors to large metropolitan cities with an established social scene. Towns and cities located on the south coast are particularly popular destinations, because of the mild weather in the region, holiday resort atmosphere and established reputations of language schools there.

At Regent Language Training in Brighton, Hayley Stewart points out that the school has over 40 years of experience in teaching and care. Stewart is keen to outline the city's appeal, saying, 'Brighton has a lively nightlife with countless fashionable bars, restaurants and clubs.'

Charles Harrison, from The English Language Centre in Brighton & Hove, agrees that Brighton's lively reputation is popular with students. 'Brighton & Hove is an attractive seaside resort with a lively cosmpolitan atmosphere,' he says. '[Students] enjoy the wide range of shops in Brighton - the new shopping centre or the quaint Lanes district. In the evenings, they go to to a number of discos but mostly they go to one of the pubs which has live music or karaoke.'

For students with more serious study ideals, there are also many study opportunities in the region. Anglia Polytechnic University (APU) has two campuses offering English language training to students as well as further education opportunities. Paul Menniss at APU explains that the campuses at Cambridge and Chelmsford attract students for very different reasons.

Cambridge, in Cambridgeshire, is an internationally renowned historical city, while Chelmsford, in Essex, is 25 minutes east of London and offers a brand new 21st-century campus. Menniss adds that it is 'very representative of a typical British town'.

Language schools located in less well known areas of the south and east of England often find that their lower profile can be an attractive selling point for students too. 'Most students choose to study in Cheltenham because it's a beautiful, elegant town with only a few language schools,' says Nick Arnott, from Inlingua Cheltenham in Gloucestershire. 'The students feel they are in the 'real England'.'

Jonathan Matthews, from International Colleagues School of English in Norwich, which is situated in Norfolk on the east coast of England, agrees. 'Integrating with local people in Norwich is made easier by the fact that the city hasn't had a big influx of foreign visitors in comparison with many British cities,' he says. 'It is not well known overseas and so foreign visitors are considered a point of interest rather than just more 'students' or 'tourists'.'

The close proximity of the country's largest international airports as well as a good transport network means that students studying in the south and east are within easy access of all the different attractions this area has to offer. Arnott points out that Cheltenham is in the centre of England and provides a good base for travel to other towns and cities. He adds, 'We also find that although many students don't want to be based in London, most of them want to visit London at some point during their stay.'

Nick Appleton at International House Bath in Somerset, says students at his school also appreciate being able to visit London, Oxford, Stonehenge and Salisbury quite easily. Nearby Bristol is visited often by students keen to try ice-skating, ten-pin bowling or see West End musicals on tour from London. 'We are offering trips to see Miss Saigon at the moment,' says Appleton.

The excursions offered by Regent Language Training give students a 'cultural insight into the area and the UK as a whole', says Stewart. As well as organised trips around the south to famous sites such as Stonehenge, the school encourages students to visit local sites, such as the Royal Pavilion with its Indian domes and Chinese-style interior. Students can also take part in local events, such as the famous Lewes Bonfire Night - a traditional pagan festival with a spectacular firework display.

Bonfire Night is celebrated throughout England on November 5 to commemorate the execution of Guy Fawkes and his Catholic co-conspirators after their failed attempt to blow up the Protestant English Parliament in 1605. However, in Lewes in East Sussex, the day takes on a special significance as the town plays host to the biggest bonfire party in the country. People dress up in brightly coloured costumes and process through the streets, which are closed to traffic for the day, and a huge bonfire is lit burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes.

Language schools often encourage their students to find out as much as possible about their area and get a flavour of the local culture. Arnott says that Inlingua Cheltenham organises many evening activities for students. 'One of the most popular is the Prestbury Ghost Walk,' he says. '[This is] a guided tour through the most haunted village in England.'

Brighton also offers students numerous opportunties to immerse themselves in local events. '[Brighton] is the home of the Brighton Arts Festival in May, the UK's largest comedy festival in October and Gay Pride in August, which means that there are street performances, theatre productions, exhibitions and events throughout the year,' relates Stewart.

