||With the eyes of the world upon South Africa when it hosted the recent football World Cup, the time is ripe for more students to discover its unique charms. With a range of different destinations for language travellers, South Africa provides an unforgettable experience for students.
Johannesburg (known locally as Jozi) is, according to Trish Cooper, Course Coordinator at Wits Language School in the city, “a true representation of the ‘rainbow nation’, for which South Africa is famous”. One of its most striking features is, as she points out, its political history. “Soweto, the biggest township in South Africa, is one of the main student attractions, and we run several tours [there] each year. The tour includes sites such as Nelson Mandela’s house, the Hector Pietersen Museum and now Soccer City [the stadium used for the World Cup final].”
Johannesburg offers a vast assortment of things to do and places to go. As the country’s financial capital, it “tends to attract the best music festivals, art exhibitions and theatre productions,” notes Cooper. Meanwhile, local colour is provided by events such as the Lusito Land Festival, run by the Portuguese community, and the Deutsche Schule’s annual beer festival.
Other tourist sites close to the city include the Apartheid Museum and Constitution Hill. “Not only are these buildings superbly and sensitively designed,” observes Cooper, “but they contain a wealth of historical information.” For those with a less serious bent, the school also arranges trips to Sun City, a famous casino and ‘pleasure resort’ and to game parks, where, she says, wild animals roam in a malaria-free area.
Wits Language School, is part of Wits University, and, comments Cooper, this means “the primary drive behind everything we do is quality assurance. Being attached to the university, it also shares the university campus, which is close to town, with “several trendy shopping malls” offering cinemas, restaurants and bars, as well as being close to the Johannesburg Zoo and major entertainment areas around the city.
South Africa’s rich history also comes to life in the Eastern Cape. According to Melanie Schwarz, Manager of Bay Language Institute (BLI) in Port Elizabeth, this was where its main protagonists the Xhosa, Boer, Brit and San first clashed. “This is an area [that] saw more than 100 years of conflict, yet people here are unbelievably hospitable and helpful,” and, she reveals, “I love this warmth.” Indeed, the school itself aims to reflect these qualities, and is about to move premises into a former residence located just three minutes’ walk from the beach, offering “a homely atmosphere with a huge garden”.
The town’s beaches are another huge plus, she notes. “Wherever you go in this area, you will find these beaches surfing in Jeffrey’s Bay, or just chilling on the Wild Coast, or after a day’s hard work in Nelson Mandela Bay, with the best ocean temperature in the country!”
The wider area is renowned for wildlife and wilderness, with an abundance of parks, reserves and private game farms all malaria-free, comments Schwarz. Then, there are “quaint old Karoo towns, mountains, plains, lush forests [and] semi-deserts, where you can hear the rocks cracking in summer”.
“The Karoo is incredibly beautiful. In fact, it is, [in] my opinion, our greatest treasure. Vast landscapes, everlasting plains, red sunsets, dust storms and the sense of smallness and insignificance, which only a desert area can give you. This,” she confides, “is where I go when I need to find my peace.” She adds, “At BLI, we encourage people to get out and explore on their own, and practise their English on locals, who would love to help them. There is so much fun here, but it has to be explored.”
In the town of Somerset West, on the Western Cape, is the “small and cosy” International English School. Here, as spokesperson Tania Copeland, explains, students can enjoy a small-town environment with less traffic, no pollution, luxury homes, it’s safe and secure with the added advantage of being able to reach Cape Town within 30 minutes. People here are friendly and caring, says Copeland, and the school is close to Internet cafés, coffee shops, pubs and a shopping mall, where prices are cheaper than in town.
As in Port Elizabeth, sea and mountains are a major draw. “I am a rock climber and mountaineer, so my slant would be mountains,” comments Copeland. “Obviously, the famous Table Mountain is a must…but there are so many others worth visiting,” she points out. “Helderberg Mountain for the less energetic, Suicide Gorge [which] offers a kloofing [canyoning] experience second to none, [while] du Toits Kloof offers some of the best rock climbing in the Cape.” Meanwhile, kite-surfing and surfing courses are available “for many hours of fun on the sea”.
One of the greatest tourist magnets of the Cape area is the city of Cape Town itself. According to Ann Piscopo of English Language School (ELS) Cape Town, “Cape Town has so much to offer students in the form of sights and attractions, it can truly cater for all budgets and personal preferences.” Furthermore, it has a diversity of language schools, spread over its many districts, each with individual characters of their own.
LAL is located in the “very fashionable” district of Sea Point, according to Emre Bilge, Assistant General Manager. Here, he says, there are many restaurants and shops, and the school is also only two minutes’ walk from the beach, and 20 minutes’ walk from the World Cup stadium. A former student there, Bilge comments that he identifies himself with the school, having “lived it and loved it“ and continues to do so. Also “right in the middle of vibrant Sea Point” is Interlink School of Languages, which offers a pleasant place to relax and enjoy the environment, without feeling that you are missing out on the vibrancy of the city life, observes Manager, Yolandi Farham.
“Ideally situated” in Green Point on the Atlantic seaboard, Cape Studies is close to numerous restaurants, the famous V&A waterfront, the well-known Long Street and the 2010 World Cup stadium, comments the school’s Helga Frank. It also benefits from a garden with a swimming pool and a barbecue area, where students can relax and have fun after lessons.
