March 2005 issue

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Scotland and Wales

Scotland and Wales are not always first choice destinations for language students wanting to study English in the UK, although both countries have much to offer, as Bethan Norris finds out.

One of the key misconceptions about Wales and Scotland, that may discourage international students from studying there, is that students will not be able to understand the distinct regional accents that characterise both countries. However, Chris Kennard from Loch Ness English in Fort Augustus in Scotland is keen to dispel this myth. ''Most students are worried that the Scottish accent will be hard to understand, but the Highland accent of this region is widely accepted as being one of the clearest and most easily understood 'English' accents in the world,'' he asserts.

In Wales too, ''many people think that in Wales people speak only Welsh'', says Wendy Jordan from Cardiff College International at Coleg Glan Hafren. ''[In fact] some people speak Welsh, but English is the main language and everyone speaks it.''

Putting cultural stereotypes aside, both Scotland and Wales offer language students a unique opportunity to explore some of the British Isles' many regional attractions. According to Greg Nelson at Celt Language School in Cardiff, the Welsh capital city has ''plenty to offer students''. He says, ''Cardiff is [one of] Europe's newest capitals, gaining its status in 1955. It has the most diverse ethnic minority population in Wales and a very large student population, with 25,500 people currently enrolled on higher education courses.''

With such a large student population, the city has a forward -looking and modern vibe, evidence of which can be seen in the recent developments in the area. ''The famous Tiger Bay docklands have been transformed into Cardiff Bay, a modern development of homes, shops, offices, visitor attractions and the National Assembly for Wales, all surrounding a huge freshwater lake,'' says Hannah Quinn from the International Development Division of Cardiff University.

A pastime that is particularly associated with Wales is rugby and most Welsh people are particularly fervent in their support of the national team. International students in Cardiff may be lucky enough to see a rugby match live at the newly built Millennium Stadium, ''the largest undercover stadium in Europe'', according to Nelson - which also hosts music concerts.

Further towards west Wales in Swansea, English Study Centre organises a rather unusual outing for international students in order to introduce them to local Welsh traditions. ''During the academic year we organise visits to the rehearsals of a local male voice choir, which always proves hugely popular as everyone ends up at the pub - together with about 20 choristers - and sing all sorts of songs until we get thrown out!'' says Esther Richards at the school.

Swansea is situated near the sea and is close to beautiful stretches of coast. Richards says that students are often ''surprised to find the wonderful beaches and spectacular coastal scenery on the Gower Peninsula''.

Wales is full of many beautiful rural areas and students learning English at Regent Trebinshun near Brecon are perfectly situated to experience some of the country's charms. Hayley Stewart from Regent says, ''Regent Trebinshun is based in a 16th-century manor house, situated in picturesque Welsh countryside. The tranquil location makes it an ideal environment in which to learn.'' The school is close to the Brecon Beacons National Park, which is a haven for wildlife and outdoor sports enthusiasts and offers students the opportunity to explore its many waterfalls, lakes, caves and gorges.

In Scotland too, international students are attracted by the dramatic local scenery and wealth of outdoor sports on offer. Situated near the home of the mythical Loch Ness Monster, Loch Ness English allows students to choose from a wide variety of outdoor activities. These include ''a monster hunting cruise, horse riding, kayaking, white water rafting, hiking, birdwatching, clay pigeon shooting and orienteering,'' says Kennard at the school, adding, ''In the evenings, there are friendly pubs offering Scottish music and the occasional ceilidh [traditional Scottish dance, pronounced cay-lee].''

The school also provides a base for students to visit many historical and natural attractions in the local area, including Ben Nevis (the UK's highest mountain), Glencoe (an area favoured by Queen Victoria), Glenfinnan (where Bonny Prince Charlie began his uprising), whisky distilleries and Eilean Donan, described as Scotland's most romantic castle.

For language travellers wanting to experience Scottish city life, Glasgow and Edinburgh offer a more traditional student experience. According to Joanna Muldoon from Glasgow School of English, ''Glasgow is the biggest city in Scotland and is second only to London for shopping.'' Part-time jobs are also relatively easy for students to find in Glasgow and Muldoon says that most of the students at the school work in their spare time.

Scots are well known for living life to the full and Scottish cities provide many entertainment opportunities. Some play host to a number of internationally acclaimed festivals and events. Stewart describes Edinburgh as ''one of the greenest and architecturally most beautiful cities in Northern Europe'', and adds, ''It's known for its internationally famous festivals which include music, theatre, film, dance and Hogmanay celebrations at Christmas and New Year.''

Experiencing the local culture first-hand is something that students in Scotland and Wales seem to particularly enjoy. Stewart says that students at Regent Edinburgh ''have also been out to restaurants to eat haggis (Scottish delicacy made of sheep parts) and some of them have even bought and worn kilts to school in the traditional way - with nothing underneath!'' In Wales, Richards relates that a 14-year-old Italian student arrived with an enormous parmesan cheese in his suitcase as his mother was worried he would starve. ''After his return home, the host family received a letter from 'mamma' asking them to send laver bread (an edible seaweed and Welsh delicacy) as Stefano wouldn't eat anything else!'' she says.

Agent viewpoint

''We send students to Trebinshun only, that is executive clients who look for tranquillity and peace and prefer residential accommodation. There is a high level of satisfaction with Trebinshun students. I have been thinking about selling a Cardiff product for some time. The problem is that the Welsh English teaching scene is not as varied and competitive as the one in England. There are not too many schools to choose from and some destinations are pretty distant.''
Karel Klusak, Intact Agency, Czech Republic

''We have students who ask [particularly] for Scotland. It is because the landscape, and the cities - especially Edinburgh - are very beautiful. Students enjoy going to the International Festival of Edinburgh in August [to see arts and drama] and the people there are very outgoing and friendly. Edinburgh is seen as a very nice and beautiful city. Students usually go to visit a beer factory and also to Loch Ness and the surrounding areas.''
Fany Terol Esteve, Class, Spain

''Our clients who decide to study in Wales are often our regular clients who have already been to England and want to experience something different. Many of them are looking for a destination with attractive scenery and historical sights. They may like to spend time with their host family, go to pubs and clubs, visit the Brecon Beacons. Many Czechs and Slovaks are also interested in museums and Cardiff Castle.''
Irena Doskarova, Student Agency, Czech Republic

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