Top 10 language and activity courses for the winter months

For anyone already very accomplished and passionate about the activity that they choose, these courses offers a great opportunity to meet like-minded people and learn how those from different countries and cultures view and appreciate the sport/hobby. Not only this, you will have the great satisfaction of being able to talk about your activities in a foreign language…

When the days are short and spring still a long way off, here’s our pick of courses that will help quell those winter blues!

1. French and skiing in Annecy, France

If there’s nothing that puts a smile on your face quite like gliding through the great outdoors with the sun on your face and the powder at your feet, why not opt for a French and weekend skiing course in Annecy. Studying here – one of Haute-Savoie’s finest spots – will give you access to the slopes, the shops and some of Savoie’s finest gastronomic delights.

2. Spanish and photography in Jaco Beach, Costa Rica

There can be few better places on the earth for a photography course than Costa Rica – its bright colours and stunning landscapes can’t fail to produce amazing photography, whether you’re the next David Bailey, or your photos are limited to disposable cameras at the annual Christmas party.

3. Spanish and kitesurfing in Sosua, Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic remains one of the most popular tourist spots in the Caribbean, and with good reason. It offers great weather, affordable prices and fantastic watersports options. Anyone who prefers to be in the water rather than beside it would do well to try their hand at the exhilarating sport of kitesurfing – once you start you’ll be hooked…

4. Spanish and diving in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Playa del Carmen in Mexico pretty much embodies the exact image of a tropical paradise. What else is there to say? The clear blue waters offer an absolutely prime dive location that will simply leave you pining for more.

5. Italian and cookery/wine tasting in Bologna, Italy

Italy has long been recognised as a producer of some of the finest food and wine in the world. Anyone opting for this course will benefit not only from learning more about how the food and wine is produced, and how properly to appreciate it, but will also have the privilege of spending a week or two in one of the most fascinating and hospitable countries in the world.

6. French and hydrotherapy in Vichy, France

After the over-indulgences of Christmas and New Year, most people feel in need of a serious de-tox. How many of us actually manage it? Well, let’s not go into that…but booking yourself into a hydrotherapy course can’t fail to have the desired effect, as long as you resist the temptation of a bottle too many of Beaujolais along the way!

7. Portuguese and samba in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil

What better way to get a sunkissed smile back on your face and a spring in your step than to do a Portuguese and samba course in Salvador de Bahia? An absolutely perfect antidote to the grey skies and the winter sniffles…

8. Spanish and surfing in La Laguna, Tenerife

The Canary Islands offer a fabulous option for anyone after a bit of sun without the long-haul flight. Tenerife is one of Europe’s hottest and liveliest surf spots and a week of Spanish, surfing and sun will leave you full of energy and raring to go again.

9. Italian and golf in Taormina, Italy

If Italian and golf are both your ‘bag’, heading to Siciliy to work on your handicap will be a great way to while away a winter week. How novel it will be to head to the fairways without three layers of clothes and a flask of tea!

10. English and surfing in Honolulu, Hawaii

Anyone hoping to improve their English has a huge range of options to choose from worldwide. Surely though, this has to be one of the best ways and locations to practise? With temperatures of around 25 degrees centigrade, a few weeks in Honolulu might just-about be do-able…

Suzanne Furstner Foundation Scholarship 2010: Shortlisted Entry Number 5

Applicants who wanted to apply for the scholarship, which comprises a four-week TEFL course in San Francisco plus a language course, were asked to write a maximum of 1,000 words on the topic ‘San Francisco’, interpreted any way they choose.

The entries were assessed according to the quality of the writing, the relevance to the theme and the accuracy and variety of the language.

You can read Teresa’s entry in full below.

