August 2011 issue

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Toronto live

Should students be planning a study trip to Toronto any time soon, where they should visit and what they should do in their free time may well be playing on their minds. Nicola Hancox talks to those that work in the city about Toronto’s social and leisure scene.

Toronto is one of the most accessible cities, with direct flights from countless cities around the world,” expounds Gayle Forler, Director-Marketing at LSC Language Studies Canada. “It is a culturally-rich city which is clean, safe and modern. Whatever the taste of our students, they can find it in Toronto,” she relates.

As the provincial capital of Ontario, Toronto is Canada’s largest metropolis and boasts a population tipping the 2.5 million mark. With almost half of all the city’s residents born outside of Canada, European, Latin American, Asian and Caribbean cultures influence neighbourhoods, cuisine and the general way of life there. For international students learning English away from home for the first time, this may be of some comfort, as Mara Muller, Communications Coordinator at International Language Schools of Canada (ILSC), explains.“ Toronto offers a rich cultural mix, where students can find things that remind them of home, or discover cultures from around the world, while still enjoying a uniquely Canadian experience.”

Nao Yamamoto from Cornerstone Academic College, in the district of Yorkville, agrees and adds that their students appreciate Toronto’s multi-ethnicity. “Students often want to stay in a big city where they can experience a variety of events, people and cultures,” she observes. The city’s 7,000 restaurants – Toronto is reputed to have the highest concentrated number of restaurants per kilometre in the world – only serve to highlight this multifariousness further. All tastes are catered for with nearly every cuisine imaginable available somewhere in the city’s 630 square kilometres. Yamamoto lists Japanese, Mexican, Greek, Korean, Chinese, Italian and French among some of the finds. “You don’t have to travel around the world if you want to try international cuisine, just come to Toronto!” she says. At ILSC, students can sign up for a tour of the various neighbourhoods including Chinatown, Greektown and Little Italy, says Muller.

Aside from a myriad of different food cultures, Toronto, says Janet Stvan from Canadian International Student Services (CISS), has so much more to offer; “…great shopping within easy walking distance of most downtown residences, museums that feature new and exciting exhibits, markets and outdoor concerts, coffee shops or bubble tea [a sweetly flavoured tea beverage]… you name it, we have it,” she enthuses.

A majority of CISS students are short-term summer students, says Stvan, however this season showcases the city at its very best. “When summer arrives in Toronto everyone steps outside and embraces all the wonderful things that the city has to offer.” And she notes that students value the many outdoor activities the school organises to take advantage of the milder summer climate. “We package our programmes to ensure that the students see all the major attractions in and around Toronto,” she highlights. All CISS students visit Niagara Falls – an unmissable, if not somewhat crowded, tourist hotspot – while other noteworthy trips include rollercoaster rides at Canada’s Wonderland Amusement Park and a canoeing excursion to Wasaga’s fresh water beach, approximately 1.5 hours north of the city. “New for some of our programmes last year, we also offered canoeing on Lake Ontario, which was a big hit,” adds Stvan.

As well as taking in the majestic falls at Niagara, Brooke Klassen from the Toronto branch of King George International College relates that the Niagara region itself is worth visiting. Full of wineries, she notes that the area is extremely picturesque. As a premier cycle destination, students can select from over 200 scenic bicycle routes that take in interesting landscapes, great lakes and world heritage sites.

Taking the lift to the top of the iconic CN Tower is a must – although queues can be lengthy – as is shopping at the Eaton Centre, wandering round the Harbourfront Centre – which hosts over 4,000 cultural events a year – or perusing the food stalls at one of the many weekend farmer’s markets. “The St Lawrence and Kensington Markets are great to pick up some delicious food, as well as gifts to take back home to your friends,” notes Klassen.

Asking a member of staff where to go may throw up all sorts of other possibilities. “I assume students know all the popular landmarks from guidebooks or the Internet,” states Yamamoto. “So I suggest visiting the Green Room. It has a fantastic atmosphere. With an eclectic selection of books, art and music playing, it draws students, artists and Torontonian intelligentsia in like a magnet. [It’s also] veggie friendly and very affordable!” she adds.

