February 2007 issue

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British Columbia's great outdoors

Canada's third-largest province, British Columbia, covers almost one million square kilometres. Within it, students can experience a diversity of experience that is hard to rival elsewhere in the world. Jane Vernon Smith reports.

This province offers countless breathtaking attractions, ranging from rugged mountains to small ocean-side communities,” claims Clas Huntebrinker, President of Camber College in Powell River. “Nowhere else in Canada can students set sight on the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains, as well as the desert-like wine and fruit region of the Okanagan, the temperate rainforests of Vancouver Island, and the Arctic gateway of BC’s far North,” enthuses Paula Jamieson, of Victoria-based Global Lifestyles Canada.

British Columbia’s great outdoors is the focus of many varied recreational activities. As a result, “Students… are never bored, and rarely look forward to going home,” says Cameron Prior, of International House (IH), Vancouver. He adds, “British Columbians are friendly and relaxed people, who create a perfect learning environment for students.”

According to Yemina Pimienta at Four Corners Language Institute in Victoria, the people of British Columbia are open minded, liberal thinkers, who value cultural and linguistic diversity. Add to that the country’s affordability, thanks to the current low Canadian dollar, and its most famous city – Vancouver – often claiming the title of world’s best city in various tourism polls, and there are many compelling reasons for overseas students to study in the province.

In the southwest of the province, which contains the greatest concentration of population, the temperate climate is another big plus – one of which many potential students appear to be initially unaware. “Most students coming to southwestern British Columbia seem to be surprised at how mild our winters are and how little rain we get in the summer,” notes Prior.

The cosmopolitan coastal city of Vancouver, hailed in 2005 as “the world’s most desirable place to live” by the Economist Intelligence Unit, has many advantages for students. A university town and major port, it is also well supplied with museums and galleries, parks, shops and restaurants. In the absence of a Canadian national cuisine, “we have really good Chinese food, curry, Mexican, seafood [and] other Asian,” Prior observes.

Vancouver is, above all, a sporting paradise. Students can spectate at a variety of professional sporting events, including ice hockey with the Vancouver Canucks, Canadian football with the BC Lions or soccer with the Vancouver Whitecaps. IH Vancouver also offers a wide range of participatory activities. Canoeing, kayaking, roller-blading and mountain biking are all popular at the school’s city campus. Not far away are beaches where students can sample the delights of watersports, including skim boarding on Wreck Beach or Spanish Banks, surfing in Tofino and kite-boarding in Squamish.

Ski resorts are also within easy reach of the city; one of Vancouver’s unique draws. In winter, IH Vancouver offers three-day ski and snowboarding trips to Big White, Apex, Silver Star or Whistler. Those attending its Whistler campus may find the time to enjoy not only skiing, but also bungee jumping, rock climbing and snow-mobiling. Ziptrek – a form of ‘trekking’, in which participants glide, suspended high above the ground, along steel ‘ziplines’ – is a relatively new activity, which, according to Prior, is growing in popularity as a means of exploring the coastal rainforest just minutes from Whistler village.

North of Whistler, on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, is the small community of Powell River. With a philosophy that may be summarised as “education and adventure”, Camber College has a full range of outdoor activities right on its doorstep, according to Huntebrinker. Not to be missed, he says, are the Powell Forest canoe route, connecting eight different lakes, and the 180 kilometre-long Sunshine Coast Trail, which provides great vantage points for admiring the area’s lakes, rivers and other beauty spots. Depending on the season, the school claims to offer almost any kind of outdoor activity imaginable, from sea-kayaking, to cliff jumping, golfing, hockey and snow-shoeing. “[We own] tons of outdoor equipment, which allows us to offer all these activities at low rates,” says Huntebrinker. Additionally, many of the teachers are qualified instructors in scuba diving, sailing, kayaking or canoeing.

In Courtenay, situated in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island, to the north of Vancouver itself, students experience “the sense of being welcomed not only to the community, but into the community”, notes Colleen Hanley, Co-ordinator at North Island College International. As elsewhere in the region, sport and nature loom large. “I just got back from a forest and beach walk on Seal Bay, just north of Comox,” Hanley relates, explaining that the students were quite engaged with the opportunity to learn about being in nature – what to take in a day pack and how to deal with a bear.

Activities are planned in cooperation with the students, and, in the autumn, Hanley reports, “they are planning to hike Paradise Meadows, do some caving, visit Tofino and walk the Puntledge River to see the salmon run.” Salmon in its many forms is a speciality of the area, and can be sampled in various forms – cold smoked, “candied”, barbecued or canned.

The picturesque provincial capital of Victoria is also located on Vancouver Island and its many language students are often attracted initially by its international fame. Once familiar with the city, however, they are impressed by its beauty and the friendliness of the locals. According to Pimienta of Four Corners Language Institute, they also appreciate the quality of the homestays, the ease of public transport and the cultural diversity of the school’s language instructors.