One of the trendiest areas of Cape Town is Gardens, comments Angela Pereira of EF, where the school has its base. Located in a Victorian school building that is “a stone’s throw away” from the city centre and from Table Mountain, EF is “small and homely”, making students feel immediately relaxed and part of a family, she says.
The aptly named Long Street is one of the oldest in Cape Town and now part of its central business district. As well featuring numerous Victorian buildings, this road is also full of pubs, clubs and shops. Close by is EC Cape Town, whose ethos, notes spokesperson Sue Camillieri, is “going the extra mile” and providing the highest quality school buildings and facilities for students, along with a warm, caring and vibrant atmosphere. A further selling point is that some classrooms offer stunning views of Table Mountain.
Meanwhile, Claremont, home to Cape Town School of English, is outside the city area. Its situation offers the benefit of being safer, closer to its homestay families, and with plenty of public transport, as well as being in the vicinity of the university and other colleges, and on the train route to some of the nicest beaches, points out spokesperson, Manya Bredell.
Whichever area a student selects for their base, they will be spoilt for choice when it comes to filling their spare time. As Maria Husarova of the city’s Eurocentres language school highlights, “Cape Town has so many tourist attractions, the entire city is a must-see in itself.” For her, one priority would be the “endless” beautiful beaches, such as Camps Bay, Clifton and Boulders Beach, where you can observe a penguin colony at close hand. She would also back Craig Leith, Principal of Good Hope Studies, in recommending a drive along the False Bay Coast, stopping at Kalk Bay Harbour, Fish Hoek, Simonstown and beyond, then visiting the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. “One needs to allow a full day or even two for this in order to explore all the nooks and crannies and unusual curiosity shops, restaurants and pubs along the way,” advises Leith.
Camillieri agrees that the city has “a wealth of unique and wonderful attractions. Of course, Table Mountain is a must,” she stresses. “It is so evident everywhere you are in the city, and even as you fly into the airport if it is not cloudy you will be staggered by the sheer size of it.” For those wanting to take in as much as possible within one day, on a reasonable budget, “I would recommend the topless red bus,” says Bredell. “For a one-day ticket [costing] R100 (US$13), you can get around the whole city area, including Table Mountain, the Waterfront and Camps Bay beach area.”
“Obviously, seeing wild animals is a priority for many visitors,” comments Jane Diesel, Director of inlingua Cape Town. “The Kruger National Park is a must-see destination for many. Others prefer to go to Kwa-Zulu, Natal or the Eastern Cape. At inlingua, we offer a week-long Learn English on Safari trip, along the Garden route to Port Elizabeth and back.” Meanwhile, “A sunset cruise on Table Bay is an unforgettable experience. Watch the sun set over the sea, [see] the moon rise over the mountains and the stars twinkle above Table Mountain a cliché, but a memorable one!” she affirms.
Another unmissable experience for Husarova is wine-tasting, as the area boasts well-known vineyards, and some, including Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, have their own festivals, notes Verena Corzillius of Language Teaching Centre (LTC) in Cape Town.
When it is time to chill out, “A small gem is the Cape Quarter area, where there is an absolutely wonderful variety of amazing little restaurants, coffee shops and, in the evening, discos”, says Lauren Altmann, Marketing Coordinator at International House. “For salsa lovers, [on] Friday nights this is the place to be.”
Festivals of all types are another feature of city life in Cape Town, and Interlink encourages participation, by providing an accompanying teacher, Farham reports. One highlight is the Cape Minstrel Carnival, otherwise known as Kaapse Klopse, when, notes Frank, “up to 10,000 minstrels’ bands, singers [and] dancers parade through the streets to celebrate the New Year for the entire month of January”.
For as Leith observes, “South Africa is a country of many worlds in one nation and Cape Town, in particular, is a microcosm of this…It is African, with obvious European influences, and is becoming more and more cosmopolitan on an almost-daily basis.”
Ingrid Antons, Inlingua Santander, Spain
“All [our students] come home deeply impressed by the beauty of the country, and its colours in particular. When they choose South Africa over other English-speaking destinations, it’s normally because they plan a longer stay, not just a couple of weeks, and because they are curious about new experiences. It’s such a fascinating country, between European and African!”
Ludovic Seri, ESL, Switzerland
“[Students] choose South Africa over other English-speaking destinations because…it’s an off-the-beaten-track destination, because of the climate and because of the very interesting cost of living. [They] are always amazed by the beautiful landscapes of South Africa, which really make them feel that they are abroad… Then, they realise as well that South Africa is a really easy-to-travel country, and you could easily compare it to Australia in terms of discovering the country without spending a lot of money and in terms of backpacking facilities.”
Luiza Vianna, CI, Brazil
“Lots of clients choose South Africa in order to save money, as the living cost is low, and also schools offer very competitive prices, combined with good quality. Once they arrive, they discover a very beautiful country, friendly people, good food, nightlife, culture and much more.”
Katja Ebert, Dialog, Germany
“German students are fascinated with South Africa’s unique landscape and national parks, but also with its huge variety of different cultures and traditions. Cape Town is especially popular during the winter months, since our students take the chance to escape from the European winter and learn English in the sun.”