June 2009 issue

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Canada’s song

As the world’s second largest country by land mass, Canada is as vast as it is beautiful. Stretching from the warm climes of the Pacific to the cooler waters of the Atlantic, its landscape is picture perfect. Nicola Hancox goes on a journey of epic proportions.

Students certainly have a lot of ground to cover should they choose to visit the gargantuan country of Canada. Composed of 10 provinces and three territories spanning some 9,984,670 square kilometres, its varying landscape undoubtably influences the lives of the people that live there as well as those who opt to study there.
The province of British Columbia is one of the few places on earth that can boast a mountain range, a coastline and a desert. Flanked by the snowy peaks of the Rockies in the east, the Pacific Ocean in the west and the ecologically unique Okanagan Valley, the warmest and driest area of Canada, students won’t know whether to pack their skis, their hiking boots or a pair of flip flops!
Victoria is the provincial capital and according to Christina Gambrell from the University of Victoria, it’s the California of Canada. Indeed, while the rest of the nation don their thermals, British Columbians appear to enjoy a more temperate climate. “In March, the only snow we see are the colourful blankets of pink cherry blossoms that accumulate in the streets,” she enthuses.
Matthew Chisholm from Geos Language Academy in Victoria agrees and says there’s a simple reason why students pick Victoria over other Canadian cities. “The main reason students come to Victoria is for the truly great atmosphere that this city provides. Victoria is a very friendly, mid-sized city which enjoys views of the natural beauty of the Pacific North West,” he muses.
Given that Victoria resides on Vancouver Island – a portion of land separated from the mainland – many of the activities here are water-oriented and Gambrell counts whale watching, kayaking and sailing as particular favourites. Chisholm, meanwhile, recommends a jaunt to the little town of Tofino – a small town on the west coast of the Island. “What draws me to this place is the beauty of pure nature. There are mile-long beaches – some sandy and some rocky – and nothing between you and countries such as Japan, Korea, and Russia except the view of the Pacific Ocean.”
Those after the bright lights of a big city, however, will certainly find what they’re looking for in Vancouver, says Lucas Bertoli from iTTTi Vancouver. “It’s a great city because it has the feel of the West Coast vibe while offering a metropolitan modern style for those who love culture, shopping and dining – it offers the best of both worlds,” he says. Often referred to as the Hollywood of the North it definitely hits the spot in terms of culture and art. “Film, theatre and acting have become a large part of the city’s culture,” he says and a summer festival, aptly named Bard on the Beach, is one such example. “Spectators are able to watch talented actors as they relive Shakespearian plays and dramas against a stunning backdrop of mountains, sea and sky.”
Kelowna, part of the Okanagan Valley, is further inland and Dale Lockhart from International Gateway Kelowna notes how this relatively small city – the population stands at just over 100,000 – is the gateway to “internationally acclaimed vineyards, championship golf courses, lush orchards and a healthy semi-desert lifestyle”.
Lockhart notes that should students wish to get the adrenalin pumping, a world-class ski slope or two are just a stone’s throw away. “Big White, Apex, Silver Star, Crystal Mountain resorts offer skiing and snowboarding on near perfect champagne powder from December to April,” he says adding that Big White resort in particular offers affordable skiing and remains relatively quiet during peak season.
The neighbouring provinces of Alberta and Manitoba form part of the prairie states – a name given to a particularly sparse area of flat grassland that contains little or no trees. However, what they lack in woodland they certainly make up for in the number of language schools located there.
Calgary, the largest city in Alberta, is one of the fastest growing metropolises in Canada and according to John Taplin from Global Village Calgary, it’s extremely welcoming to outsiders. “Calgary is a dynamic and very hospitable city which has recently passed a population of one million,” he says. He adds that it’s also one of the sunniest cities: “A lesser known fact is that we have over 300 days of sunshine per year, more than any other Canadian city.”
Ranked one of the cleanest cities in the world by Forbes magazine, Calgary has a small-scale city centre that is easily walkable in all seasons – the “+15” enclosed walkways are the world’s most extensive pedestrian skywalk system and can be used when it is snowing outside.
Cassandra Litke Wyatt from Bow Valley College in Calgary, AB, recommends students sample an array of different activities including hiking in the mountains, biking in Calgary’s river pathways and for the more daring, tubing along Elbow River – an activity that involves riding an inflatable rubber ring downstream. And students can join Calgarians as they celebrate cowboys, rodeos and chuck-wagon races at the Calgary Stampede – an annual event held in the city every summer. “The stampede is a world famous 10-day festival which celebrates Calgary’s western heritage,” says Lona Morishita from International House Calgary, AB. “It offers a variety of entertainment from a parade to beer gardens to free pancake breakfasts with live country music every day on street corners all around the city,” she explains.
