February 2013 issue

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Eclectic England

England is the land of punk rockers, tea sippers, gardening enthusiasts, city slickers, marmite eaters and the occasional morris dancer. Claire Twyman finds out more.

Although a cliché, England truly is a country where old meets new. While some visitors identify with the iconic images of traditional villages, heritage sites and green and pleasant land, others seek the excitement of the cutting-edge cities responsible for some of the world’s most influential music, fashion and art movements. And for international students who want a bit of both, the small size of the island makes the countryside and cities easily accessible.

The capital city of London, for example, has great motorway and railway links to the regal city of Oxford, South Downs National Park and the quaint coastal towns in the south east. “London has a multicultural society reflecting its past, present and future,” relates Mehmet Tepeli from the London branch of ELC, with language schools nationwide. “You can never get bored as there is something for everyone – it is a rare city where you can take your friend to a Kenyan restaurant for lunch and then watch an Argentinean tango performance, followed by a relaxing walk along the River Thames or a clubbing experience with DJs from Sweden or the USA.” And for greater insight into English heritage, Leslie McLaurin from Kaplan International Colleges, also with schools nationwide, divulges, “London has a wide variety of organised walks where you can learn all about ‘hidden London’ – from the gruesome Jack the Ripper tour to the more light-hearted Harry Potter or Beatles walks. In summer, Londoners spill onto the streets taking part in festivals, but in winter they retreat indoors to enjoy a West End show or a simple pub lunch.”

London also hosted the 2012 Olympic Games, which Nicola Whyley from the ELC Group says has “really opened people’s eyes to the country’s sporting and cultural heritage”. Illustrating traces of ancestry outside the capital, Whyley informs, “Our York school occupies a Georgian townhouse and is situated within the city’s Roman walls, whereas our Manchester school is a typical Victorian red-brick villa at the heart of where the industrial revolution started.” One of her favourite places to visit, she adds, is the National Trust site Lyme Park near Manchester. “Not only are the grounds great for a long walk with views over Manchester, but you get a real feel for what life was like in Edwardian times – it was where the BBC’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was filmed,” she says. “Some of our Panamanian students visited Blue John Caverns in the Peak District and saw their first snowflakes there too.”

Only 87.4km to the south east of London, around an hour away via train, is the coastal city of Brighton – a vibrant seaside resort with a thriving LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) scene and legendary nightlife. Relatively young, the city was awarded city status for the millennium, and although small in size there is a lot going on for both the young and old – particularly at Brighton Pier. Some nickname it a little London-on-the-sea, but the city does manage to retain its own quirky spirit and often attracts creative types who also enjoy the pebbled beach experience. Brighton is a place of great beauty, as Neil Stawarz from Brighton Language College highlights. “The countryside is stunning with the nearby Seven Sisters and Beachy Head providing amazing views of the chalk white cliffs contrasting with the blue of the English Channel,” he says, adding that the school arranges a range of activities for students, from games on the famous Brighton Pier to drinking cream teas. “In and around Brighton I love the seafront most of all – it changes from peaceful and relaxed in Hove, where people play games on Hove lawns and walk their dogs along the promenade, to lively and exciting between the piers with bars, restaurants and nightclubs.”

Plymouth is another coastal city, but is located in the south west and has an entirely different character to Brighton. Belonging to the county of Devon, renowned for its quintessentially English villages, stunning coastline and, of course, for its scrumptious cider, the city has many Tudor buildings scattered around – particularly in the restored Barbican area overlooking the harbour. Plymouth also has strong maritime roots, and was where the Pilgrim Fathers sailed off to discover the New World. As Dale Moore from Tellus Group – which owns the Meridian Schools of English in Plymouth and Portsmouth – highlights, these English ancestors were responsible for bringing the English language to North America in 1620. And within Plymouth, Moore enthuses, “We encourage [students] to speak to local people in the city who are very friendly, [and] we also arrange activities and trips to local places of interest such as The Eden Project.”