Indeed, Toronto’s cultural reputation certainly precedes it. With more than 50 ballet and dance companies, six opera companies, two symphony orchestras and a host of theatres, students have more than enough to choose from. Both Forler and Muller recommend the Art Gallery of Ontario – which features the celebrated Canadian art collection, the Group of Seven. While Becky Smith at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies, says a night out at one of Toronto’s world-class live theatres is a must. The newly renovated Royal Ontario Museum, “with its stunning architectural design”, is another city highlight, says Smith. As the biggest natural history museum in Canada, students can wander around it all day long learning about anything from Egyptian mummies to the Korean art movement. Proud of the city’s art credentials, ILSC offers an art walk to show students the unique art sculptures dotted about the city, vouches Muller.

Nestled in the eclectic neighbourhood of Queen West, EF Toronto students have plenty of things to see and experience locally. “A ten-minute walk in any direction from the school can lead you to a variety of places,” relates the school’s Therese Joyce. She counts movie theatres, sport and entertainment mega centres, nightclubs and pubs with live music, Chinatown with cheap eats and souvenirs, boutique shops, coffee shops, outdoor fields and tennis courts, among some of the local attractions. “The word variety is truly an understatement,” says Joyce. Outside of the city, there is the opportunity to skydive or take a helicopter ride over Niagara Falls, she notes, as well as nature hikes and white water rafting down the Ottawa or Algonquin Park rivers. “Many consider moose and bear sightings in our provincial parks an interesting activity for sure,” she adds.

As for exciting festivals, concerts and sporting events, there are hundreds, says Forler. “Too many to list here but among the most famous is the world renowned Toronto Film Festival, or TIFF as it is called, in September,” she relates. Yamamoto concurs and enthuses that students may well bump into a few familiar faces during the 11-day event. “I personally saw Dustin Hoffman at Bay Station!”

Smith notes that festivals such as Caribana – celebrating Caribbean culture – the Toronto Turkish Festival, Chinese New Year and a Greek food festival, known as the Taste of Danforth, have a more cultural vibe. “There’s even a festival for dogs called Woofstock!” It’s this plethora of events, says Smith, that make this city feel alive.

Agent viewpoint

“Toronto is climbing on the list of most popular study abroad destinations for Croatians because of its excellent educational opportunities, north American flavour, and very friendly and safe atmosphere. For language learning purposes Croatians travel for three-to-six weeks and their favourite school in Toronto is EF because it is very international. It is situated in the middle of the entertainment district, and the school offers courses that are interesting – a mixture of workshops, lectures, online learning and activities. Last but not least, we have never had any complaints about Toronto, not even about host family accommodation, which is traditionally every agent’s headache.”
Gordana Kolenko, BHV Education, Croatia

“The destinations Toronto and Vancouver are both equally interesting for our students: one year we receive more for Vancouver and the next year for Toronto. If they choose Toronto, it is mostly the shorter distance and the marginally cheaper flights. Somtimes they are also attacted by special sights or cities they like to visit: e.g. Niagara Falls or New York or the cultural events offered.“
Heidi Bolzmann, iSt Internationale Sprach- und Studienreisen, Germany

“Students like Toronto because of the warm climate in the summer and the warm climate of the citizens and friends from different countries. They are surprised about [how nice] the city is with many nice buildings and the 1,000 of lakes and green trees. The first thing students do is go to Niagara falls and see that miracle waterfall and they can also see the border of the USA. Students [at our partner school ILAC] can go on a three day excursion to the USA and can do this nice trip to New York. I can’t say which is my favorite highlight of Toronto. At night time Toronto is shining as a star and every building looks so wonderful – it is a really exiting city.”
Sunkar Yespayeva, DOS TRAVEL LLP, Kazakhstan

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