May 2013 issue

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Cape Town’s surprises

As an international student destination, Cape Town, on the southern-most tip of South Africa, is steadily growing in popularity – and with good reason, as Jane Vernon Smith discovers.

Nestled between the famous Table Mountain and the sea, Cape Town’s renowned beauty draws so many international students to learn English, says Manya Bredell of CT School of English. However, this is not the only draw to the city.

For Gavin Cuttler at Kurus English, it is also “a city of warm hospitality”, which “is always in motion”. “Cape Town is loved for her unique atmosphere and her friendly, open-minded and hearty people,” he observes. “It’s vibrant and very multicultural, and has one of the finest city ambiances to be found anywhere in the world.”

According to Patricia Baker of Language Link College, “It feels cosmopolitan, yet [also] African.” As Charlotte Jones at City Education Language School elaborates, “It has elements of excitement and adventure one would expect from Africa, but, at the same time, it’s an organised and clean city, with beautiful neighbourhoods, gorgeous beaches and fantastic shopping and dining. Something for everyone,” she sums up. Price, too, is often part of the appeal. “For many countries,” says Jones, “South Africa is still quite reasonable, and [students] get a lot of ‘bang for their buck’.”

Notwithstanding the reputation that draws students there in the first place, “Cape Town is never what anyone expects,” observes Craig Leith of Good Hope Studies. “Even in their wildest imagination, the city simply blows them away and surpasses any and every preconceived idea they had before arriving here. It is cleaner, safer, more exciting and diverse than they knew, and I think this really catches them by surprise.”

Furthermore, notes Sue Camilleri of EC Cape Town, the city is surprisingly small. “Long Street is where most students get the pulse of the city. Bars, restaurants, street cafés, nightclubs and a wealth of entertainment make this the heart of Cape Town, and gives it a buzzing, dynamic and cosmopolitan feel with people from all over the world.” She adds, “One must not forget that Cape Town is a historic city, and students are often very surprised that there is a [seventeenth Century] castle right in the centre. [Meanwhile,] the Company Gardens – first planted in the 1650s – provide a shady promenade where historic landmarks are seen on both sides.”

For those keen to learn more of the area’s past, historical talks take place daily at the top of Signal Hill, notes Ann Piscopo at the English Language School of Cape Town. This, as she points out, is a great vantage point to appreciate the beauty of the city, and sightseeing buses offer a night tour, which includes a sunset stop at the top of Signal Hill.

According to Sabine Fleiss of International House, “Cape Town is at its finest during the hot days of summer – with locals and tourists alike flocking to enjoy its beaches, mountains, beautiful attractions and, simply, to be out and about in the sun.”

For an idyllic summer’s evening, she recommends a concert at the famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. These are “a must-see for every tourist visiting Cape Town”, she comments. “If you’re acquainted with their astounding beauty, you can imagine just how beautiful a summer evening concert in the gardens could be – call your friends, pack a picnic, and enjoy the beauty of Cape Town and local music, whilst the sun sinks behind the mountains.”

By contrast, the Moonlight Mass provides a novel way to enjoy the long summer evenings. This is a night-time bicycle ride that takes place each full moon. “It started as a social experiment on Twitter,” explains Verena Corzillius of Language Teaching Centre, “but is now also raising awareness for cycling in the city and safety of cyclists.”

While Cape Town offers more than enough activities and sights, the natural beauty of the surrounding area is just waiting to be explored, and no visit would be complete without a trip up the iconic Table Mountain. “Our majestic Table Mountain is an absolute must-see,” underlines Annaëlle Moothoo at Cape Studies Language School. “Standing proudly at the Cape, [and] cradling the mother in its arms. Take the cable car or hike up. Either way, you will be stunned by the 360 degree view of the city and the Atlantic seaboard from up there.”

