May 2011 issue

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Active life in Vancouver

Vancouver in British Columbia has so much to offer international students – from festivals, nightlife and snowsports to part-time employment and good shopping. Amy Baker reports.

Squeezed between mountains and sea, Vancouver is widely considered to be among the top cities in North America, popular with Vancouverites and visitors who enjoy spending time in a city that has easy access to ski and sea. In fact, as Ken Gardner, President of Vancouver English Centre points out, “For five years running, the Economist Intelligence Unit has named Vancouver the most “liveable” city in the world.”

And, he adds, there is plenty of choice for students considering the city for their academic aspirations. “Approximately 200 language schools, numerous career colleges and two prestigious universities provide educational opportunities for almost any student,” he details.

Kristin Chow of ISS Language College recounts that it is hard to beat Vancouver’s cultural diversity and varied activities on offer. “For example, you can go snowboarding one day and the next day walk along the ocean.. this is an attractive idea for students.”

Lyz Gilgunn, Student Activities Coordinator at Columbia College, agrees that it is Vancouver’s diverse, “liberal and accepting population” that students really relish, as well as convenient and affordable access to “’Canadian’ activities such as skiing, snowshoeing, hockey, etc.”

Grouse Mountain, Cypress and Mount Seymour are the three local ski mountains, while two hours’ north of the city, students can visit the ski/snowboard resorts of Whistler and Blackcomb. Really adventurous students can try heliskiing there; off-trail, downhill skiing that is accessed by a helicopter, rather than ski lift!

Despite the abundance of snow in close proximity, Vancouver has one of the mildest climates in Canada. Its population is around half a million people; a sizable city which is easy to get around on foot, and affords scenic views of the mountains from almost everywhere. Stanley Park is the premier park in the city, offering 1,000 acres of parkland to be discovered. Miles of wide gravel paths lead through the wilder sections of the park and around Beaver Lake and Lost Lagoon, resting places for hundreds of migratory birds such as Canada geese, swans, and ducks.

Many school representatives are keen to point out that their students enjoy outdoor life while in the city. Zach Taylor, Marketing Director at Canadian College of English Language, says that students explore the city and the rest of the province of British Columbia. “We organise different [activities] every day, from conversation groups, visiting attractions like Capilano Suspension Bridge, Grouse Mountain, winter skiing and snowboarding of course.”

Gardner says that his school offers “outdoorsy experiences such as beach volleyball, sea kayaking and cycling, as well as more social events like picnics and shopping tours. Every weekend, there are optional excursions to places like Victoria, Whistler and Banff.”

Jeanette Kramer, Marketing Manager at VanWest College, lists Whistler, Victoria and Seattle (across the border in the USA) as popular day trips. She adds, “Students love the Vancouver nightlife, restaurants and vibrant city atmosphere! Pub nights are also always one of our most well-attended activities, especially as international students receive special discounts on certain nights.”

The Yaletown warehouse district is popular with nightowls, home to many hip clubs, restaurants and bars. Sometimes referred to as Little Soho, Yaletown got its name in the 19th century when the Canadian Pacific Railroad moved its rail yards and repair facilities from Yale, in the Fraser River Canyon, to the new Yaletown on the north shore of False Creek.

Gardner says that students also enjoy hanging out in “the trendy shopping district of Robson Street and historic Gastown” as well as “gentrified Yaletown”. Gastown is a charming area of the city, with boutique shops in heritage buildings set among cobbled streets; the most historic part of the city, it dates back to 1870 (although most of Vancouver was destroyed by fire in 1886).

While there is plenty to see and do while in Vancouver, many school representatives are keen to point out that it is the friendliness of the city and the friends that students make while they are there that will be the focal point of all cherished memories. Maki Natori, Marketing Manager at the University of British Columbia’s English Language Institute, says students “remember their friends, classmates, home stay families and their teachers. In addition, I hear a lot from students that they admire the fact that Vancouverites are generally very tolerant of different cultures and lifestyles.”