In addition, it is now easy for students to combine study and pleasure, as city bus companies have recently begun operating budget tours conducted in “easy English” suitable for language learners. Destinations include Tofino, Whistler and the Rocky Mountains, and participants can enjoy games, films and plenty of sightseeing on the way. “These creative companies have created a wonderful alternative to tours narrated in the students’ own languages,” attests Jamieson of Global Lifestyles Canada.

Jamieson reckons that Vancouver Island could easily be called the lifestyle capital of Canada. “The Cowichan Valley is home to many wineries, as well as a cidery, a cheese factory and lots of organic farms with delicious produce,” she notes. Moreover, “Victoria’s folk festival, conveniently hosted around 1 July – Canada Day – is a great event that combines multicultural music, food and entertainment from various immigrant communities. It’s a must!” she underlines.

Moving inland to south-central British Columbia, the small city of Kelowna on the shores of Lake Okanagan capitalises on its location in a major fruit-growing region. The area is famous for fruit of all types, and the Okanagan Valley is also home to nearly 70 wineries. Wine festivals, held three times a year in spring, summer and autumn, offer the chance to try “the world’s best ice-wine”, according to Glen Jones at Okanagan College. Not surprisingly, these festivals are a popular student excursion, as are visits to the region’s orchards.

The 155 kilometre-long Okanagan Lake also presents many opportunities for leisure and recreation, including houseboat tours and watersports. Here, says Jones, “visitors have the chance to spy Canada’s most famous water monster, Ogopogo”. Other local attractions include the Adams River salmon run, an alpaca farm, a bird sanctuary, art galleries, dozens of golf courses, gold panning, para-sailing, white-water rafting, a wild boar farm and ice hockey. “Hopefully, students find enough time to study,” muses Jones, “after they have experienced the region’s tourist attractions!”

Agent viewpoint

“Seventy per cent of my students are sent to British Columbia, basically to Vancouver and Powell River. [They visit Vancouver] because of the importance of the city and the nearby attractions, such as Victoria and Whistler, and, of course, all the beauty of the city with the attraction it has, and also because they find Vancouver so friendly and easy to get around. Powell River has been very successful for young people, because it is a small and very nice town, safe and quiet. But the most important thing is that the parents of the children feel so comfortable [about] the most safe environment.”
Rodolfo Robles, Viajes Nuevo Leon, Mexico

“The Swiss have a love affair with British Columbia. My theory is that British Columbia reminds them of their beloved mountains and offers the additional attraction of the Pacific Ocean, all on what, for them, is a gigantic scale. The Swiss perceive Canadian society as being very relaxed, yet there are laws and regulations that are very strict. Many a young Swiss is taken aback at not being able to enter a bar in BC with his friends, if he is not yet 19.”
Mary McKay Vilén, CanadaLive, Switzerland

“Many Taiwanese have emigrated to this part of Canada, so it would be hard to find someone in Taiwan without a friend or relative living in this area, making it more familiar and ‘safer’ for many students. All of BC, particularly the interior, has spectacular scenery, which attracts a lot of students and, when matched with the more laid-back, welcoming atmosphere in BC compared to other provinces in Canada, it’s no wonder it is a popular destination.”
Brian Hockertz, Oh Canada, Taiwan

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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.





Asociación Gallega
      de Escuelas
      de Español - Agaes
English Australia
Perth Education City

Alphe Conferences
Icef - Work and
      Travel Forum

Malta Tourism

English Australia
Perth Education City

Algonquin and
      Lakeshore Catholic
      District School Board
Bodwell College
      Services - CISS
Cowichan Valley
      District #79
Delta School District
Maple Ridge / Pitt
      Meadows School
      District #42
Richmond School
      District #38
Stewart College of
Vancouver English
Vanwest College

Mandarin House

Quito S.I. Spanish
      Institute - Centro
      Asociado Cervantes

Anglolang Academy
      of English

Bell International
      (Malta, UK)
English Studio
Harrow House
LAL Language and
      (England, Malta,
      South Africa, USA)
Malvern House
Queen Ethelburga’s
St Christopher School
St Giles Colleges
       (Canada, UK, USA)
Study Group
      (Australia, Canada,
      England, France,
      Germany, Ireland,
      Italy, New Zealand,
      South Africa,
      Spain, USA)
Worksop College

Alliance Française
SILC - Séjours
       (England, France,

Prolog - International
      House Berlin


inlingua Malta
Malta Tourism

Self - Escola
      de Línguas

Cape Studies -
      Pacific Gateway
      Study Group
Garden Route
      Language Centre
Good Hope Studies

Asociación Gallega
      de Escuelas
      de Español - Agaes
Esade - Executive
Pamplona Learning
      Spanish Institute

EF Language
      (Australia, Canada,
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      England, France,
      Germany, Ireland,
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ALCC - American
Boston School of
       Modern Languages
California State
      San Marcos
Kaplan Educational
Monterey Institute
      of International
University of
      California Riverside
University of
      California San Diego
University of
      Santa Cruz
Zoni Language
      (Canada, USA)


Archer Education
Global Lifestyles
IH Vancouver

Tellus Group
Training Partnership
Twin Group

Icef - Work and
      Travel Forum

International House
      Sevilla - CLIC