June 2012 issue

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Celebration of Spain

International students can soak up the outdoor culture in Spain with golden beaches, bustling nightlife and a host of fascinating festivals, as Matthew Knott discovers.

Spain offers all visitors a wide range of possibilities for travel, enjoyment, relaxation and the opportunity to learn about its history, its folklore or its language,” informs David Sampere of Madrid-based Estudio Sampere, adding that the country attracts tourists with its sociability, reliable climate, history and artistic legacy.

Andalusia in the south of Spain is blessed with those attributes and is one of the most popular destinations for students, according to Maximo Sepulveda Ramos of Inturjoven, which has centres in Córdoba and Seville. He attributes the almost year-round warm weather to Spain’s success as a study abroad destination, as well as “[Spanish] people’s kindness, which invites the outside life in streets full of bars and restaurants”. These aspects, along with the area’s safety, Ramos adds, lead students to “not only make the most out of their stay, but also extend it”.

The Andalusian city of Málaga is, for Bob Burger at Malaca Instituto, a taste of “real Spain”. Easily traversed on foot, the historical city features a Roman amphitheatre, Arabic fortress, cathedral and numerous monuments. It is also famed for Pablo Picasso, informs Ursula Holthausen of Instituto Picasso, which overlooks the Plaza de la Merced where the artist was born. “It is impossible not to be integrated in this vibrant everyday life of the charming capital of the Costa del Sol, with all its beaches along the Mediterranean Sea,” Holthausen enthuses. Burger agrees, adding that the local people are very friendly and “live very outdoor lifestyles and spend time on the beach in the bars and restaurants, and are therefore very easy to make contact with”. The local cuisine is also prominent in Malaca Instituto’s activities, with tapas tours, cookery lessons and trips to learn about winemaking and olive oil production.

Founded over 3,000 years ago, Cádiz is one of the oldest cities in the western world, advises Angeles Castro at K2 Internacional. “Fish markets, narrow streets, precious beaches, beautiful sea views and long promenades filled with palm trees are some elements that characterise the city,” Castro attests, adding that the school is near one of the most important squares, Plaza del Mentidero, allowing students to enjoy “the calming and relaxing rhythm of the city”.

The Unesco-listed city of Granada is home to the renowned Alhambra Palace, a magnificent red-walled palace and fortress complex constructed in the 14th century by Moorish rulers. Rachel Musselle at Castila, a school in Granada’s historical quarter, praises the diversity of options influenced by its location between the sea and the Sierra Nevada, “In the spring months it is even possible to go skiing in the morning and swimming at the beach in the afternoon!” Musselle adds that with over 60,000 students at the University of Granada, it is a youthful, vibrant city.

For Hanna Glas at Giralda Center, Seville, the capital of Andalusia, is “a very lively and cheerful city that represents the true Spanish flavour”, with many impressive attractions such as the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. Ramos also recommends the Fine Arts Museum and adds that with attractions such as the Metropol Parasol, purportedly the largest wooden structure in the world by German architect Jürgen Mayer-Hermann, Seville represents a fusion of history and modernity. The city is also the “cradle of flamenco”, advises Glas, which brings numerous artists and fans to the city for the spectacular Flamenco Bienniale event.

Indeed, Andalusia is certainly a region that enjoys a festival. “Andalusians like to dress up, have fun and enjoy our celebrations held every year,” attests Castro. The holy week of Semana Santa is held at Easter, and Burger advises, “The celebrations in Málaga are among the most famous and grandiose in Spain.” Holthausen concurs, describing a “traditional and popular event with precious sculptures on huge adorned thrones, being carried by hundreds of fraternity members through the town”. Meanwhile, across the region, ferias are local jamborees of traditional music, dancing, food, folklore and horsemanship. Sandro Humann of WiredSpain Languages, which runs a buddy programme for international students, confirms that Cádiz is one of their most popular destinations as students love participating in the local ferias.

