||The largest of Australia’s six states, Western Australia occupies almost one third of the country’s total land mass and boasts a fantastic climate and almost year-round blue skies. It is, as Bianca Panizza, Director of the Centre for English Language Teaching at the University of Western Australia in Perth, observes, a huge and varied state, to which prospective students are drawn, “because they have a sense of its size and exotic Australian-ness”, she says.
John Paxton at Perth International College of English (PICE) agrees. “I believe Western Australia provides what the market perceives as ‘the real Australia’,” he says. That is to say, great weather, superb beaches, wide open spaces, colourful landscapes and friendly people living a relaxed lifestyle.
With the vast majority of Western Australia’s language schools concentrated in and around Perth, this coastal city of 1.5 million inhabitants is the principal magnet for international language students within the state. It does not disappoint. “Once in Western Australia and Perth, students are struck by its beauty,” notes Panizza. “They comment on the city’s greenness on trees in streets, on parks and household gardens. They like the spaciousness and the feeling that the sky is wide and a clean, clear blue. They like the Swan River, which they often take to be a lake, because it’s so broad in places.” She adds that students are often “astounded” at the spontaneous helpfulness of complete strangers.
For Paxton, “Perth’s reputation has always been about beaches endless, pristine, close to the city.” Yet, he adds, “It’s more than that, I think. Perth is built around water the Swan River and the Indian Ocean. Every activity associated with water, above and below, you can find in Western Australia.” Summer-time favourites among his students include all beach activities, particularly beach volleyball, while social occasions, such as river cruises on the Swan “are also big winners”, he says, and with Perth enjoying the most annual sunshine hours of all Australian cities, such activities are always available.
There are also plenty of other activities on offer within the city. Panizza notes, “People who love sport are completely at home here. Those interested in cinema are able to see films in several art-house cinemas, as well as in mainstream theatres. There’s all kinds of music and clubs for nightlife. These range from the funky to the laid-back to the glamorous. There are theatres and art galleries. There’s shopping Australian shopping. And I’ve been told that Japanese girls like to buy up retro gear from our second-hand clothes shops.”
Meanwhile, students visiting during summer can enjoy the city’s outdoor theatre and cinemas, where they can picnic and then watch a film under the stars. The Perth International Festival of Arts has many free attractions, and summer brings other events, including Opera in the Park and Shakespeare in the Park.
Not only is there plenty to do, but, affirms Panizza, “Students like that Perth is a city of a manageable size, that it has the glamour of being a seaside city, but one that is a serious city, nevertheless.” Equally important is the “ease of living in the city”, which Paxton describes as “clean, safe [and] with a very friendly, cosmopolitan atmosphere.” It is, as he says, “a city [that] is not so big, but busy enough for a good time!”
Another big plus for students coming to Perth today is its economic prosperity. Warren Milner, Director of Milner International College of English in Perth, relates, “Perth’s new nickname is ‘Boomtown’. Western Australia is an Aladdin’s Cave of minerals. Dig a hole, and you’ll find a mineral and often in vast quantities. Throw in China’s insatiable appetite for our products, particularly iron ore and gas, and you have a torrent of money flowing into our state.”
Furthermore, he points out, “The boom has produced an abundance of jobs. Locals who previously worked in hospitality have moved up the employment ladder. The result is an acute shortage of restaurant, café and hotel workers.” Consequently, students with a student or working holiday visa have an abundance of jobs to choose from, even if their English is not all that fluent. “Employment opportunities are better than in Sydney,” claims Milner, and the college capitalises on this advantage by providing a staff member to help students with all aspects of finding employment, from preparing their CV, to telling them where the jobs are, and dealing with the tax office.
Perth is not the only option for students looking for employment in Western Australia. In the small seaport of Bunbury, approximately 170 kilometres south of the state capital, West Coast International College of English attracts a high proportion of students who are visiting on a working holiday visa. “They choose our college because it is the only Elicos college in Western Australia outside Perth, and Bunbury offers a great deal of work that counts towards getting a second working holiday visa,” explains Jenny Byatt, the school’s Director of Studies.
The school’s orientation includes an introduction to sporting groups, volunteer opportunities, local events and jobs, and, says Byatt, probably half the students join a group. With the majority of students studying while on a working holiday, the school focuses on providing low-cost activities that they can afford. “We offer free sunset sailing in Koombana Bay (with the dolphins) every Wednesday night in summer, and this is extremely popular,” reports Byatt. “The yacht club members love having our students. They teach the students Aussie slang while they’re out on the boat, so it’s like a free English lesson as well!”
Notwithstanding the many attractions to be found on the doorstep of Western Australia’s language schools, most visiting students also want to explore what Julia Skarina of Perth Education City describes as “Western Australia’s rich natural environment”. As she highlights, Perth has a number of quality tour operators who offer day and weekend trips to many destinations across the state, making “spectacular coastlines, pristine beaches and the great Australian outback” all readily accessible.
Just offshore from Perth, and accessible by ferry, is Rottnest Island, a popular holiday spot. Here, “students can surf, swim, cycle, see quokkas [a small marsupial], snorkle, relax and just have a great time. They love it”, recounts Panizza. Those who are keen walkers may also want to experience the bibbulmun track. This is a long distance walk of almost 1,000 kilometres in total, beginning south of Perth and finishing up at Albany on the southwest coast. Described as the quintessential Australian bush experience, it is, Panizza confirms, “very West Australian”. Albany itself is also worth a visit, along with Esperance, further east along the south coast, where kangaroos may be seen resting on the beach.
Perth-based inbound agency, Work Study, provides tour booking as part of its service and, says Trish Yeo, its students take advantage of short weekend trips to the southwest or longer trips up north. “In the southwest,” she says, “the students have the opportunity to volunteer at the Dolphin Discovery Centre (DDC) in Bunbury and to observe wildlife conservation and innovative therapies involving dolphins. The students can also tour the vineyards of Margaret River for European-style fare with a distinctly Australian flavour.” Another amazing sight is Wave Rock, a gigantic surf wave formed of granite, forever suspended at the top of its roll. This is a popular excursion for students, according to Panizza, who adds, “It’s nature close up.” This, in short, is the quintessential lure of Western Australia.
“Australia is a charming country. Students appreciate the friendliness of the people. People care about them. As [Perth] is not that big, they can easily find their way around. Besides, it is a secure place. Students appreciate the green places, the river, the ocean, [the] good education [and the] very friendly people who always try to help them.”
Caroline Ripoll, Languages & Travel IDP, France
“Perth has been considered one of the most suitable [Australian destinations] for students to study and learn English, due to the fact that it’s unique, very Australian, less congested (lots of open spaces) and, of course, it also has many beautiful beaches and fantastic weather. Also, Japanese people enjoy the variety of restaurants in Perth.”
Mayu Hayakawa, Perth Ryugaku Center, Australia
“The climate is very important for Swiss students, the sun and nice temperatures. The big difference between Australia and other English-speaking destinations is the price. Australian schools offer the best value [in terms of] price and education for students. [Students] also like the beach, the safe and clean city and outdoor activities.”
Fritz Bachmann, Meredian Language & Travel, Switzerland
“Beauty is everywhere in Australia. For students, [there] are two main reasons [to pick Western Australia]. First of all is the lower percentage of Czech and Slovak students going to this rather remote part of the continent and second is the pleasant climate year round, which is better than, for example, Sydney.”
Vlastimil Tichy, Alfa Agency, Czech Republic