Rafaela Peteanu looks at the reasons why Scotland has been named the best youth destination by the British Educational Travel Association
At the end of last year the British Educational Travel Association (Beta) announced the winners of the Best Youth Travel Awards. The Best Youth Destination gong, unsurprisingly for some, went to Scotland, represented by its national tourism organisation, VisitScotland.
‘Scotland is a fantastic destination for people of all ages and we are delighted that this country has been named the UK’s Best Youth Destination,’ said Mike Cantlay, VisitScotland’s chair.
‘In 2014 Scotland will welcome the world when we host the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles and Homecoming – a year-long series of events that celebrate the very best in Scottish culture. From exhilarating adventure sports in our great outdoors, to the amazing culture and nightlife of our cities, Scotland really is the place to be.’
The second and third prizes were awarded to the tourism organisations of Oxford and Bournemouth respectively (both in England). The Gazette reporter covering the awards ceremony was particularly excited about the first prize, as in her words she has ‘never met an unlikeable Scot’ (not even in London). However, the editorial team decided that one (highly subjective) opinion was not enough to prove the virtues of any country, so we asked language school directors as well as students to tell us what makes Scotland so special.
‘As somebody who used to live in London, I think Scotland offers such a great quality of life compared to the south of England,’ said Malcolm Davidson, business development manager at IH Aberdeen. ‘Scotland is home to great cities, which are not only historical and beautiful but also offer great facilities and world-class universities. Plus, it’s so much less crowded here – you really have time to enjoy your life and free time. People are more open and relaxed and it’s so easy to get to know people here. Travelling around is so easy too: you can go shopping in Glasgow in the morning and then hill walking in the afternoon.’
Scotland has long been a magnet for students, business professionals and tourists from around the world,’ Jay Buckham, business development manager at the Fettes Centre for Language and Culture, told the Gazette. ‘Beautiful landscapes, a plethora of cultural events and activities, and the warmest of welcomes combine with its hugely rich history to offer visitors an unforgettable experience. Scotland has many hidden gems – mountains, beaches, islands and lochs, where a lucky student may catch a glimpse of the mythical Loch Ness Monster, “Nessie”.’
Vicki Craig-Ariyo, director of studies at the Glasgow School of English, believes that ‘most of [our] students are happy here’. The social programme ‘allows the students to get out and about and see different places with the support and help of classmates and teachers’. So even if students initially experience a culture shock, they do eventually come around and become ‘a sociable lot’. And how could they not, when food is involved? According to Vicki, ‘We’ve had many students who have never really tried much outside their own country’s cuisine before, so Spanish students discovering the joy of Chinese food or Saudi students bringing in some home-cooked dishes for everyone to try is the norm here.’ (We take it not many have tried haggis, the Scottish dish that comes in the lining of a sheep’s stomach.)
Students at the Glasgow School of English seem to agree with their director of studies. When asked what their favourite thing about studying in Scotland was, most of them talked about the ‘kind, friendly and welcoming people’. They also brought up the cost of living (including the nightlife and the shopping) as an advantage, and claimed that ‘the accent, while at times challenging, is nice to listen to!’
Isobel MacLean, principal at Merchiston Castle English Language Summer School, put things into perspective. ‘The best thing about studying in Scotland is the incomparable combination of its remarkable history, dynamic present and no doubt momentous future. Studying here encourages students to appreciate the past, live for today and look forward to tomorrow.’
Summing it all up, John Paul Smith, business manager at Live Languages, thinks Scotland’s current status as one of the most attractive destinations for both UK and international students boils down to the universities (‘Scotland has a handful of world-class universities within a couple of hours’ drive of each other’), the cost of living (‘rents are among the lowest in the UK’), the people (‘Glasgow’s current slogan is People Make Glasgow, and the students and tourists can expect people to not only look at them, but to actually stop and even to speak back when asked for directions’), the nightlife (‘there is no band anywhere that comes to the UK without coming to Scotland, especially Glasgow, and Edinburgh has a thriving theatre and music scene, even outside the festival’) and the scenery (‘the students come from Russia, the USA, South America and everywhere else to see the rolling hills, beautiful coastline and clear blue sky’).