WiredSpain Languages also offer summer camps in Madrid, Barcelona, Benidorm and Alicante. Benidorm, Humann advises, is a popular beach destination for younger students, adding that the programmes include attractions such as the water park Aqualandia and theme park Terra Mitica.

Further north along the eastern coast of Spain, Fernando Ribas at the AIP Language Institute advises, “Valencia has a long history, dating back more than 2,000 years, and contains one of the oldest and most beautiful historic city centres in Europe.” He relates, “It is an architectural melting pot, offering examples of many different periods including Roman, Arabic, Gothic and Baroque.” Ribas also praises the climate, “The Mediterranean breezes soften the urban environment, turning the beaches of fine white sand and the city centre into a natural suntrap throughout the year.” He also points out the array of cultural attractions, with over 200 art galleries in Valencia, including the San Pio Fine Art Museum and a museum dedicated to the region’s unique annual festival, Las Fallas.

San Sebastián “lays right on the Atlantic Ocean and has three amazing public beaches”, says Anastasia Soldatchenkova at International House San Sebastián - Lacunza, arguing that the city’s beauty lies in its landscape, architecture, culture, and its young atmosphere, “The city never sleeps.” Soldatchenkova notes that San Sebastián is famed for surfing, mountain sports and a jazz festival held every July. The gastronomy is also not to be missed. “Basque people devote much time and attention to the process of eating. This involves going out and eating pintxos [small sandwiches], and going to Sidreria – an extremely traditional Basque restaurant where one drinks sidra [cider] from big authentic barrels and eats local food from one plate shared with your friends,” she says. “On top of that, San Sebastián can also impress any gourmet [fan] with its variety of high end restaurants, including those with Michelin stars.”

A nocturnal lifestyle is also what draws many visitors to Ibiza, the third largest of the Balearic Islands. “The combination of 54 spectacular beaches and being the electronic music capital of the world makes Ibiza a Mediterranean melting pot of visitors from all over the world,” observes Daniel Bertole at Instituto de Idiomas Ibiza, who recommends the island’s diving activities, classy restaurants and Arabic architecture. Events such as the International Music Summit, the Ibiza International Film Festival and the Ibiza Jazz Festival also add appeal.

Music festivals including the Primavera Sound Festival, showcasing renowned and independent bands, and the Sonar Festival reflect the modernity and cosmopolitan air of Barcelona, advises Genta Banushi at Camino Barcelona Spanish School. “It is impossible to get bored in Barcelona because there are always concerts, exhibitions and other events going on,” she attests. “As of late Barce has become even more famous due to FC Barcelona, which has been declared as the best [football] team in the world.” Among countless attractions, she advises, is the masterpiece Sagrada Família, created by modernist architect Antoni Gaudí, which draws many repeat visits from students keen to see the progress in its continuing construction.

Agent viewpoint

“Spain is known worldwide for its stylish language, exotic cuisine and a nice synthesis of different cultures from Europe, America and Africa. So every year many people, both for touristic and educational reasons, prefer Spain. They experience amazing beaches, local festivals, La Liga, one of the most aggressive football leagues in the world, exciting street life and the relaxing fiesta culture. There are three main reasons to study in Spain: Spain offers quality education both for language and higher education studies; it has incredibly cheap tuition and living costs compared with other European countries and is one of the most beautiful countries in Europe, with its rich culture and diversity.” 
Sema Yazici, Real Yurtdisi Egitim Danismanligi, Turkey

“There are two things that make Spain very attractive to Dutch students: the relaxed way the Spanish enjoy life, plus the climate that makes it possible to do this outside. And of course there are many times when Spanish people have been very helpful towards students. For example, there was a girl that arrived in a bar after climbing a steep hill, and said, “Estoy muy caliente”. The bartender explained to her it’s better to say “tengo calor”, so men do not get the wrong idea! There was also a student that asked the way to the bus station every afternoon, because he knew everybody would take plenty of time to explain and chat with him. This way he created extra conversation classes.” Jos van Kerkhof, StudyTravel, Netherlands

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