December 2009 issue

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China’s old and new

As one of the largest and most densely populated countries in the world, students may feel a little daunted by a study abroad vacation to China. However, providers report a warm welcome awaits them. Jane Vernon Smith reports.

The Chinese capital, Beijing, “is vibrant, with amazing attractions,” enthuses Jerry Jia of Easyou Chinese Language School in the city. “There are tons of places worth visiting,” he underlines, and top of his list are Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall and the Beijing Olympic Park.

The geographical centre of Beijing City, Tiananmen Square is, claims Jia, the largest city square in the world. “It is a conglomeration of splendid and beautiful flowers, and the red national flag, which flutters in the wind.” Built for the 2008 Olympic Games, the Beijing Olympic Park is also on a grand scale, covering 12 square kilometres, and incorporating the famous Bird’s Nest stadium and Water Cube (National Aquatics Centre). Less well known are more than 80 sculptures that decorate the centre of the park, portraying the Olympic ethos, “Faster, Higher and Stronger”.

“He who has never been to the Great Wall is not a true man,” according to a Chinese proverb; so visitors to Beijing are fortunate in being able to reach part of this world-famous sight within around 90 minutes. “[The Wall] is such a spectacular and formidable architectural feat that anyone who comes to China should not miss it under any circumstances,” stresses Jia.

While, for many international visitors, China represents a quite new cultural experience, they will be reassured by the welcoming atmosphere found at Easyou. According to Jia, “Easyou is quite different from other language schools. It’s more like one big family, I would say. Everybody here is caring. Students come from all over the world…[and] they become really close friends or even like family members of Easyou… I am grateful that I am one of this big family,” he concludes.

Those who opt instead for China’s largest city of Shanghai will be well looked after at Mandarin House. Here, Koen Vandecaveye highlights the focus on “best quality education and service to our students”, with staff available 24 hours a day to help them with any problems they may have. Bright, spacious classrooms all have a different view of downtown Shanghai, he notes. Meanwhile, iMandarin Language Training Institute, in a choice of convenient locations within the city, offers its students modern and comfortable facilities, in a setting that is typically Chinese in style, according to Marketing Executive, Jaya Zhu, including features such as folding screens and Chinese wooden chairs.

“Shanghai is an amazing mix of the ancient and high-tech western civilisation,” comments Zhu and Vandecaveye adds that there are some wonderful examples of European architecture. “Strolling down the quiet lanes of the French Concession, dotted with villas, and visiting one of the numerous cafés is a great Shanghai experience. One of the best places to see old Shanghai is the area around the City of God temple… where you can still see narrow alleys and two-storey houses.”

Shanghai is also a fantastic shopping destination, notes Zhu, with a wide range of outlets from modern malls to traditional markets. Food is another attraction, as Vandecaveye highlights: “It all starts with the street carts, which are pulled out on to the street before dawn, offering loads of types of breakfast. Then there are must-try restaurants, such as hot pot – perhaps the quintessential Chinese dining experience, where you boil different foods in soup.” With schools also in Beijing, Dalian and Guangzhou, iMandarin offers a good choice of locations. Lesser known than both Shanghai and Beijing, Dalian is a modern and well connected city port in the north-east of the country. Its major landmark, Xinhai Square, is approximately 1.5 kilometres long and 500 metres wide. Surrounding the city park are the big hotels and convention centres, and says spokesperson, Amanda Li, in summer the park is the setting for the city beer festival, a copy of the Munich Oktoberfest. iMandarin enjoys a central location within the city, occupying the 37th floor of an office building.

In Guangzhou, iMandarin has two locations. The Tianhe campus is in Metro Plaza on Tianhe North Road, the most prosperous area in Guangzhou, according to Calin Yang, while the Yuexiu campus is in Huanshi East Road, famous for its shopping and entertainment, as well as for learning. Guangzhou is an attractive city, which appeals to students because of “the nice people, modern life, unique, traditional Yue culture and, especially, the delicious Cantonese food here,” Yang comments.

South of the Yangtze River, on the south-western shore of China’s largest fresh-water lake, Poyang, sits the ancient city of Nanchang. The capital of Jiangxi Province, Nanchang has been a prosperous, cultural city for 2,190 years, says Qin Juanjuan of Jiangxi Science & Technology Normal University. A heroic city, it was, she notes, the site of the uprising that led to the formation of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in 1927. Today, many monuments testify to Nanchang’s past, including the ancient Shengjin Pagoda, the Ruzi Pavilion and the Tengwang Pavilion, an elaborate, high tower in the style of the Song dynasty, with courtyards, rockeries, terraces, pavilions and a lotus pond, extending over 40,000 square metres.

