February 2007 issue

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Spanish diversity

Spain has so much to offer students in terms of local traditions, gastronomy and a party spirit. Amy Baker highlights just some of the fantastic study destinations in the country.

Spain mixes the rich history and culture of Europe with the passion, spirit and cuisine typical of Mediterranean countries. “Students of all ages and nationalities are attracted to this kind of opportunity; enjoy Europe and its charms in a great year-round climate, while learning the second-most spoken language in the world,” says Rachel Stein of Enforex in Madrid, summing up the appeal of learning Spanish in Spain.

Based in Spain’s economic and geographic centre, Stephen Jenkins at OISE Madrid acknowledges that, for students, “Madrid has undoubtedly the best nightlife in Europe so that is an obvious attraction” and one of the reasons that many head straight for the capital is to discover the famous Madrileño party spirit. “There’s so much to do here that people find it hard to leave!” adds Stein, pointing out that cheap local flights within the country mean that travel to other parts of Spain is relatively affordable.

Another reason that Madrid is popular as a destination is, as Jenkins observes, its reputation for art, business and even football. “Madrid is one of the leading art capitals in Europe as well as an important business centre,” he notes. “At OISE, we get a range of customers from business executives, ambitious university students to people with a cultural interest in Spanish.”

Free time activities span all interests and cultures, although visiting museums such as the Prado, famous buildings such as the Palacio Real and the parks or football stadiums – such as the famous Bernabeu stadium where Real Madrid is based – are among typical activities favoured by a wide range of students. Jenkins adds, “Few people realise that Madrid is surrounded by spectacular scenery. There is a ski station within an hour’s drive and the cities of Segovia, Avila and Toledo are all viable destinations for a daytrip.”

Spain has so many popular cities and destinations that while Madrid is often considered, there are many other places that students are also keen to discover. One such city is Granada in the south of Spain, famous for the Alhambra, “the wonderful Arab palace”, as Jose Manuel at Escuela Montalban describes it, and the Andalucian way of life.

Manuel details, “Students can participate in winter sports, horse riding or trekking in the Sierra Nevada winter resort; take a trip to see the marvellous villages of the Alpujarra mountains; watch gypsy flamenco in Sacromonte and dance salsa or tango in one of Granada’s many exciting bars; visit the Arabic baths or stroll through the narrow streets of the old Moorish quarter.”

There is certainly plenty of culture to captivate students staying in Granada, and with a local university that welcomes many European and American students, there is also a lively international community there.

Nearby is Almeria, also in Andalucia and boasting the second-most important Moorish castle in the region after Granada, the Alcazaba. Dating from the 16th century, the Alcazaba bears testament to the vulnerability of this coastline to invasions and pirate raids in the past. Students studying at Indalhispanica Spanish School in the city enjoy getting to know “the real charm” and history of the city, says German Fernandez at the school, as well its location by the sea.

“Students really are spoiled for choice in Almeria,” he says. “They love doing all kinds of water sports, visiting the historic part of Almeria and having a tapas tour. Adults love the museums, the flamenco shows, and the walks around El Paseo Maritimo (maritime area) where there is always something happening.” Culinary specialities of the local area unsurprisingly involve lots of seafood, and include gachas (hot and spicy clam stew) and escabeche e sardines (fresh sardines in a hot sauce).

Another coastal destination in Andalucia is Cadiz, on the Costa de la Luz, almost entirely surrounded by the sea in fact due to its location on a peninsula. The city’s history and charm mean that it is popular with visitors who are keen to discover the weather-beaten seafront houses, the narrow streets, the famous cathedral that dominates the skyline and, during lent, the famous Cadiz Carnival, the largest such event in Spain.

According to Israel Barro of Centro Melkart -Tandem in the city, the main motivations behind students choosing Cadiz are “the weather, the beaches, the friendly people and city history”. He adds, “The sporty students like to go surfing, sailing, horse riding and trekking” and explains that because of Cadiz’s nightlife, there are also students who end up staying in the city at weekends instead of exploring the coastline. “After a long night, they cannot wake up early to take a bus [to travel further afield],” he recounts.

