December 2012 issue

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South Africa

South Africa, aptly nicknamed the rainbow nation, offers overseas students a mix of interesting culture, stunning scenery and much more, as Claire Twyman reports.

A country boasting arid mountain ranges, rolling grassland and a lush, almost tropical eastern coastline, South Africa, nicknamed the rainbow nation, has a culture that is similarly diverse. “Students are immersed into the melting pot of language, culture and religion that South Africa has to offer,” relates Sheetal Makhan at EC Cape Town. “A country continually evolving, it provides students with a first-hand experience of a multicultural country.”

The capital city of Cape Town, with the most English language schools in the country, is a city that encapsulates the beauty and culture of South Africa well. While Makhan concedes that the city is hailed as heaven on earth, Craig Leith from Good Hope Studies in Cape Town calls it a country within a city. “Being outdoors is one of the draw cards of living in this city – it is literally built between the mountains and the sea, and within less than 20 minutes you can be out of sight and sound of the noise and bustle into beautiful natural surroundings,” Leith laments.

There are plenty of opportunities for cultural immersion at Good Hope Studies, with activities including voluntary work at a local soup kitchen. Another activity that is unique to Cape Town, and indeed to other locations in South Africa, is game viewing. Lesinda Leightley from LAL, with schools in Durban as well as Cape Town, reveals, “Our best product is English and safari, previously known as [the] travelling classroom [course].” And the University of Stellenbosch Business School, also in Cape Town, offers tours to places including townships and to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner, according to Marietjie Wepener.

At English Language School Cape Town, meanwhile, students can partake in safaris, bungee jumping and surfing. “My favourite place is a small fishing neighbourhood called Kalk Bay,” says Ann Piscopo at the school, adding, “There are lots of great cafés and restaurants and beautiful shops and art galleries, all within walking distance of the beach. Apart from Kalk Bay, students should definitely head to the Winelands for some of the world’s best vintages.”

And for Karina Vogl at Language Teaching Centre, Cape Town is special because of the friendliness of the locals. She also appreciates “the beach with the view of The Twelve Apostles mountain range”, and recommends that everyone who studies in the city should “take a seat in one of the cafés and enjoy the sunset with an extraordinary view”. Gavin Cutter at Kurus English is also impressed by the scenery, citing Cape Overberg, just outside the city, as “characterised by magnificent mountain ranges and a wild and wonderful coastline. The area is famous for mountain-biking, hiking trails, whale watching, shark diving and so much more!” he says.

Aside from Cape Town, there are a number of lesser-known study abroad destinations in South Africa offering international students an equally extraordinary experience. The International English School, for instance, is located in the village of Somerset West on the outskirts of Cape Town. Tania Copeland says, “Our town is small and is much safer than a large city. The city is only 60 kilometres away and you live a quieter life here, but you can join the busy city life when you want that.” Despite the small size of the village, there are plenty of activities available. “The Director is an avid rock climber, so students who are keen can always go rock climbing. The area has some of the worlds’ best rock to climb.”

Across the southeast coast, also known as the Garden Route, Port Elizabeth“is a smaller city with an interesting blend of African and European culture, offering easy access to some of the greatest wildlife viewing in Africa, including whales, dolphins and sharks”, enthuses Shaun Fitzhenry at Bay Language Institute. “[It has] the endless golden beaches of the Sunshine Coast, the world’s highest bungee jump just one-and-a-half hours away by car, and truly warm, welcoming people.” Fitzhenry grew up in the Karoo semi-desert, only two hours away, and loves “the absolute silence and the incredible stargazing”. He adds, “The landscape can be harsh, but it is incredibly beautiful and wild.” Among the unique cultural activities on offer at Bay Language Institute is the opportunity to work with marine birds which have been injured by exposure to oil – especially the African penguin. “[We also take students] on walks in the city centre to enjoy the colonial architecture,” Fitzhenry says.