In addition to the city’s historic monuments and festivals, Qin highlights the natural attractions of the area, including Nanjishan Island on Poyang Lake, which provides the winter home for around 10,000 rare birds. Lushan Mountain Resort, which lies about 100 kilometres north of the city, is known for its overhanging cliffs, springs and waterfalls, and boasts more than a dozen scenic spots, such as Lesser Heavenly Pool, Immortals’ Cave and the Three-stage Spring, she notes.

To the north-west of Nanchang is the city of Wuhan. Described by Austin West of local language school, Rainbow Reading Training Centre, as “a heaving, seething and boiling pot of sheer humanity”, Wuhan, he says, “ticks the same boxes that other cities in China do: big, loud, messy… But Wuhan also defines these stereotypes,” he adds. “Wuhan is a monster.” A huge industrial centre with a population of 9.5 million, the city is also home to one of China’s top 10 universities. However, it does not have a large foreign population. In fact, “In Wuhan, you are still regarded as a major curiosity,” he observes.

Moreover, claims West, it is its difference that in many ways makes it such an interesting city to work in. “There was something very interesting and appealing in the sense of possibility, both in this city of Wuhan and [in] this growing school,” he says, which led him to take his present job. Formed in 2006, Rainbow Reading originated here and has since expanded to three branches. One of its stand-out features is that teaching is generally on a one-to-one basis, and for this reason, West attests, “We develop a considerable bond with our students. We are always looking for ways to make their experience in our school better… I have been so invested in some of my students’ success,” he adds, “that when they are selected for the university that we’d prepared their interview for, I have been invited out by the family for dinner. It’s a good feeling.”

A student-focused environment is also characteristic of International House in the historic city of Xi’an, as Director, Su Peng, relates. “My school is not a huge school; here is like a big family, and each student is a member of our family. We take care of our students and help them to fill all [their] wishes.” With teaching in small groups, a modern approach helps students to learn faster and more effectively, he adds.

While the city itself is ancient, the school is housed within a modern, well-equipped, two-storey building, which offers a courtyard full of plants and a roof terrace. The starting point of the Silk Road, Xi’an was the Chinese capital through 13 dynasties, and is, as a result, full of historic monuments. Not to be missed are the famous terracotta warriors and horses, and the city wall, which, according to Su, is the most complete in the world. Here, to help “feel the 5,000 years of Chinese history”, students can cycle the perimeter on a hired bicycle, or take part in the annual International Marathon. Another recommendation is the Tang Dynasty Dinner Show, which combines two unique aspects of China – a Tang Dynasty dance show and a dumpling banquet. “Just enjoy it!” exhorts Su.

Agent viewpoint

 “All the students who have been in China are impressed by this country. When [they] arrive in Beijing, they are fascinated by the possibilities in this town. They point out that Beijing offers many cultural highlights…like the Forbidden City [and] the Opera of Beijing. For the students, Beijing is an interesting, exciting and wonderful city to be in. Additionally, they mention that they feel very safe in this city, although it is very big and lively.”
Torsten Pankok, Carpe Diem, Germany

 “Cactus clients have said that teachers in China are quite innovative and creative in teaching the Chinese language – perhaps more so than they expect. Clients who have studied in Beijing often say that it offers a great variety of the historical and cultural sites, as well as an opportunity for social life and shopping. Overwhelmingly, students love the variety of things they can do in Beijing and the range of activities offered by our partner schools. I think that the biggest surprise is that Chinese people are much friendlier than people imagine them to be.”
Alex Wolfson, Cactus Worldwide, UK

 “The size of the country is a surprise to clients, particularly for our customers from Switzerland! But, most of all [is] the surprise between a somehow expected tradition and an unexpected modernity… The regions are very different from one another. Most of the students [staying in Xi’an] love the cultural environment of this place. Staying for a few weeks in a place where tourists’ itineraries just stop for a day offers the opportunity to go deeper in to the daily life of an authentic Chinese city.”
Camille-Angelo Aglione, ESL, Switzerland

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The following language schools, associations and accommodation providers advertised in the latest edition of Language Travel Magazine. If you would like more information on any of these advertisers, tick the relevant boxes, fill out your details and send.





English Australia  
Feltom Malta  
MEI Ireland  
IALC International  

Alphe Conferences  
IALC International  


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College Bound
Student Marketing  

Malta Tourism
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Twin Group  
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English Australia  
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College Platon  
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Richmond School
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IH Xi'an
Mandarin House

ABC Languages  
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IALC International  
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LAL Language
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Study Group  
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      Germany, Ireland,
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Twin Group (
      Ireland, England,
Queen Ethelburga's
SUL Language
University of Essex -

International House
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MEI Ireland  

Kai Japanese
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Malta Tourism

Dominion English

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EF Language
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Inlingua Language
NYC Language
University of
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Zoni Language
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Celtic School  

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