Also unmissable are the Cape Peninsula and the Cape of Good Hope. Visits to these can be combined in a Cape Point tour incorporating a number of highlights, such as Seal Island, Boulder’s Beach, Chapman’s Peak Drive and the Cape of Good Hope itself, where the two oceans meet. “Students love seeing the seals and the penguins,” observes Gina Pardenwachter at Eurocentres Cape Town www.eurocentres.co.za, “and also you have a great view of the whole of Cape Town when you drive around the mountain,” she adds.

According to Camilleri, one of the most enjoyable trips combines whale-watching and shark cage diving. As she explains, this is one of the few places in the world where you can do both “so easily and so reasonably”, plus the sight of a huge whale is “breath-taking...unforgettable!” she exclaims.

Given Cape Town’s great year-round weather, its beaches are another powerful draw for student visitors. As Fleiss points out, “South Africa has one of the largest coastlines in the world. Thus the variety and sheer number of beautiful beaches is very high.” Among the highlights are Boulder’s Beach (so-named on account of its characteristic granite boulders) with its famous penguin colony, and Clifton Beach, where sunset cruises come to dock to watch the sun go down.

With Cape Town as their base, students can even enjoy a safari. At a private game reserve about an hour’s journey from the city, they can see lions, rhino, and Cape buffalo, says Piscopo, as well as, perhaps, some cheetahs, giraffes, zebras and springboks.

The Cape Town area is also famous for its wine production, and visitors need not travel far to sample some award-winning wines. “The wine lands really are gorgeous,” enthuses Jones, “and it’s a good way to get up close and personal with the landscape.” Furthermore, the tours usually include some cheese and chocolate tastings as well, she points out.

In addition, “Many students are really interested in how local South Africans live,” according to Jones, and they can experience this, not only by staying with host families, but also by taking a township tour. This will reveal a different side to the city, as Leith observes, “[They’ll] witness people living in difficult circumstances and poor conditions, but...will also experience the vibrancy and spirit of the South African people.”

This strong spirit is enshrined in the life of Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for 18 years on nearby Robben Island, and students are encouraged to take the boat trip across the harbour for a tour of the prison, which is conducted by tour guides who are ex-prisoners. “It is a moving experience,” comments Camilleri, “and helps put South African history into its true perspective. Students always come back feeling quite emotional, but say it is a trip that is an absolute necessity if you visit South Africa.”

The overall experience to be gained in Cape Town is like no other. As Fleiss underlines, “We from the International House Cape Town, not just make sure our students get a great English education, but also guarantee them an experience they will never forget. Only those who have lived, visited and experienced this amazing city will truly understand how special and one-of-a-kind this place is.”

Agent viewpoint

“Once you arrive in Cape Town, you feel the difference. It is absolutely easy to go with the flow, the easy-going lifestyle. It seems that time slows down somehow; people are patient and smooth, always helpful and smiling. Cape Town is a modern city, vibrant and calm at the same time. You will find everything you need or are looking for. For lovers of cultural diversity, colourful nations, nature, history, animals and beautiful beaches, Cape Town is absolutely the place to be, and to return again and again.”
Orsi Kovacs, Linguland, Germany

“Cape Town is an appealing destination because it’s a bit off the beaten track. Yet, more often than not, students are surprised at how ‘European’ Cape Town actually is. At the same time, they can find everything they expect when thinking of Africa: they can go on a safari, buy African crafts and bargain at the markets, volunteer to help in an orphanage, and much more. While crime rates and safety were an issue in the past, and still are in other cities in South Africa, Cape Town has become a safe, clean and very attractive city over the last few years.”
Ursel Sela Rutz, Surprise Reisen, Switzerland

“First of all, due to its beauty and magical natural life, Cape Town attracts attention in Turkey. Its cultural diversity, also, deeply affects our students there... Besides its exotic beauty and warm community, [the] relatively low cost of living and fantastic climate also urge our students to go to Cape Town. Other reasons for Turkish students to choose Cape Town [are] that it is relatively easy to get [a] visa and that there are direct flights to Cape Town International Airport. Lastly, alongside language studies, Cape Town is also popular for higher education, for Cape Town University is one of the top universities in the world.”
Pinar Ural, Karya International, Turkey

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inlingua Language Training Centre Cape Town  
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