With 14.5 per cent of its surface area covered by water, it’s no surprise that Manitoba is known as the land of 100,000 lakes. It’s the perfect place to unwind and get back to nature and here students can literally live life on the water’s edge. Andrew Wilkinson from Heartland International English School in Winnipeg, MB, advises students take advantage of the wilderness while here. “We advise students enjoy the Canadian wilderness whether its spending time in one of our many provincial national parks or going to one of the many lakes that are abundant and doing the unique activities that accompany them,” he reveals. However, he notes that Winnipeg, the provincial capital, is awash with cultural gems too, in particular the Exchange District. “It’s one of North America’s most colourful and cosmopolitan neighbourhoods,” says Wilkinson, “and it offers Winnipeg’s finest cultural, dining and retail amenities.” He adds that it boasts early 20th-century architecture, and is renowned for its thriving arts community.
Those longing to experience a little multiculturalism will certainly find what they’re looking for in Quebec – the only Canadian province with a predominantly French speaking population. “Montreal is a thriving bilingual metropolis where both French and English are spoken on a day-to-day basis,” relates Mélanie Rousseau at Point3 Language Center in Montreal, QC – a school that offers both English and French immersion courses. She relates that no summer is complete complete without an expedition up Mount Royal – a 764-foot peak in the centre of the city, while “a trip to the sugar shack for tasty maple syrup sticks or to the botanical garden to view nature awakening” are some of their more alternative offerings.
Students at River Echo Language School in Wakefield, QC, meanwhile, can expect a more small town feel and Kerstin Petersson reflects this is exactly what she intended to offer. “I opened the school in 1999 and had previously been on a couple of language holidays in Costa Rica which I had enjoyed immensely. I found the mix of language training, activities, homestay and holidays very conducive to learning (I had personally hated school with a passion when I was young!). I also realised that the Gatineau Hills, where I live, would be the perfect place to offer the same kind of experience,” she recalls. And popular activities undertaken by River Echo students include visiting a maple sugar shack, watching the cranberry harvest or visiting a wild boar farm.
Meanwhile, students seeking a little comic relief after a day’s study will surely appreciate the Juste pour Rire or Just for Laughs comedy festival. “Our Montreal students take in many laughs at the internationally acclaimed comedy festival as well as the musical festival, Les Francofoiles,” notes Janet Stvan from Canadian & International Student Services (CISS) – which has schools in Montreal, Toronto and Squamish.
And finally there’s the province of Ontario. Toronto, the provincial capital is, according to David Oancia from Hansa Language Centre, “a microcosm of the world”. Indeed, the diversity of some of Toronto’s neighbourhoods – the city is reputed to have over 240 – is a big draw for students, not to mention its locals. “Within the city of Toronto I love Little Italy,” says Lianne Hodgson from Toronto Language Plus. “It is just a short streetcar ride from our school and it boasts a very laid-back European feel. People shop at the local market for their daily veggies, sip cappuccino on café patios and at night enjoy Italian cuisine, wine, live music and dancing in some charming little restaurants and bars,” she adds. Oancia mentions that students get the most out of the city if they explore by bike. “This is an amazing city to cycle through. Driving around on two wheels, one can get a very real sense of the cultural diversity and how it all interlocks in a very real and tangible way,” he observes.
Meanwhile, “Ottawa is a city for all seasons,” relates Niall Campbell from Geos Ottawa. Indeed, the nation’s capital is a year-round visitor destination and Campbell says there’s a festival to celebrate in each season. “In the spring, there’s the Tulip Festival, where over three million tulips explode in colour around the city,” he observes. “The festival started from a gift of 100,000 tulip bulbs from the Dutch Royalty, after Ottawa offered a safe haven for their Queen to give birth to her daughter during World War II.” And the majestic Winterlude festival – held every February – is purported to attract around 700,000 visitors a year. Here, students can marvel at ice sculptures, enjoy a playground made entirely of snow and skate on the world’s largest skating rink.
Meanwhile, a truly unique experience awaits students downtown. Having housed some of the city’s most notorious criminals back in the 1800s, the Carleton County Jail has since been converted into backpacker accommodation enabling guests to experience a night “in jail”. Said to be haunted by spirits of previous inmates, visitors can take part in a tour of the old gaol to learn about early prison life and to see why Ottawa was once one of the most dangerous towns in North America.