Moore reveals that the south west region is his favourite, “The food and drink is amazing and the countryside is breath-taking,” he says. Rachel Iles from Exeter College, also in the south west, shares his soft spot for the region. “It boasts some of the country’s most popular tourist destinations including Land’s End, Stonehenge, Dartmoor and the historic and student friendly cities of Plymouth and Exeter,” she enthuses. “Students studying in the south west can enjoy stunning countryside, rugged moorland, the Jurassic coast and beautiful coastlines and beaches.”

Within Devon, Exeter is a small city that is often eclipsed by the better-known cities of Bristol and Bath but is a great study abroad destination in its own right. Its rich history is demonstrated by the dramatic 15th century gothic cathedral, and the nightlife is diverse, especially in comparison to cities of similar size. “The capital of Devon, Exeter, is a historic yet modern city with a reputation for an outstanding quality of life,” Iles explains. “With the new Princesshay shopping centre, lively nightlife, a range of theatres, cinemas and art scenes, restaurants and cafés and the cathedral and historic quarters, Exeter has something for everyone.”

Heading up north, York is another city well worth its credentials as a study destination. Reminding visitors of a time before the Industrial Revolution, it is enclosed by a circuit of 13th Century walls and offers a myriad of museums and traditional pubs. “As the best beer in England is brewed in Yorkshire, trips to the brewery are popular,” says Andrew Hjort from Melton College. He reveals that his favourite place to visit in the country is the York Minster, a magnificent gothic cathedral that is the largest in northern Europe.

York is fairly close in proximity to Durham, a city near the coast and close to the big city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. With beautiful Norman architecture, the city has a great academic reputation and is home to Durham School, a boarding school for boys aged three-to-13 years. “I strongly advise my pupils to see as much as they can while they are here,” says Nicole Parker, Director of Studies, describing a varied history of organised activities at the school including a visit to Durham Light Infantry Museum, Durham Botanical Gardens and a Chinese New Year party organised by pupils.

In the Midlands, Nottingham is a city that is particularly student-friendly, with a wide variety of lively pubs and clubs and the popular Nottingham Forest Football Club. At Nottingham’s Trent College, Justine Cook reveals that her favourite place to visit is the nearby Derbyshire Peak District. “From the verdant river valleys and limestone cottages of the White Peak to the wild heather moorlands of the Dark Peak, it has a variety of landscapes to explore on foot, by bike or by paddling in a canoe!” she says.

InTuition Languages organises host tutor language tuition courses across all regions of the UK, and the Director Norman Renshaw has an extensive knowledge of England. “Our favourite locations are off the beaten track of EFL,” he reveals, “as the small towns have a distinct community, and fewer tourists. A must-visit location is Alfriston in East Sussex – with its chocolate box high street it is like walking back into 1950. We may not have the best weather in the world, but we more than make up for [this] in endless possibilities to face history, engage in culture and experience the language in its original context.”

Agent viewpoint

“The main reason Turkish students choose England is that it is close to Turkey compared with Canada, the USA and Australia. The most surprising thing for students is the punctuality of the bus and train services and people sharing a house with the landlord. Students enjoy visiting the beach if they are close to the sea, going to discos and of course visiting London to see Madam Tussauds, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace.”
tilla Gazioglu, Gate International Education, Turkey

“It goes without saying that the English language is ‘the’ reason for studying in England, as well as experiencing the different way of life – especially the new contrasting with the old. There is a variety of colourful people in the streets, and a vast number of crazy items, from clothes to gadgets, to buy. Students are surprised by how polite the locals are to overseas students, and our young teenagers enjoy visiting museums, cultural attractions and shopping! My favourite highlight is a visit to a genuine traditional pub to have a wonderful pint of ale while observing the locals.”
Gemma Borriello, Mister Go, Italy

“England is the cradle of the most popular foreign language in Poland. It is a natural choice; it is close – just a two-hour flight from all Polish airports. Students are surprised by people driving on the left, free entrance to state-run museums and the history and culture (it seems as if the Poles are a bit jealous of the monarchy). England pretty much offers everything at the highest level – the best museums, great shopping opportunities, world-famous sports venues and the greatest cultural events. If the prices were lower (generally speaking) England would be an unbeatable number one English language travel destination.”
Wojciech Lapacz, Attitude, Poland

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