San Francisco – Five Days to a Perfect View

Day 1: Ina Coolbrith Park

On my first day in San Francisco, Tree recommends that I take the trolley so I can look around. After a thrill ride through town, I wander up the steep streets to find Ina Coolbrith Park. The walk is hard, but I’m convinced the view is going to be perfect. I stop once to ask for directions—in English. The gardens up this way are beautiful. I see a cluster of trees ahead and know I have found the spot. I find a secluded spot and plop down to breathe. The sun peaks through the trees and I shield my eyes to see my surroundings better on my surroundings. I can see the bay around between the trees, so I move toward them to see if I can see around them, but a house blocks my sight. I walk further farther down and try different angles, but my view I still can’t see. I look at my watch. I am supposed to meet Tree for dinner, but I’m already exhausted. I have to head back.

Day 2: Alcatraz

I sleep in late today. I think I pushed myself too hard yesterday. I decide no to climb any more hills.

I decide I to go to Alcatraz: it is a big tourist spot I think it will have a good view of the city. And I won’t have to walk a lot.

At the dock, the clerk tells me the next boat ride I can buy a ticket for is in one hour. I walk around and get some snacks for the trip over—and some motion sickness pills.

On the boat, I stand on the deck freezing. The harbor is beautiful. Alcatraz looks scary but also peaceful. I see purple flowers on the shore. The trip is not long and I’m glad for that. I unzip my jacket and follow the others into the building.

I take the tour in English. I have some difficulty understanding, but I decide to just move on and look around when I get lost. I learned about some interesting escapes. What’s a bootlegger?

Day 3: The Presidio

There is too so much to see that I have a hard time deciding what to do. I find a wooded path through the park that leads to the water. It is nice to have this in the city. I take a walk onto Yacht Road and listen to the Wave Organ play the music of the ocean. I listen for so long that I actually fall asleep.

I move through Crissy Field, where I have a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge. It is amazing. I really like this place.

I wander back to town and meet Tree in an area called Cow Hollow for dinner.

“I heard the park is beautiful. I want to check it out this weekend,” she says.

“It was very nice. There is a lot of trees,” I reply.

“There are a lot of trees.” she corrects me. I repeat after her, the way she always encourages me to do.

“Did you walk over the bridge?”

“No! I am…what are you say…?”

“How do you say. Scared?” Tree always helps me find the words I’m looking for.

“Scared, but a different word.”

Tree always has paper in her bag. She writes down other words: afraid, worried, frightened, terrified…

“Terrified! I am terrified to try.”

Tree laughs, “Are you afraid of heights?”

I nod a lot.

“Okay. Maybe we can go across together this weekend. Would that be okay? We can take a taxi over first and come back on foot if you are feeling brave.”

“On foot? What mean you?”

Tree explains that on foot means walking, and corrects me again.

We make plans to visit the Exploratorium this weekend and then to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m still a little terrified.

Day 4: Lincoln Park

This is my favorite so far. There aren’t a lot of tourist attractions here, but I can wander through this jungle all day. I am glad I packed snacks. I take the coastal path. I’ve heard that there are two shipwrecks that can be seen, but I do not find them. This area feels so alive I cannot help to feeling energized. The wind zips through the trees and my hair. Though it is chilly in the shade, the sun is warm. I spend hours here, wandering and stopping to take in the horizon whenever there is an opportunity.

This place is perfect.

Day 5: Golden Gate Park

Tree is going to meet me at the Japanese Tea Garden after class today. My legs are hurt sore from all of the walking I did yesterday. I decide to relax and take a tour of the botanical gardens. The gardens are very nice, but I wonder why they call it the Golden Gate Park when I cannot see the bridge. The guide explains me to me that Golden Gate is a nickname of California, not just the name of the Golden Gate Bridge.

After the tour, I go to the de Young museum. In the African art collection, a museum volunteer asks me if I have seen the view from the observation deck. He gives me directions and I get to see another amazing view from up here.

In the Japanese Tea Garden, Tree and I discuss our weeks. Tree tells me how excited she is to start teaching me what she has learned from her CELTA classes. I tell her that I did not find the best view of the city, because I like them all.

