April 2005 issue

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Fun-loving Spain

Tourists and language travellers alike return to Spain time and again to experience its cities, landscapes and the sheer warmth of the Spaniards themselves. Gillian Evans finds out more.

One visit to Spain can often be the start of a long relationship with the country. Don Quijote, which has language centres throughout Spain, welcomes a student who has taken a Spanish course with them for 10 consecutive years. And she is not alone in her fascination with Spain.

''Every year more than 40 million people from all over the world come to Spain to study, work or enjoy the beauty of the country,'' states Carmen Buil Laguarta at Global Corners in Huesca in the Aragon region. Spain has plenty of attractions to pull in the crowds, and Spanish language schools pride themselves in personally showing students the country by organising cultural excursions and social outings. ''[We accompany students on] guided visits to museums and exhibitions, as well as visits to typical [Spanish] bars,'' testifies Felipe Espada at the Universidad Catolica de Murcia, in the historic city of Murcia.

Getting to know the Spaniards themselves is yet another good reason for studying in Spain. ''Spanish people are warm, kind and welcoming hosts,'' claims Marta Gil, Vice Principal of Caxton College in Puçol, just 18 kilometres from Valencia. In Malaga, Nadia Poloni of Instituto Andalusi de Español adds, ''The way of life of the malagueños [locals] is easy going; if you can't do it today, do it tomorrow.''

One of the most appealing characteristics of the Spaniards is their love of socialising. Spain's infamous La Marcha (nightlife) can be sampled all over the country, although Erin Corcoran at Don Quijote asserts that Salamanca, with its ''colossal nightlife'' scene, is hard to beat.

''One bar after the other and some 40,000 students, both international and Spanish, gives students a hard time to keep up with their studies,'' she states. ''It may be a small city but [Salamanca] never sleeps and students who want to experience La Marcha will not be disappointed.''

But this is certainly not the only reason for choosing to study in Salamanca. ''The rich historical heritage of the town, coupled with the international fame that the University of Salamanca enjoys, has long attracted many students from around the world who wish, not only to learn the language, but also to savour the culture of mainland Spain,'' attests Malcolm Marsh at Colegio Ibérico in Salamanca. Leopold Fric, Director of Colegio Delibes in Salamanca, adds that the city is ''without doubt the safest city in Spain''.

With a population of 300,000 and more than 60,000 students, Granada is a fun-loving Andalusian city. ''With its world-famous Alhambra, rich culture and lively nightlife, [Granada] is the ideal place for both studying and having a holiday,'' says Margaret Fortmann at Tandem in Granada. From discovering the Arabic baths and the narrow streets of the old Moorish quarter to dancing salsa at one of the city's many bars, Granada offers a rich cornucopia of experiences. Fortmann adds, ''At the end of the day, enjoy a [glass of] red wine with a tapa in one of the small squares with a view of the Alhambra and the beautiful snow-covered mountains of Sierra Nevada.''

The southern Andalusian countryside also offers students the opportunity to take part in many activities. Poloni explains, ''You can go skiing in the morning on the Sierra Nevada and, in the afternoon, sunbathe at the Tropical Coast in Almuñecar.''

Another city well placed for mountains and sea is Huesca in the Aragon region in northeastern Spain. According to Buil Laguarta, ''everything is possible in Huesca''. Students can go glider flying, wind surfing, golfing, canoeing and rafting, bungee jumping or horse riding to name but a few of the activities available nearby. Huesca itself is an attractive city, steeped in history and tradition, but one of the most surprising things about it is that, despite its rich treasures, it remains off the usual beaten track of language travel students.

Another great destination little known by international students is the northern city of Santander. ''Santander is very well known [in Spain] for the beaches that can be found in the urban area and because of the possibility of cultural tourism and being in contact with nature without going very far from town,'' says Ana de Gorostegui, Director of Escub Central in the city, adding, ''Compared with the south of Spain, Santander is more European.'' There is plenty to do in and around the city, from visits to museums to taking surf courses. But, de Gorostegui says, ''Possibly one of the most interesting [local attractions] is the prehistoric caves of Altamira, [known as] the 'Sistine Chapel of Palaeolithic Art'.''

For world-famous museums and art galleries, Madrid cannot be missed. ''Madrid truly is a world-class art city,'' confirms Corcoran. ''It would take visitors weeks to discover all the museums, galleries and parks in Madrid. The city hosts the biggest art scene in the country.'' Among its many attractions, Madrid boasts the Museo del Prado, the magnificent Palacio Real - where Spain's Royal family resides - and the beautiful medieval Plaza Mayor, as well as plenty of pavement cafés and bars from which to soak up the city atmosphere.

For more modern architecture, Barcelona offers students a taste of a world created by Gaudí. ''Gaudí's architectural contributions to [Barcelona] are famous worldwide,'' states Corcoran. The city is also home to the Picasso Museum, a wonderful gothic quarter, Barri Gotic, and a sizzling cultural scene. In summer, especially, the city is buzzing with parties and week-long fiestas.

Throughout Spain, there are many reasons for celebrations. One of the most unusual festivals is Las Tomatinas in Bunol, near Valencia, in August. ''This crazy, hilarious and very unconventional tomato-throwing party wakes the child in everyone,'' states Corcoran.

Agent viewpoint

''You can combine a holiday with learning the language in Spain, and as Spain is much closer [to Germany] than Latin America, it is popular among our students. We send students to Barcelona, Salamanca, Madrid, Granada, Valencia, Malaga, Marbella, Nerja, Tenerife and Seville. Malaga and Marbella are popular due to the beaches, and Barcelona is popular as it is such an interesting city.''
Petra Müller, IST, Germany

''The number of students who go to study in Spain is increasing. Speaking about short-term courses, the most popular cities in summer are Barcelona, Alicante, Malaga, Nerja, Valencia, and San Sebastian. Salamanca and Madrid are the favourites in autumn, winter, and spring. The students going to Spain often have previous experience of studying abroad. And all of them notice the absolute hospitality, kindness and [warmth] of Spanish people.''
Maria Ortiz de Urbina, MMC-XXI vek, Russia

''Getting to know Spain and its life is essential. So the important thing is to feel Spain through its language and life, rather than just learning the language. Students who want to study in Spain generally prefer big cities such as Madrid and Barcelona. But these days, student preference has changed. For example, Barcelona [is popular among those interested in] architecture; Barcelona and Madrid are good for those interested in music; Seville for dance; and Salamanca for the language.''
Jung Nam Shi, Bene, Korea

''Within Spain lies a land full of contrasts that offers students many opportunities. We most often send students to places as diverse as Barcelona, Menorca and Murcia. Students are often amazed and amused by the wide variety of art, gastronomy and architecture in Spain. The warmth and genuine friendliness of the people in general combined with the climate help our students to fit in almost immediately.''
Mónica Romero Camps, SpanishExpress.co.uk, UK

''Spain is one of the top holiday destinations for Germans. Many of our clients have visited Spain already as tourists. So, the most surprising thing [for them] is to get to know Spain another way; by staying with a host family, they get to know the real way of life in Spain. A lot of schools offer lessons in Spanish culture, which are quite popular as well.'' 
Monika Duengemann, LAL Sprachreisen, Germany 

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