Vancouver’s host families are also highlighted by Gardner. “The homestay scene is great in Vancouver,” he details. “There is a large number of local families who are willing to welcome foreign students into their homes.”

At ISS Language College in the city Chow adds, “Students can integrate by getting a job which many of them do, moving in with other students (roommates) or volunteering; we have a volunteer office that students can visit.”

Nearly all education institutions organise activities to ensure students are aware of what is on offer. Gilgunn at Columbia College says that popular activities among students there include being a member of a soccer team or dragon boat racing team. There is actually a Dragon Boat Festival in Vancouver; Dragon Boats hail from China and a culture that grew up around the legend of the suicide of Qu Yuan, a statesman and poet who died in the Mi-Lo River. Crews of unsuccessful rescuers sped towards him in long, narrow boats and rice dumplings known as tzung-tse were dropped in the water to deter fish from preying on his body. Now, on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, teams of paddlers traditionally re-enact the frantic race to save Qu Yuan. Dragon boating is said to be the fastest growing team sport in North America.

Kramer at VanWest College also relates that students enjoy getting involved with the city’s sporting scene. “Our students love cheering on the VanWest team in the Vancouver ESL Soccer League every summer,” she says. And she points to the varied calendar of festivals that the college actively promotes to its students: “VanWest actively promotes city events, parades and festivals which are always very popular, such as [the Celebration of Light] fireworks competition, the Canada Day parade, Pride parade, car-free festivals, farmers markets, outdoor concerts etc.”

In fact, there are many festivals in Vancouver throughout the year, such as the Shakespeare Festival, Bard on the Beach from June to September; the aforementioned Vancouver Pride festival celebrating the lesbian and gay communities – this welcomes 650,000 into the city in July, the International Film Festival in September/October and the Asian Film Festival in November.

Natori sums up that there is more than plenty on offer for international students, if they are willing to embrace the culture they are living in. ”International students can facilitate their integration into Vancouver by having an open mind and by being active. This means occassionally stepping out of one’s comfort zone and going out and meeting new people and making new friends. At the ELI, we encourage students to join activites not only because they are fun, but also to meet their local peers and other students from around the world. Active students also have more opportunities to practise their English language skills and as a result, become more integrated into Vancouver.”

Agent viewpoint

“Vancouver is the world that worked out right. It can´t be described in a better way – people are happy on the streets, there´s a sense of acceptance that even in my native country, Brazil, I hadn´t felt. Everybody smiles, everybody is polite. White, yellow, black, there is no difference in treatment. I remember asking my hosts if they minded having so many Asians in their town, and the reply was the best ever: “How can we be upset with those who helped build our country, our railways, our society?” This is the best perspective on the local culture. And you can feel this freedom of being respected, being free, no matter your background. In the streets, in the malls, at parties... My students come back filled with a major international experience, the experience of being free in the world, the world within one city.”
Gustavo Scapulatempo Strobel, Vancouver Institute Imersão em Inglês, Brazil

We counsel clients to consider studying in Vancouver because of its high quality lifestyle, its natural beauty and warmer weather. Around 25 per cent of our clients choose Canada and Vancouver – students tell us that they like the city’s natural beauty and the inexpensive lifestyle. In terms of free time activities, they like trekking and undertaking visits to Victoria Island.”
Gulsah Akpinar, HIT International Education Consultancy, Turkey

“I believe Vancouver is a very safe, cosmopolitan and modern city with wide open areas to enjoy the pleasure of doing different kind of sports. It has excellent institutes and for young people it is excellent during the night time. You do not need a car to get around. Additionally, we found the families are the most friendly in the world.”
Luisa Cabezas, Tour Idiomas, Venezuela

“Students really like the city environment and that no matter what time of the year, they have something to do. They also like the approach to Asian cultures, which is not very common for a student from Spain; in Vancouver over 800,000 residents are of Asian descent.”
Pamela Caicedo, Students From, Spain

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