I also tell her that I am ready to walk over the Golden Gate Bridge tomorrow.

Suzanne Furstner Foundation Scholarship 2010: Shortlisted Entry Number 4

Applicants who wanted to apply for the scholarship, which comprises a four-week TEFL course in San Francisco plus a language course, were asked to write a maximum of 1,000 words on the topic ‘San Francisco’, interpreted any way they choose.

The entries were assessed according to the quality of the writing, the relevance to the theme and the accuracy and variety of the language.

You can read Simon’s entry in full below.

San Francisco – A Flyway

“Only one is a wanderer. Two together are always going somewhere.”; Not an endorsement for bilingualism, but a voice reverberating around a council house living room in West Suffolk. A nine year old boy watches a woman, on a knackered eighties model television, confess her love on a San Franciscan street in Alfred Hitchock’s Vertigo. I’d been aware of San Francisco from a young age for a few reasons, in part due to my mother who was an ex-hippie, then living what she now refers to as a “conformed life” (she now resides in a mobile home in Norfolk). She’d often muse about being a little older so she could have been there in San Francisco during the Summer of Love. Then there was my Grandmother, a force of nature that would pass through our home regularly, often talking about her “women’s problems” – how she was constantly hot because the birth of my mother had forever altered her blood flow, and how ever since her menopause she’d been even hotter. A doctor had told her that the cool, sunny San Franciscan climate would be perfect for her condition, especially during the foggy summers; “No more sweat’n over noth’n” she’d say in a broad East Anglian accent. Then there was my Great Grandmother, who used to make us watch these old films in the first place, especially the detective ones. Two of her favourites – The Maltese Falcon and Vertigo both acquainted me with Golden Gate City. She’d routinely have an afternoon sherry or three, doze off and leave me and my brother in the company of Sam Spade as he chased crooks around the Bay Area. Four generations under one roof, every Sunday. Perhaps it was these early screen impressions, the white streets and cable cars, or later interests in counterculture and San Fran Beat poetry that fuelled my wanderlust for California. More likely, was that the West coast sunshine and salty air of the Pacific seemed, and still does, like the antidote to low grey skies, English cynicism and the monotony of working class life. I’m perfectly aware this is probably an invented hyperreality. I’m also conscious of the fact the grass isn’t always greener, and that the voyage to enlightenment is internal, I Ching and so forth – I don’t care, I want to fly.

My relationship with language is more experiential and personal. I was born in Puglia, Italy to a very young English mother and an Italian father. After an illicit but passionate romance between the two of them that ended with the same posthaste and irrationality with which it began, I was back in England with my mother. I saw my father sporadically, and our early time spent was tender if not rather comical. I didn’t speak Italian, as my mother refused to teach me on principle, and although a man of good nature, my father was a labourer from south Italy – languages were not his strong point. Our quiet time together was filled with physical gestures and decipherment, not dissimilar to silent-era Laurel and Hardy sketches. Although I gradually began to understand the regular questions; “Inglese mangiano questo?” (English people eat that?), “Quando viene in Italia?” (When are you coming to Italy?), and “Chi era quell’uomo a casa?” (Who was that man at your Mum’s house?) it was thanks to the later summers spent in Italy with my colossal paternal family that I learnt Italian. I remember all the phases of learning vividly, especially the early impatience and frustration of not being able to express myself coherently – particularly to my father, for whom I had so many questions. (Fret not prospective pupil, for the routine banging of one’s head in vexation upon hard surfaces is not an action this TEFL teacher is unaccustomed to.) Yet after nine years of seasonal holidays, I was finally able to confidently speak Italian. Thereafter I spent more time with the people and the Adriatic region I love. By which time ironically, the questions I had always wanted to ask my father had lost importance. Learning Italian taught me the unifying potential of language, and its ability to open up new worlds.