On the eastern seaboard of Spain is Valencia, yet another coastal destination that offers a lot for language travellers. A relative newcomer to the high profile tourism scene, Valencia is a dynamic, forward-looking city with stunning architecture, including the Hemisféric and the conference centre, designed by Sir Norman Foster, as well as a harbour, beaches and historic appeal. Hosting the yachting race, the Americas Cup next year, will help cement Valencia’s place on the map as a must-visit destination. In fact, Valencia has seen the highest tourism growth of any city in Europe in the last 15 years.

Manuel Villamayor of Costa de Valencia Escuela de Espanol in the city points out that Valencia is the third biggest city in Spain and attracts students looking for the sun, beach and parties. It can certainly live up to all these expectations – it is host to the spring festival of Las Fallas, one of the wildest parties in the country. But there is so much more to Valencia than this – its historic centre, impressive Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias and modern art museums mean that Valencia can truly rival Barcelona and Madrid for all-round appeal.

In the north, Bilbao is another study option for students, and as Rebecca Pocock explains from Instituto Hemingway in the city, many of their clients like to undertake a combined cities programmes, studying both there and in Valencia or Granada. Bilbao itself is in the heart of the Basque country, with its own unique language, culture and cuisine.

“The bars and restaurants here can’t go without a mention,” says Pocock. “There’s truth behind the claim that the food in the Basque country is the best in Spain. Gastronomy is a major attraction for visitors, offering wonderful fish and seafood, tapas and specialist local dishes.”

Bilbao’s location also means that surfing is on hand nearby as well as horse riding in the nearby mountains. Pocock adds, “Bilbao is perfectly located for students to get to many other places of interest, such as San Sebastian, La Rioja, Guernika and Mundaka.”

Quite near Bilbao is another well known location, famous for its annual tradition of the running of the bulls: Pamplona. The Festival de San Fermin is actually the reason for the running of the bulls; every day for a week, the bulls are traditionally let loose to run the mile-and-a-half journey down cobblestone streets to the pens in the Plaza de Toro, ready for the bullfights of the day.

Situated in the mountainous Navarra region, Pamplona’s location means students can enjoy rafting and climbing, as well as walking in the region, says Carmen Neira Freire at Pamplona Learning Spanish Institute in the town. “The main attractions are village festivals, outdoor activities related to nature, visits to wineries and the Camino de Santiago [a traditional pilgrimage pathway to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia],” she says.

At the Institute of Spanish Language and Culture (ILCE) at the University of Navarra, also in Pamplona, Director, Concepción Martínez Pasamar, observes that the Navarra region is known as the land of diversity. “We have many different landscapes,” she says, “Las Bardenas which is desert-like, the beautiful green forest of Selva de Irati and also the Pyrenees, where skiing and other mountain sports can be practised. This diversity attracts people.”

Agent viewpoint

“Our clients like Spain because our programmes offer excellent value for money. For Europeans, it is cheap to get there and students do not have to worry about safety. All in all, Spain is a fantastic country with many advantages: friendliness, cultural interests, crazy nightlife, beaches and a very different Mediterranean lifestyle. Also, it is easy, safe and affordable to travel around. Our most popular destinations are Barcelona, Malaga, Madrid and Granada. Our students either go for the big cities (Barcelona, Madrid), the beach (Malaga) or for variety (Granada). Students learn quickly and the first thing to learn and enjoy is the siesta since our clients definitely like to go out and find themselves in nightlife paradise!”
Michael Eck, STA Travel, Switzerland

“Spain is becoming a more and more attractive destination in Germany, surpassing French and Italian in the adult market. You can learn Spanish in excellent language schools and discover culture, history, nature, enjoy tapas bars and restaurants. And you have to communicate in Spanish with your hosts and on the street!”
Martin Friedrich, Academia Suarez – Language House, Germany

“Although our clients have varied preferences for destinations, the most popular are Barcelona, Madrid, Pamplona, Seville and San Sebastian; cheap airline routes often being a determining factor. We find that the programmes our clients choose vary according to their motivations. Often they go to Pamplona for a more academic and authentic Spanish environment. There is plenty to do there and in the nearby regions.”
Laura Preece, InternStudy, UK

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Asociación Gallega
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English Australia
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International House
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