For students wanting to experience England's traditional rural charms, there are a number of places to visit. Carolyn Llewelyn, from Albion International Education in Oxford, is keen to point out the proximity of the Cotswolds to her school, where students can visit 'essentially English villages such as Bourton-on-the-Water'. Known as the Venice of the Cotswolds, Bourton-on-the-Water is centred around the River Windrush and dates back to pre-Roman times. Today, the village is popular with visitors who come to see the picturesque houses made of locally quarried yellow Cotswold stone.

Students studying in Norwich have a number of natural attractions particular to the area to explore. '[Norwich] is set in some fantastic countryside. [It is] near the sea, not to mention nearly 200 miles of broads - man-made lakes - and inland waterways,' says Matthews.

The Norfolk Broads are a popular attraction for both international and local visitors. They were created by the process of peat digging - a major industry in this area in the 12th century. The area now has national protected status and there are over 125 miles of navigable lock-free waterways that are popular with people on narrow boats and barges.

Participation in local customs or traditional pastimes often provides a good way for international students to fully integrate themselves with the local population. One such pastime that is popular in Oxford is the traditional pub game of Aunt Sally, which originates from the Civil War. The game is played in only a few pubs in and around the city and consists of knocking over upright skittles with a wooden baton.

According to Llewelyn, the game became a favourite pastime for one student after being introduced to it through his host family father, she recounts. '[The student] learnt to play darts, snooker and Aunt Sally. When he left, he was part of the Aunt Sally team and a Japanese news journalist covered the experience he had had.'

In Bath - one of the most visited cities outside of London - Appleton relates that students enjoy visiting country pubs within easy reach of the city centre and playing 'skittles', an old form of ten pin bowling played regularly in pubs in the west of England using wooden pins and rubber balls.

Elsewhere, students have found different ways to meet local people and integrate into the community they live in. 'One of the best ways [to meet locals] is by attending an evening class,' says Harrison in Brighton. 'This has led to a number of students developing a good network of English friends.'

Many schools organise work experience or volunteer opportunities for their students. 'We encourage students to participate in charity fund-raising events such as our summer party,' says Stewart. 'They can also join our work experience programme, working in a company in an area that interests them.'

At Cornwall College in St Austell, Philip Savery says students can take part in voluntary work too, at a local garden centre, for example. Being located close to the Eden Project, a popular attraction with temperate and tropical plant 'biomes', students have unrivalled access to global ecosystems. In Cornwall, students can also enjoy some of the UK's most beautiful beaches, adds Savery. 'Cornwall offers a friendly and safe environment,' he says, 'with beautiful countryside and a relaxed atmosphere.'

Agent viewpoint

'The south and east of England has a lot to offer - like beautiful beaches, exciting cities, fantastic landscapes and of course very friendly people and good host families. [We tell students to expect] a good range of leisure activities and of course not always sunny and warm weather, but as they say, there is no wrong weather, only wrong clothes. The language schools offer students a big activity programme. Students take excursions to London, Stonehenge, Windsor, Hampton Court, the Isle of Wight and many more. They also have a lot of possibilities to do sports like golfing, horse riding, windsurfing and cycling. Most of our clients enjoy their stay as they can combine their language courses with some kind of holiday.'
Martin Pfister, Pro Linguis, Switzerland

'We get quite a number of enquiries from our clients for courses in the south and east of England. The reasons are usually [being near] London and good connections, while at the same time studying in a smaller town and being in the vicinity of rural England. There are numerous places to visit - the Cotswolds, Warwick Castle, Stratford etc. Most of our clients come back very happy with the quality of the course itself, the accommodation and also with the free time options the schools [in this region] offer. They usually make friends more easily with the other students and therefore really make the most of their stay in England.'
Magdalena Jugovic, Kub Travel Enterprises, Yugoslavia

'We usually receive enquiries from Swedish adults who wish to study and develop their English skills at a well known school in a city that is not too big. Many Swedes have previously heard about Brighton as a good-sized city close to London. Brighton is nice with many things to offer. It is close to the ocean, has a young atmosphere and a wide variety of shops, pubs and restaurants. Many of our clients are adults so the young atmosphere encountered in Brighton can sometimes be thought of as negative since it attracts a number of younger students.'
Marie Eriksson, IS - Internationella Skolorna, Sweden

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