I was on a knee-crushing economy flight back from Puglia last summer when I was seated next to a Lecturer from the Università di Bari. We exchanged pleasantries before, seeing as I’m English, the inevitable topic of language arose. The gentleman expounded enthusiastically on the importance of French philosopher Jaques Lacan – He rhapsodised on Lacan’s theory that language was our world, how it dictated our thoughts and actions fundamentally and how the two axes of language; substation and displacement – correspond to the working of the unconscious; “It is the world of words that creates the world of things”. What I found most fascinatingwas the idea that when we have feelings or thoughts that are indescribable linguistically, it’s because we have transcended these mental barriers. When learning Italian, what struck me the most was the words and phrases that didn’t have a precise English translation – I couldn’t truly capture what I wanted to express. More interestingly, was the fact I was able to understand these expressions in Italian to begin with. So here’s my own theory; if by learning another language, one can think in another language and adopt more dimensions of expression, thereby dissolving more of these mental barriers semiotically, then one can expand the understanding of one’s own mind and one’s own reality. I find the idea of being a part of such a process by teaching a language to someone indescribable. (Pompous theorising over)

What is describable is my current situation. I’m approaching twenty-five and my feet are itching. University is over, I’m flat broke, and I’m standing at a fork in the road. So like my Nonna Lucia used to say while watching the indigenti from her balcony; “If you don’t have money in your pocket, you better have honey in your mouth.” Hopefully my words here have been sweet enough. A TEFL course could certainly make them sweeter, and provide enough nectar for those I teach to make their words sweeter still. Brazen desire and optimism maybe all I have to offer, but I am ready. Like the the Shorebirds that migrate to the Sacramento Valley and tidal marshes of San Francisco every autumn, I want to fly, if only for a month, to the City By The Bay. To quote a great San Franciscan poet;

Say it, say a new joy,

a fresh start, a new body.

Longing in the heart

too stark

to be denied!

Suzanne Furstner Foundation Scholarship 2010: Shortlisted Entry Number 3

Applicants who wanted to apply for the scholarship, which comprises a four-week TEFL course in San Francisco plus a language course, were asked to write a maximum of 1,000 words on the topic ‘San Francisco’, interpreted any way they choose.

The entries were assessed according to the quality of the writing, the relevance to the theme and the accuracy and variety of the language.

You can read David’s entry in full below.

San Francisco- Star Fleet and the Summer of Love

San Francisco is a city steeped in cinematic history. It is no mean feat to recall the number of times the city has provided the backdrop for a romantic comedy, high speed car chase or dramatic courtroom thriller. Think of titles such as ‘The Rock’, ‘Gone in 60 seconds’, ‘Dirty Harry’, ‘Escape from Alcatraz’ and ‘The Woman in Red’ and almost instantaneously you are beset by images of the golden gate bridge draped in a pacific sunset. However, it is not about any of these afore mentioned films that I wish to focus the attention of this essay.

In 1986 the fourth feature length film of the science fiction series ‘Star Trek’ was released. The film, entitled ‘Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home’, was set in San Francisco and told the story of the crew of the ‘ U.S.S. Enterprise’, an intra galactic vessel from the 23rd century who returned to the San Francisco of the 1980s in order to prevent the destruction of Earth in the future.

Star Trek is based on the premise of an intra galactic peacekeeping agency known as ‘Star Fleet’, of which the ‘Enterprise’ was a member. In many ways Star Fleet is the equivalent of a 23rd century United Nations. It’s primary aim being to foster peaceful, working relations with extra terrestrial beings and to explore the unknown parts of our galaxy. Star Fleet’s headquarters? San Francisco.

The choice of the Star Trek writers to position the headquarters of Star Fleet in San Francisco is an intriguing one. Consider being asked to choose a city, on Earth, to pose as the head quarters for the largest peacekeeping force in the galaxy and I would hazard a guess that San Francisco would struggle to make the top five on your list. Surely an organisation of this size would demand the surroundings of a city with the strength of New York, the charisma of London or the flamboyance of Paris? Not so.

