July 2006 issue

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Snapshots of Britain

Football, fun, tolerance, lush green countryside, lively cities and picturesque villages – all part of the kaleidoscope of Britain that attracts international students, as Jane Vernon Smith finds out.

While the lure of “the land of Shakespeare” is as strong as ever, Lucy Wilkins at Bell International in London believes that one of the most underrated and yet useful aspects of the UK for foreign students, is its “multiculturalism and extraordinary diversity… of people, opinions, cultures and accents”. Nowhere is this exhibited to a greater degree than in the English capital, London. This, together with the Netherlands, Wilkins notes, is the most tolerant society in the world. It is a place where, “for a long or short time, you can experiment – try out new ways of living”.

One of the major impacts of London’s multiculturalism is felt in its cuisine. Rachel Matthews, Principal at Aspect College London, points out that, “Students can try everything, from traditional meals at London’s pubs and pie & mash shops to the finest French or Italian cuisine, or they can visit the restaurants of Chinatown [in London’s Soho district] and the curry houses of Brick Lane.”

Wilkins agrees, noting that students who arrive wary of British food leave London having discovered that the food in their host family was delicious “and also that chicken tikka and sushi are now considered part of the English diet”. She says, “London has so much to offer, in so many spheres, that no one could ever get bored or tired of the place.”

Bearing in mind that students are often on a tight budget, the social programme at Aspect College London is designed to help students make the most of the city’s attractions as cost-effectively as possible. The school organises cut-price visits to West End shows and famous tourist sights, as well as events such as inter-college football matches, pub nights and student boat parties on the River Thames. Meanwhile, “Many students want to take advantage of London’s convenient connections to the rest of Europe,” Matthews reveals, “so we also help them to arrange weekends away in Paris

or Amsterdam.”

London is an excellent base for exploring the rest of the country, and “Windsor Castle and Buckingham Place are always popular, as are trips to Oxford and Cambridge,” comments Wilkins, who notes, “The cultural/royal aspect of these places appeals to all students.”

The cultural charm of the two most famous university towns, Oxford and Cambridge, has been fully realised by English language teaching centres based in these cities, and punting on the river, touring the famous university buildings and visiting typical pubs are usual activities on the agenda.

Further north is a less well-known destination that offers an experience in sharp contrast to London and the famous cities of the south. Lydbury, in the West Midlands county of Shropshire, is easily reached from Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Coventry airports. At Lydbury English Centre, Duncan Baker notes that his school – which caters for adult students aged 23 and over – is ideal for short-stay students. “We offer a quiet, residential environment, which is ideal for busy business and professional people,” he explains. One of the chief attractions of the area is the beauty of the local scenery and nearby small towns such as historic Ludlow, which hosts an annual summer festival, with an open-air performance of Shakespeare, plus real ale, Morris dancers and bell ringing. “The real England!” smiles Baker.

Lydbury is also well placed for visiting locations to the west of the country, such as Chester, Shrewsbury and even the fabulous wild Welsh coast. Meanwhile, the ancient and popular university town of Oxford is also within reach.

Anna Stanton, Director of Studies at Aspect College in Oxford, highlights, “The thing that students most enjoy about Oxford is its traditional and academic atmosphere”. This, Aspect students can soak up at their leisure, as the college is located in “a leafy, academic area of [the city]”. Its own large garden and courtyard provide the most popular place for students to relax and socialise in the summer.

Due to Oxford’s large student body, it has the advantage of being a historic city with a young population. This, as Stanton points out, means that, “there really is something for everyone – from the historic, traditional and cultural, to bars, clubs, restaurants and green, open spaces”. Oxford is, she notes, big enough to have everything you need, but less hectic and busy than London.

The north of England does not always immediately suggest itself to potential students who are deciding on where to study, although there is one particular city that is famous worldwide for its football team – Manchester United. Manchester and Sheffield are two cities that have both undergone substantial regeneration over recent years, and are now becoming increasingly popular destinations.

“Many of our agents are very pleasantly surprised when they arrive in Manchester, expecting an industrial town, and leave having felt the energy of the city [and] seen the mix of Victorian and old buildings. They really are surprised and interested,” relates Helen Crosbie at Manchester Academy of English. She adds that students are attracted to the city because of “the obvious football links, but also more cultural links – for instance, the Manchester International Festival 2007 is already drawing a lot of interest, due to its signing of international bands, such as Gorillaz.”