Agent viewpoint

 Marion Gottschalk, Intercultural Cursos no Exterior, Brazil
“I once read an interview with a famous Brazilian writer and one of the questions was if he could choose another country to live which one would it be. His answer was Canada, and the reason for choosing it was that: “it is first world with humbleness”. It kept in my mind since I read it, many months ago, and I think it explains something about how people usually compare Canada to other English-speaking countries. Some think going to Europe is too expensive; the places are old and the people unfriendly. Some think that going to Oceania is also expensive; they do not like their English accent, and the landscape and climate is not that attractive because it is similar to Brazil. Some have already been to the US before and want to go somewhere else. But what they have heard and seen about Canada sparks their interest!”

 Olga Garza, Canada Incredible, Mexico
“Students choose Canada because it is a safe place to live, people are very friendly and it’s a close destination for Mexicans. We are attracted to Canada because it has the beauty like Europe but the abundance of America. They enjoy the activities, the people and the scenery, including the weather – Mexicans love to see the snow! Each province has its own beauty, but talking about Canada I love it because they are really caring people, without discrimination, and their English accent is very clear and easy to understand.”

 Derci Jardim, Cultura Global Intercambio, Brazil
“The cost of courses is good in Canada and we have had happy students in our partner schools. Normally, the majority of students look for big cities to study in but they always travel around. Some students look for small towns to study in and have a peaceful time. At weekends, students travel to other cities to get to know the cultural attractions or to practise sports. In winter, nature is totally different and students can try to learn sports not common to us, like skiing. Canada is a very good option to learn English in a great environment with very nice people. The only problem is just one direct flight per day from Brazil. We need more aircraft, mainly in the vacation time.”

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Britannia Student

English Australia
Feltom Malta  
International House
      World Organisation
Languages Canada /
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Perth Education City

Feltom Malta  
LTM Star Awards  

Hub and Spoke
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Malta Tourism

BASP (Buenos Aires
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Ecela - Latin
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Ability Education
Embassy CES  
English Australia  
Geos Oceania
      (Australia, New
Language Studies
      (Canada, France,
Pacific Gateway
      International College
Perth Education City
Southbank Institute
      Of Technology  
University of
University of Western
      Sydney College  

Berlitz Canada
Bow Valley College
Camber College
English Bay College
Hansa Language
      Centre of Toronto  
IH Toronto  
King George
      International College
Languages Canada /
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Ottawa International
      Student Programmes
Richmond School
      District #38  
Stewart College of
Vancouver English

Bell International 
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International House
      World Organisation
Kaplan Aspect  
      (Australia, Canada,
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      Zealand, South
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LAL Language and
      (Canada, Cyprus,
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London Metropolitan
Malvern House
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Shakespeare College
St Clare's Oxford
Study Group
      (Australia, Canada,
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      Germany, Ireland,
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Queen Ethelburga's
Twin Group
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University of Essex -

Alliance Française
      Paris Ile de France  
Universite de Paris
SILC - Séjours
      (England, France,

International House
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Genki Japanese
      and Culture School  
Kai Japanese
      Language School  
      Language School  

      University of Creative

Clubclass Residential
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Feltom Malta  
Malta Tourism

The University
      Of Auckland -
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Pamplona Learning
      Spanish Institute  

EF Language
      Colleges Ltd  
      (Australia, Canada,
      China, Costa Rica,
      Ecuador, England,
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      Italy, Malta, New
      Zealand, Singapore,
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Angelo State
Arizona State
Brown University  
inlingua Language
      Service Center  
Syracuse University
University of Arizona
University of
      California Riverside  
Zoni Language
      (Canada, USA)