So what is it that San Francisco has or depicts that made it so appealing to the Star Trek writers as the home of their fictional heroes? In a word, peace. Since the 1960’s San Francisco has been synonymous with the ideology of a world of peace and harmony, the capital of free thinking and liberation. The catalyst for this long standing reputation is attributable to the ‘Summer of Love’ event held in 1967 in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The Summer of Love provided a platform for various youth movements across the U.S.A. to voice their opinions and protests against human rights and environmental injustices that were occurring throughout the world at the time. The event was labelled a “union of love and activism”.

The effect that the Summer of Love had on San Francisco and the rest of the world was profound. A song entitled ‘San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)’ was released in 1967 to co-inside with the Summer of Love and proved to be an instant success. The song became a symbol of hope across the U.S.A. and Europe where young people adopted it as an anthem of freedom.

With San Francisco’s reputation for peace and freedom in mind, it becomes perhaps more understandable why the early Star Trek writers chose the city as the spiritual home of their sci-fi adventures. Where better to place the headquarters of an organisation dedicated to the nurturing of friendships, peace and understanding than in the city that brought these concepts to the forefront of world thinking?

Star Trek may not seem to be the most obvious of links when thinking of San Francisco. However, for me, the two are intertwined in my reasons for wanting to study on a TEFL course and to teach a language abroad. Since a young age I enjoyed the Star Trek notion of being in far flung area of space, exploring new worlds and encountering the unknown and it is perhaps this aspect of my personality which attracts me to a TEFL course the most. The opportunity to visit foreign climes, interact with diverse cultures and to become part of the local community in those cultures is an ideal that I find strongly appealing.

I am aware of and have experienced some of the opportunities that knowing a foreign language can provide and the restraints that not knowing one can impose. To learn the skills that would help me to teach a language to others and enable them to explore new opportunities is the most significant benefit that I would hope to gain from a TEFL course. It is through the Suzanne Furstner Scholarship that I hope to learn these skills and develop the foundations for a career as a language teacher abroad. I hope you are able to consider my application.

Suzanne Furstner Foundation Scholarship 2010: Shortlisted Entry Number 2

Applicants who wanted to apply for the scholarship, which comprises a four-week TEFL course in San Francisco plus a language course, were asked to write a maximum of 1,000 words on the topic ‘San Francisco’, interpreted any way they choose.

The entries were assessed according to the quality of the writing, the relevance to the theme and the accuracy and variety of the language.

You can read Ilaria’s entry in full below.

San Francisco

My students were looking at me as if I was crazy, but hopefully they were unaware of how nervous I was; I said goodbye and we all walked out of the classroom towards the reception desk. They started talking, all together, with the secretary. I couldn’t understand a word of Chinese, but I could see that their expression changed, they seemed really happy and they were frantically looking into their bags for their purses. Were they booking the course? When the secretary confirmed that the students enjoyed the class and 7 out of 10 paid for the Beginners course I was speechless. The demo lesson was torture for me and, I imagined, for them too. It was my first one, I prepared for hours and must have gone over all the suggestions of my trainers about a thousand times before entering the classroom. I wasn’t confident that the topic I chose was suitable and I kept hearing the voices of my colleagues telling me how Chinese students highly considered teachers. No wonder they were surprised to see me sitting in circle with them, and no wonder they were shocked when I asked them how to spell my name on the whiteboard after we practiced the Italian alphabet, at the end of a lesson where not a word of Chinese was spoken.

At the beginning of the first lesson, the week after, they asked me in English if I was going to speak Chinese from then on and were horrified to hear that it wasn’t an option, and not just because it was my second week in China. I felt that they needed to see that we can communicate with people even without speaking their language, so I invited them to come with me and see how I ordered my dinner at the restaurant downstairs. The owner was used to my “pointing” and the silent conversation went on as usual with me indicating a picture on the wall, him writing down the price, me paying and happily walking out of the restaurant with my dinner. We went back to the classroom, I gave them an Italian menu full of pictures, I took their silent order and wrote down the price; they realized that we were all in the same boat. No matter how hard it was, we had a lot of fun and we all learnt so much from one another. At the end of a long day, when I was reviewing their written tasks, I felt proud of their progress and proud of myself, not because I am a good teacher, but because I achieved my goal.