According to Crosbie, many students like the city’s convenience. Public transport links are both easy and cheap, while links to other destinations in the northwest are close at hand. “Students are [also] very touched by the friendliness and approachable nature of our local people,” she says.

One hour’s journey to the east, and also competing strongly for student business, is Sheffield. “Sheffield is a city we’re extremely proud of,” states Jo Shaw at Carl Duisberg Language Centre, unequivocally. She says visitors to the city are drawn to the unusual mixture of city life and countryside. “After all,” Shaw notes, “we are England’s greenest city, with over 150 woodlands and 50 public parks, along with our most impressive asset, the glorious Peak District National Park”, where climbing and rambling are popular.

Another major selling point is the cost of living. As Shaw records, a survey undertaken in 2005 by the Royal Bank of Scotland revealed that the lively city has the lowest student living costs in the UK. With two universities and over 40,000 students, the city is geared to the needs of the young. “Some of the advantages of being a student in Sheffield include cheap nights out, plenty of public transport and lots of student discounts on travel, shopping, eating and entry into various venues.”

Furthermore, says Shaw, “We have some fantastic nightclubs here, including the legendary Gatecrasher Super Club. The pre-club scene offers a wide choice of bars and pubs. The sporting activities are second to none.”

Scotland is also a serious contender these days as a study destination and increasingly accessible from abroad. Its two major cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow, are both university towns and provide an excellent base for seeing the rest of the country. Scotland is famous for “its breathtaking scenery and fascinating history, not to mention the Loch Ness Monster,” as Jackie Simpson, Principal of Aspect College in Edinburgh points out. Trips to the Highlands are always popular, she notes.

Easy to get around and with easy access to the nearby countryside, Edinburgh itself has a reputation as a cultural centre, but it also has a lively nightlife, which is attractive to young people. Moreover, the phenomenal success of Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, has brought visitors flocking to the city to see the Rosslyn Chapel. Other attractions include Edinburgh Castle, overlooking the city, and the Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe Festival. Aspect College organises an annual course to enable students to combine English classes with events at these popular festivals of arts.

Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, is “a friendly city with a cosmopolitan and vibrant feel,” according to Marketing Manager, Lorraine Morrison, at Glasgow School of English. With excellent shopping facilities, theatres, concerts, restaurants, bars and clubs, it offers plenty for students to do. Free activities prove the most popular, according to Morrison, and happily Glasgow has many free visitor attractions – including art galleries and museums – which form the core of the school’s activities schedule. “Another social activity that is very popular with students is traditional Scottish dancing, and celilidhs (traditional Scottish dances) are always well attended,” reports Morrison.

The school itself is located in the centre of the city and has excellent transport links. With the international airport only 15 minutes from the school, a flight to London takes just one hour. In fact, as Morrison highlights, the speed and ease of travel, by air or rail, within the UK generally is a major plus. Whatever the choice of destination, the relatively small size of the country means that the UK’s great diversity can be explored with ease.

Agent viewpoint

“Geographically, Spain and Britain are two different worlds. Spain is hot and arid, and the lush green countryside of Britain is really appealing. Also those very distinctive Tudor houses, which you find in small towns like Chester and Stratford-upon-Avon, which are typically picturesque, and very English. Most people also try to get in at least a couple of days in London, to sample the shopping and nightlife. People are beginning to explore other cities like Liverpool and Manchester.”
Joan Keary, Englishjet, Spain

“British English carries high prestige. Clients often mention ‘Oxford English’ as one of the criteria that makes them decide. [Other] positives: caring host families, friendly natives, good travel and tourism options. Negatives: price levels and, still, the food, but things are improving.”
Dan Baruch, English in Britain, Germany

“One thing students comment on is this feeling of tolerance that comes across. Some have commented on the genuine love for the country and its traditions, and... some on that precious sense of humour, which makes life look a lot easier.”
Verena Stocker, Language Studies Abroad, Switzerland

“First of all, it seems natural that you learn English in England. Not only are our clients interested in studying the language proper, but they also like to learn something about British life and culture. For young adults, the prospect of further studies or work in the UK seems to be an important factor for them. As far as our business clients are concerned, they consider London (and the UK in general) as the European centre of business and finance.”
Arkadiusz Jaworski, ELS-Bell School of English, Poland

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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.




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