||London is one of the most exciting cities in the world - not only for its historical buildings and other cultural attractions but also because it's great for shopping, has wonderful markets, [and] is a centre for alternative fashion, music and nightlife,' says Jane Dancaster, Principal of Wimbledon School of English.
The picture-postcard image of London - Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus, red double-decker buses and black taxis - is certainly well known around the globe and London is a magnet for tourists. 'You don't have to sell London as a location. Everyone knows all about it,' confirms Jason West from English [Out there!]. The city's history is evident everywhere in its magnificent architecture, from St Paul's Cathedral to the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, while its multiculturalism can been seen in the many varied restaurants, shops and festivals. As Shahla Karkouti, Marketing Coordinator at the Waterloo School of English (WSE), says, students in London can easily 'experience London's unique blend of culture and history'.
There are hundreds of language schools in the 800 square miles that is Greater London. Leicester Square School of English (LSSE) is one of the centrally located providers. 'All of the major tourist attractions are just [within] walking distance [of the school],' says Neelisha Vadher, LSSE's Marketing Manager. She adds, 'There are so many cafés, bars and restaurants [nearby], and the theatre district.'
Being on the outskirts of the city centre can also have its advantages, as Dancaster in Wimbledon underlines. 'The joy of being at one of the suburban schools is that you can have all the excitement of London and live and study in a quieter area without the stress of commuting.' Judy Loren, of Excel English, agrees and describes their location in Muswell Hill - just 25 minutes from the city centre by underground - as 'an Edwardian village with its own distinct character'.
While students enjoy visiting the popular tourist haunts, such as the Tower of London and Madame Tussaud's waxwork museum, schools report that students derive the most satisfaction from seeing other aspects of London. 'Students like to discover new places and like visiting areas outside the normal 'zone 1' [central area] by going to markets in Camden and Brixton, for example,' says Vadher. Dancaster adds that students enjoy the bars and shops of Soho and the many interesting second-hand shops and markets.
No student in London can escape the city's effervescent nightlife scene, which includes traditional pubs, trendy bars and nightclubs hosted by world-famous DJs. 'London's nightlife is second to none,' confirms Karkouti. There are many places that are popular with international students, including Bar Madrid, Bar Salsa, the Ministry of Sound and Break for the Border. Annette Brolly, of Internexus, says students like 'places where they are able to dance and where there is no admission charge'.
With so much on their doorsteps, schools generally organise a wide range of extra-curricular activities to help students get to know the city and its people. Louise Winney from St Giles Colleges says that one of the most popular activities at their London school is a boat party on the River Thames. 'We hire a Thames leisure boat and disco, and the students get to dance and see London at the same time,' she says.
LSSE organises football matches in Hyde Park, while West mentions students going to the Old Bailey law courts to watch a murder trial and Loren says they have organised trips as diverse as going to recordings of BBC programmes and visiting Karl Marx's grave in Highgate Cemetery. 'There is so much to do for all age groups,' adds Brolly at Internexus, whose activity list includes a back-stage tour of the Shakespearean Globe Theatre and a tour of Big Ben.
While London is generally considered to be an expensive location, Winney says, 'It's amazing what you can do in London on a budget when you know where to find things.' To help students, St Giles has put together a 'London for free' dossier, which lists events, exhibitions and attractions that can be visited for free or for a minimal charge. Dancaster says that their students are 'pleasantly surprised' to find that entry to most museums and art galleries in London is free of charge.
Whenever students visit London, there is sure to be something going on. At Christmas, there is the festive atmosphere of shopping on Oxford Street with its Christmas lights and many elaborate store window displays, while Covent Garden is full of street entertainers, particularly in the summer. Year-round, various parts of the city are alive with festivals, which Karkouti says are 'fantastic'. These include Notting Hill Carnival, with its colourful street parade and multicultural atmosphere, and the Victoria Park Festival, with DJs, live bands, fairground rides and a circus. In addition, says Karkouti, 'The South Bank offers a wide range of outdoor festivals during the summer months, and [at] WSE, being so close, we make sure our students are aware of this and encourage them to go along.'
Meeting people can be a problem in big cities like London, so most schools organise social activities to ensure students have the chance to mix with locals. English [Out there!] goes one step further, as conversing with Londoners is a main part of the course. 'One thing that gives [students] a buzz is really successful linguistic interaction with native English speakers,' says West.
'London is, without doubt, the most popular destination for our students. They choose to study there because there is a lot to see and it is very easy to access anywhere in the UK [from London]. The only disadvantages are that there are sometimes too many Japanese students at schools and there may be a 40-to-60 minute journey from school to homestay, and on top of that, things are expensive.'
Yuriko Nakagawa, Int. Student Society/Int. Communication Center, Japan
'Students choose to study in London because it is the most famous city around the world with so many attractions. Students like to go to the theatre and go out with their friends and host families. They generally find it easy to meet friends and find part-time jobs, but it is expensive, including public transport, and it can sometimes feel dangerous.'
Thomas Suh, IES/Ukuhak, Korea
'London's attractions are certainly its unique lifestyle, theatre, sport events such as soccer, fashion, markets and shopping. All the historical and heritage sites contribute considerably to its attractiveness.'
Rolf Frischknecht, Beratung für Sprachausbildung, Switzerland
'Our clients choose London for its good schools, rich cultural life and the possibilities of combining their studies with getting to know London. [They like] the city's cosmopolitan flair, the possibility to meet people from all over the world, a chance to practise English practically 24- hours-a-day and the vast range of activities on offer.'
Vesna Kezic, Kompas, Slovenia