After pursuing a career in translation, having worked for free as an intern for an independent Italian publisher and having published several translations, I went travelling in Spain and accepted a volunteer position as teacher of Spanish for the local Town Hall. It soon became clear that being with my students was far more rewarding than those endless, lonely hours in front of the computer, just like seeing my name on a language certificate rather than on the inner cover of a book.

How do you give up years of effort and say goodbye to lucrative contracts without feeling guilty towards those who supported you for all the time it took to get there? At 34, all I was hearing from friends were engagement plans and house mortgages, while I was talking about re-inventing myself, go back to school and become a teacher. And after my training course, when those friends who got married were talking about having children, I was over the moon because I got my first official job as a teacher, in China!

After this first experience, I want to learn more about teaching and I would like to create the basis for my future. I know I will never be a sought-after English teacher as I am not a native speaker, but that might not be the case everywhere, if I can be a good teacher. San Francisco is the link between my most recent past in China and my future anywhere I’ll be needed, as it is the door to a better world for so many people, not just from Asia. San Francisco raised again from its own ashes and it was chosen as the ideal place by millions of people who felt it was time to live their lives instead of what everybody else defined as such; great writers were inspired by its vibrant atmosphere and the grandeur of its landscapes and those same writers inspired me when it was time to start all over again.

I became a bit of every place I have been to and I learnt the language of every country I lived in; if by doing my job I can inspire even only one of my students to go and experience a different culture, I’ll be happy. He or she might have to travel for miles, or just be willing to listen to a neighbour from a different country. In some places people are never more abroad than when they are at home. But I didn’t say that, Benjamin F. Taylor did, about San Francisco.

Suzanne Furstner Foundation Scholarship 2010: Shortlisted Entry Number 1

Applicants who wanted to apply for the scholarship, which comprises a four-week TEFL course in San Francisco plus a language course, were asked to write a maximum of 1,000 words on the topic ‘San Francisco’, interpreted any way they choose.

The entries were assessed according to the quality of the writing, the relevance to the theme and the accuracy and variety of the language.

You can read Zusanna’s entry in full below.

San Francisco



If you’re going to San Francisco

Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair

If you’re going to San Francisco

You’re gonna meet some gentle people there

Today the darkness is at its deepest in the south part of Czechoslovakia. And so is communism. Mark with his two colleagues from the arms factory, Peter and Joseph, are sitting in Mark’s flat, listening to Viennese Radio. Mark can tune his radio to the Western station, as the reception on the outskirts of the capital where his flat happens to be is good. They’re risking being arrested for it, they know, yet to hell with it, they think. It’s worth it, anyway.

“What if the neighbour reports you?” whispers Mark’s mother when she catches them in Mark’s room. “You know who our neighbour is, don’t you?” Mark does know. The neighbour who lives in the flat opposite in their block of flats is a secret police agent.

“Listening to a Western radio! And to this song!” Mark’s mother points to the transistor. She first heard the “San Francisco” at the Prague Spring uprising against Soviet rule in 1968. Young people like her then adopted it as an anthem for freedom. For the same reason, the communists who suppressed the uprising later banned the song.

For those who come to San Francisco

Summertime will be a love-in there

In the streets of San Francisco

Gentle people with flowers in their hair

“We tried to stop the Russians with flowers,” says Mark’s mother quietly. “It didn’t work,” she sighs and leaves the room.

The three friends carry on listening. Today, here in the Eastern Europe, it’s raining cats and dogs but they let themselves to be transported by the vibrant music to the very West, to the beaches of San Francisco, soaring in hot air as they imagine San Francisco to be based on pictures they had seen in the geography book at school and supported by the vibrancy of the tune and the vocals of John Phillips.

