August 2004 issue

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Sydney's style

Despite being a relatively new destination for language travellers, Sydney has soared up the popularity league table to become one of the top destinations for language students. Gillian Evans finds out why.

Australia's oldest and largest city, Sydney is home to four million people - or one fifth of Australia's total population. Its Opera House and Harbour Bridge have earned iconic status, while its many beaches and great weather set it apart from many other major cities.

'Sydney is one of the most beautiful cities in the world,' asserts Kitty Kwong at the Australian College Information Centre, located in the city. 'It enjoys all the advantages of a magnificent natural harbour, spectacular surfing beaches, a vibrant cultural life, a lively multicultural population and a relaxed lifestyle.'

Stefan Engsall, NSW Area Manager for Martin College/Embassy CES, continues, '[Sydney] is a modern, world-class city but doesn't have the inconveniences of overcrowding, pollution and other annoyances associated with major cities.'

Jane Mourao, International Marketing Director of the Billy Blue Group, highlights the safety of the city, 'which has become increasingly important in our current world climate', she notes.

Another great advantage of choosing to study in Sydney is that student visa holders are permitted to work for 20 hours per week in Australia, and, according to Marion Bagot, Director of the Sydney Institute Tafe English Centre, it is not difficult for students to find work in Sydney.

As well as plenty of work and study options, Sydney offers a seemingly endless range of possibilities for sightseeing and social and cultural activities. Highlights including the bush walk from Manly to Spit Bridge, dining in the Sydney Tower - which stands almost 325 metres above sea level - and climbing the Harbour Bridge in escorted groups, which, according to Mourao, is something that all visitors to the city should do. 'The view is simply spectacular,' she explains.

And then there are the city beaches. Bondi and Manly are Sydney's most famous beaches, where people swim, surf, play beach volleyball, skateboard, roller blade or relax at one of the beach-side cafes. But there are also many other hidden bays and beaches strung out around the city's coastline each offering yet another Australian beach experience.

For those students in search of retail therapy, Sydney has plenty of interesting shops and is home to Pitt Street Mall, Australia's busiest retail area. There are also lively street markets in Paddington, Glebe, Bondi, Fox Studios and The Rocks, selling everything from clothes to goldfish. And when the sun finally sets, students are never short of things to do. There are bars and pubs with live music, such as Bondi's Beach Road Hotel and The Harbourview in The Rocks, as well as a wide variety of restaurants.

According to Kate Mishcon at Aspect, eating out at one of the many international restaurants that span all world cuisine from Japanese to Nepalese and Turkish is one of the highlights of their students' stay. Mourao adds that some students are surprised at the variety of foods available. 'Many visitors are not aware of the dining culture [in Sydney],' she says. 'Sydneysiders are very adventurous in their eating habits and embrace food from all over the world.'

Another of Sydney's major selling points is its population. Unlike many other large cities, where the pace of life is fast and furious, Sydney has a reputation for being an easy-going city with 'relaxed and friendly locals who are always approachable and will offer a helping hand,' says Engsall. This extends to the host families, adds Tim Eckenfels from International House Sydney. 'Students are often surprised at how welcoming and warm the host families are. They spend a lot of time with the families and often travel with them.'

Another characteristic of Sydney's people is that they like to make the most of their beautiful environment and favourable weather, with beach barbeques and parties held throughout the year. The city also hosts many outdoor events. 'You [can] watch Shakespeare's most famous work played on Balmoral beach, enjoy a picnic with your friends on the Domain while listening to a huge jazz concert, or simply bring your own dinner to the Moonlight Cinema,' says Ken Guthrie of St Mark's International College.

Despite being in a city location, students can meet some of Australia's native animals in Sydney by visiting the Taronga Zoo, which is a 12-minute ferry ride across the harbour. '[Students report] the amazing experience they have when visiting the zoo and having the opportunity to get face-to- face with koalas and kangaroos,' recounts Marybel Caicedo from the Centre for English Teaching at the University of Sydney.

The city is also an ideal base from which to discover other areas of Australia. 'A day trip from Sydney takes in the Blue Mountains with a visit to a wildlife park on the way. Abseiling, rock climbing and caving are popular with the intrepid,' says Bagot.

The sheer range of cultural and social activities in and around Sydney means that language schools offer a wide and varied range of events and excursions. 'The activities we organise vary from an Aboriginal concert in the Sydney Opera House or kayaking on Sydney harbour to heading to the north coast to learn surfing for two days,' says Guthrie, adding, 'The school's student parties are always very popular nights. Nothing beats having fun with your classmates and dancing with your teachers.'

With almost half its population aged between 20 and 35 years old, Sydney, according to Engsall, 'loves to party'. It plays host to numerous festivals and events, such as the famous Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, the Chinese New Year Celebrations, the Royal Easter Show and the annual Festival of Sydney. But one of Sydney's most impressive parties is on New Year's Eve, as Alison McKertich from Sydney West International College confirms. 'With the New Years Eve celebrations it is about the beauty of seeing Sydney Harbour lit up by spectacular fireworks,' she says.

Whatever kind of city experience students are looking for, they are sure to find it in Sydney. 'Students often comment on the sense of freedom they [feel] here and how, whatever it is that takes one's fancy, it can be found right here in Sydney,' sums up Luke Simon from the University of Western Sydney's English Language Centre.

Agent viewpoint

'Sydney is a multicultural city and there are a lot of attractive places to visit, such as the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and Bondi Beach. Australian people always welcome international students. Students enjoy walking in the city and exploring the new experiences there. They also like shopping, going to the beaches, and dolphin and whale watching.'
Sirin Klomwong, EduWorld, Thailand

'The number-one attraction of Sydney is simply the people. My clients find Australians extremely friendly, open, sharing, funny and helpful (even in the biggest city). [Also,] the youthful dynamism of Sydney and the fact that there are clean beaches and waves to surf. Price-wise, Sydney is definitely one of the most attractive of the major world destinations. If you come from a land-locked country like Switzerland you can't beat sun, sand and salt water. But Sydney offers much more: great clubs, restaurants, art and lots of outdoor activities. There is a freedom of expression; from fashion to cafés, art to work culture that many Swiss and other Europeans are literally quite astonished to discover.'
Garry Littman, The Language House, Switzerland

'The attractions of Sydney are that it is a big cosmopolitan city with a number of study choices, many job opportunities for students, and has a high student population. In addition, Sydney is the most well known Australian city over here in Europe. The negative aspects of Sydney for our clients are the high cost of living there, the many Czech and Slovak students there, the jungle of local agents and [the fact that there are some] cheap low quality private colleges.'
Ales Barta, Alfa Agency, Czech Republic

'[Our students choose Sydney] because of the access to popular universities there and perhaps more opportunities to find part-time jobs. For a student from an undeveloped Asian country, Sydney is the western world so they enjoy everything from the beaches, casino, cinema to shopping malls.'
Joseph Nguyen, CMI Vietnam, Vietnam

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