January 2008 issue

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Ireland – Land of smiles

Ireland’s language travel industry trades heavily on its friendly welcome to international students. Irish school employees explain why this is just one of many reasons to study there. Amy Baker reports.

Galway is just a wonderful place full of ambience and culture and, no matter what time of year or what type of weather, you always come across a friendly face and a warm cosy place to have a bite to eat or a warm drink,” says Aoife Mulvihill of her adopted city, Galway. Mulvihill, who works for Atlantic Language Galway, relates that as a student in Limerick, she often visited the cultural capital and determined she would live there to enjoy the “friendliness and warmth of my own culture”.

After Dublin, Galway on the west coast is a popular spot for students and there are a few language schools in the city to choose from. With its famous horse races, oyster festival and fantastic countryside nearby, Galway has a lot to offer in terms of adventure and festivities. Billed as “one of the most chilled out spots in Western Europe” by Ireland’s tourist board, Galway City also has a significant student population and a reputation for enjoying itself. The city centre has pedestrianised streets that throng with drinkers and revellers every weekend and many pubs (often brightly coloured outside, as seen in the photo right) offer live music.

Students here find it easy to meet other people and have a lot of activities on offer in their free time, such as going to the beach, horse riding and visiting the nearby Aran Islands. With the city’s cosmopolitan atmosphere, Mulvihill sums up that she loves the city most for its “European feel”.

Another popular destination outside of Ireland’s vibrant capital, Dublin, is Cork in the southeast of the country. As with Galway, Cork does not really feel like a large city compared with other European conurbations, and it has a friendly, laid-back atmosphere and plenty of entertainment options. Half an hour from Cork itself is the town of Kinsale, which offers another study option for agents to consider for their clientele.

Helen Williams set up the Kinsale School of English in 2006 because she believes Kinsale is an ideal location due to its cultural attractions and the number of European connections available from Cork International Airport. “Kinsale, known as the gourmet capital of Ireland, is big enough to have a variety of restaurants, cafés, pubs, art galleries and interesting shops, yet small enough to have made friends within days,” she says.

An historic town built around a beautiful harbour, Kinsale offers students a view of a fishing community and Williams’s husband is himself a fisherman. “It is lovely to watch the boats return with their catch – usually prawns and whitefish – and the fact that Kinsale is a working harbour is of great interest to students,” she says.

Another family-run enterprise that offers English language tuition is the Belvedere Institute of Education in Mullingar in county Westmeath, in the middle of the country. Anna Brady at the school relates, “I work here together with my husband Declan, and we are told that because of this, the school has a lovely friendly family atmosphere.” Originally started by Brady’s mother, the school is now in young hands; Brady relates that her and her husband are both 30.

“Some people are surprised at how young Declan and I are to be running a school but we think being young makes us more optimistic and energetic and better able to relate to the students,” she says. “We get involved with extra-curricular activities and go on the excursions which means we get to know all our students really well.”

Mullingar itself is well linked to Dublin by road and public transport and it is apparently famous for beef steak and bachelors! It is the county town of Westmeath, an area that is renowned more for its countryside than towns – with many beautiful lakes and rivers in the region. “There are several lakes just outside Mullingar and in the summer people go sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, swimming, fishing or just take a picnic to the lake shore and breathe in the lovely air,” recounts Brady.

Yet another option outside of Dublin is Bray in county Wicklow, home to ATC Language & Travel. This school is situated on the seafront in Bray with host families and residential accommodation within walking distance, says Colm O’Byrne at the school. Yet, he points out, students are still only 16 kilometres from Dublin itself.

“Bray is located in the ‘Garden of Ireland’,” he relates. “It offer miles of beautiful coastline while also offering sites such as the historic monastic settlement of Glendalough, Powerscourt House & Gardens and the beautiful Wicklow mountains.” O’Byrne suggests that students choose to study in Ireland because of its friendly people and its host families, among other reasons. “Ireland is also unique in that it provides students with a combination of young, vibrant, modern cities and an unspoiled landscape and coastline,” he adds.

Some students want to be in the heart of the action and, of course, the capital city of Dublin is a popular choice for language travellers. There are many study options in the city, including Dublin City University (DCU) Language Services, which teaches across the campus just north of the city centre. Niamh O’Mahony at DCU says the campus facilities are one of the school’s attractions for international students, who are also drawn to experience Ireland’s reputation for warm and friendly people.

She herself professes to love working as a Marketing Officer at DCU. “Being employed in a language school is a wonderful opportunity to meet people from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds,” she says. “The enthusiasm with which students approach their studies and fit into a new environment is admirable.” O’Mahony lists the museums, art galleries and parks as well as the lively nightlife as attractions for students outside of study hours.

One region renowed for its bohemian vibe and nightlife is the Temple Bar, which has cobbled streets and many restaurants, pubs and arty shops. A stone’s throw from here is the Dublin School of English. Owned and operated by the Crossen family for many years, this school is one of the oldest in the country. “Our central location, close to Temple Bar and Trinity College, makes everything in the city within walking distance,” says Will Dowling at the school. He continues, “Dublin exudes the style and confidence of a cosmopolitan European capital. The Celtic Tiger [economic] boom introduced new restaurants, cafés, bars and clubs, and the city’s famous pub scene is now matched by an equally celebrated club scene.” To ensure students enjoy themselves as much as possible, the school lays on city and countryside visits, Irish dancing evenings and many cultural events, adds Dowling.

Another keen ambassador for Dublin is Jonathan Quinn, Marketing Director of CES, which has two schools in the city. He says that Dublin, “is one of the top cities in the world to visit at the moment. It has a vibrancy and energy that attracts tourists from all over the world.” Yet he also highlights the nearby Howth Peninsula as his tip for international students, where there is a harbour and lighthouse, a farmers’ market on Sundays and views across the bay to north county Dublin. “If you are lucky you may also see seals in the harbour,” he says.

CES is a family business and Quinn relates that he was probably always earmarked to join, “especially when you consider that I am the polyglot in the family”. Summing up the enthusiasm which many in the industry seem to share for education and international exchange, he says, “It is a wonderful industry to work in as you get to meet people from all over the world and in my field – sales and marketing – you also get to travel to some fantastic places.”

Agent viewpoint

“I myself am a big fan of Ireland just because of the breathtaking beauty of its nature and scenery – and the weather is definitely better than its reputation! Getting to know the Irish is very easy; everybody welcomes you with a warm and friendly approach. Galway especially is a hot spot for people planning a language holiday. It is Ireland’s cultural capital and famous for its art, music, theatre and film scene. Although a city, Galway feels more like a big town with its medieval streets, cosy cafés, bars and little restaurants.”
Antje Linnemann, Carpe Diem, Germany

“The amazing landscapes, the friendly Irish people, the rich cultural life… The similarities with our own Spanish culture and the cost of living makes Ireland a favourite choice. One of the favourite places students want to learn is Bray. Bray offers students a very full social life in a nice residential area on the seafront. Situated on the coast at the foothills of the Wicklow mountains, Bray also offers students many beautiful walks and activities such as golf and hill walking. All of this only a short train journey from Dublin city centre!“
Virginia Merediz, LanguagesGo!, Spain

“The visa procedures [for Ireland] are so simple; students don’t have to spend a lot of time preparing to go. Most Koreans are satisfied with having studied there. The first reason is that Irish people are kind and nice, so they felt comfortable when they lived there. And they can meet many European students in Ireland. But sometimes, they complain about costs or the weather in winter.”
Julia Hong, Uhak.com, Korea

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