“What a pity I don’t understand a word,” says Mark after the song has finished. “Next time, I’ll smuggle an English dictionary and the lyrics from Vienna and we can translate them. I met someone on the flea market the other day who can help me,” says Peter.

All across the nation such a strange vibration

People in motion

There’s a whole generation with a new explanation

People in motion people in motion

When they later translate the words, Mark wishes to move to San Francisco; to swap his country of hopeless and suppressed people for the people in motion and for the strange vibration all across their nation. How wonderful life must be there! It becomes his vision.

Ten years later.

It’s five years after the Velvet Revolution and many of Mark’s colleagues from the arms factory that had gone bankrupt, including his friends Peter and Joseph, have left their country to find a better future abroad. Mark fulfils his dream too and emigrates to San Francisco. He’ll live with Joseph at first who’d gone there earlier, done a TEFOL course and has now found a job for Mark in the San Francisco Military Factory. Mark comes on tourist visa he got for six months but he doesn’t intend to return. He lands in the country full of opportunities and has got a vision of a new, bright future, not loaded with heaviness of the past, he thinks. He’ll start working in the factory tomorrow, learn English like Mark and earn lots of money. However, an unexpected chain of events that starts only an hour later slightly yet essentially changes the chain of his thoughts. Nick, a friendly and outgoing guy from San Francisco and a good friend of Joseph comes to pick Mark up from the airport and doesn’t drive Mark straight to Joseph’s flat but instead he takes him to a place that takes Mark’s breath away. At the end of the day Mark finds himself in the San Francisco Columbarium – a huge posh building with thousands of urns with human ashes neatly laid in cosy pigeonholes dug into tall walls. Today an event called “Get To Know Your Neighbour” is taking place here and Nick’s grandmother is attending it with her whole family. Nick couldn’t miss. Later Mark understands that her ashes are going to be laid here too after she… Mark doesn’t want to finish the sentence, not even in his mind. 

People of San Francisco must have a great sense of humour, if they take death with pinch of salt, Mark thinks. However, when Mark is standing in the huge hall of the Columbarium and staring at all those pictures of people whose ashes are right in front of him, another thought crosses Mark’s mind like an X-ray: These people here cannot change anything in their lives anymore, as they’re dead, they cannot do anything better… But I CAN! Perhaps I won’t have to work in an arms factory for the rest of my life. Perhaps later on I could do something else, like opening my own restaurant one day. Isn’t America a place of opportunities and fulfilled visions after all? The restaurant would have to be on a beach, Mark decides.

For those who come to San Francisco

Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair

If you come to San Francisco

Summertime will be a love-in there

If you come to San Francisco

Summertime will be a love-in there

Ten years later.

Mark owns three restaurants, all near San Francisco beaches. Today his mother is coming to visit him for the first time. He’s going to welcome her at the airport with a flower. And he’ll stick it in her hair. 

Escape the economic gloom with TEFL

As the full extent of financial cuts in the UK becomes evident, many people are finding themselves without work, or at risk of redundancy.

TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) has always been a popular option amongst people who want to experience living abroad, whether in a short or long-term capacity. As the amount of jobs in the UK falls though, it is perhaps a profession that will grow in popularity further – whilst English remains as important on a global scale as it currently is, there will always be a need for English teachers around the world.

This isn’t to say necessarily that anyone who wants to travel and needs a job should train in TEFL. Yes, you’re very likely to get work – especially if you’re open to living in far flung destinations – but ultimately, to become a good teacher, it helps if you have an interest in teaching, in experiencing new cultures and ideally in the English language too.

If these things apply to you though, TEFL really can be a fantastic way not only to assure you an (interesting) job, but to experience a bit of adventure and to see the world at the same time.