And at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Divinia Pillay relates that Port Elizabeth is popular with students interested in history, as the city has built a walk commemorating the 67 years of Nelson Mandela’s public political life. “The project contains 67 pieces of art strategically placed around Port Elizabeth,” she explains.

“Also very popular among international students is experiencing the authentic African cuisine at Mama Jayas in Njoli Square after a visit to the Red Location Museum,” says Pillay. “Here patrons can experience traditional Xhosa dance and music with a dinner consisting of traditional Xhosa dishes.” And to aid student integration, “Students are whisked away to Tsitsikamma Adventure Falls so they can experience the adrenalin rush of ziplining through treetops and get to know each other,” she relates.

Heading north, Johannesburg is the largest South African city in terms of population size. “IH Johannesburg offers students the opportunity to learn English in an exciting environment that embraces multiculturalism and the vibrancy of city life,” affirms Monique Dias at the school. “My top three places would be Gold Reef City Amusement Park, the Rhino and Lion Park and the Elephant Sanctuary. At the end of every course, the school takes all students out to experience either the culture in Soweto or an educational trip.”

Wits Language School, also in Johannesburg, arranges cultural trips for students to places including Kruger National Park, says Trish Cooper, revealing, “We have now started a free counselling clinic for students who are experiencing problems in South Africa and are feeling homesick.” Her favourite spots to visit, she says, are Magaliesburg and Pilanesburg. “These are fairly quiet areas close to Sun City that offer fairly inexpensive game viewing. You can see a fantastic selection of game in incredible countryside without bumping into too many other people. We always advise students to go to the less well-known areas as well as more popular sites.”

Cooper relates that in South Africa generally, “The best schools guarantee international standards at a far lower price than charged in other countries, such as the USA and the UK, with the guarantee of good weather. In a time when getting permits to travel is becoming more difficult, student visas are still relatively easy to acquire from the South African embassies.” With this and all the activities and scenery in mind, it is easy to see why overseas students choose South Africa.

Agent viewpoint

“South Africa is special. Students can enjoy the summer while it is winter in Europe, and it surprises them how safe they feel in Cape Town despite all the stories they have heard about how dangerous it is supposed to be. Most students visit Cape Point, Simon’s Town, the Winelands and parts of the Garden Route. Table Mountain and the Waterfront is a must, and we also recommend a township tour. I have been to South Africa twice and very much liked the friendliness of its people, as well as the great choice and easy accessibility of attractions. But most of all I appreciated the way of life and the possibility to just travel around while visiting different places.”
Manuela Wulf, Carl Duisberg Centren Intertraining & Consult, Germany

“Our students mainly enjoy the people from South Africa. They say the South Africans are very kind and are always trying to help the international students. Also, South Africa has become a very popular destination because of the low cost of living. Brazilians can study hard and have fun during their stay in South Africa – they are always surprised with the infrastructure of the city. Especially before the World Cup, South Africa was not a big destination for Brazilian students. But then, the Brazilians saw the country as a big opportunity to learn English and enjoy their stay. Students enjoy going for sightseeing to places such as Table Mountain, the Cape of Good Hope, [going on] safaris and diving with sharks. There are many more options offered by the English schools. They also enjoy trying a brai – South African barbecue food. I was in Cape Town last year, and I was surprised by the big range of things to do and see in Cape Town. For me, the Cape of Good Hope was the most impressive sight. Cape Town is such a beautiful place and the South Africans are very welcoming people.”
Fabio Carola, IE Intercambio, Brazil

“Students first think that South Africa is a third world country, but then they realise it is not. Most Korean students like the country for its fine weather, friendly people, nice food, safaris, nature and variety of places to go. South Africa also has a low number of Korean students, cheaper living costs and qualified teachers. Recently, students have tended to request voluntary work alongside learning English in order to develop their CVs and share experiences with local people. I can say that a game drive at Kruger National Park is a great highlight, and the Cape Penninsula is also an unforgettable place.”
Mr. Jang, Feel Africa, Korea

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