Although TEFL jobs can be found all over the world, Asia is one particular area where there remains a huge recruitment drive for English teachers. China especially has lots of jobs, as do Vietnam, and Thailand . The Middle East is another region with increasing opportunities for teachers, and the same applies to South America. Europe has long had a need for English teachers, which remains today – especially in Eastern Europe, Spain and Italy.

There are lots of different types of TEFL courses, ranging from introductory weekend courses (roughly £200-250) to full-time four-week courses (£800-£1200) which give you qualifications that are better known internationally. As a general rule, taking a four-week course, such as a CELTA or Trinity Cert TESOL, will give you more flexibility in terms of where you can work and in what capacity, but shorter courses, or short courses combined with online learning do still give you a good grounding in what you need to know if you’re on a tight budget.

For more information on the courses available, along with prices and details of how to apply, please visit the Cactus TEFL website.

Italian False Cognates: common mistakes made by foreigners

So you’ve already taken a number of Italian language courses over a span of several months, you’ve attended every lesson, and followed self-study advice to the ‘T’…you think you’ve got the Italian language sorted?

While living in Italy I learned the hard way to be careful what I asked for! These are some common mistakes foreigners make with false cognates in Italy:

1. Don’t ask for ‘peperoni’ on your Pizza unless you have a taste for the hot-n-spicy! The first time I went to my boyfriend’s mother’s house for dinner (in Italy), she asked me if I preferred pepperoni or plain (Margherita) pizza. After requesting pepperoni on my pizza, I discovered the hard way that in Italian ‘peperoni’ are actually hot peppers! Out of embarrassment, I ended up eating the entire pie, sipping water after every burning bite. If you want pepperoni, order ‘salame piccante’ instead.

2. Looking to top your salad off with some crunchy ‘cocomeri’? Then I hope you like oil and vinegar on your watermelon, ‘cause that’s what you just ordered! The Italian word for cucumber is actually ‘cetriolo.’

3. Lost your camera and need to buy a new one? If you tell a salesperson that you’re looking for a ‘camera’, you may not like the response you’ll get. The word ‘camera’ in Italian actually means bedroom! Looking for a snapshot digital machine, then you should request a “macchina fotografica” instead.

4. Commenting on the colorful ‘confetti’ being thrown around at the Venice Carnivale? Well let’s hope you never get pegged in the head with Italian ‘confetti,’ which is the word for sugar-coated almonds. The little colorful pieces of paper being thrown around at carnivals and parties are known as ‘coriandoli.’

5. Need directions to the Gucci ‘fattoria’? If you’re looking for outlet shopping during your stay in Italy, don’t refer to them as ‘fattoria,’ unless you want to buy some farm fresh produce! Factory outlets are actually called “(gli) Outlet,” though the Italian word for factory is ‘fabbrica.’ A case in many where your English actually comes in handy during your stay on the boot!

Known for its vibrant culture, spectacular scenery, friendly people, and world famous cuisine, Italy will always leave you wanting to come back for more. Hopefully these tips will help to make your Italian adventure unforgettable for all the right reasons!

For a list of more false cognates or ‘Amici Falsi,’ you can also check out: 10 Italian False Friends.

Cactus offers Italian immersion courses in Italy, and Italian evening course in the UK, the US & Canada.

One year in Poland: Cactus staff experience

One Year in Poland – English Version

After my first year at the Business School of Montpellier (in the South of France), I decided to spend one year in Poland, in Warsaw. It is so difficult for me to describe how amazing this experience was.

The most important part of my experience was the language learning. I was in a country where Polish is spoken, yet my studies were in English! But at the end of the day, it wasn’t so hard.

During my first semester, I chose to take a Polish course at the University of Warsaw, in order to be able to speak to Polish people in the street. It was very important for me to be immersed in the Polish culture, and without the necessary language skills this seemed an impossible task. I had 5 hours of Polish per week. I learnt to be independent in the street or in shops, with phrases like “Ile kosztuje?” (how much is it?). It is so gratifying to be understood by the people of the place where you decided to live.

The second part of my learning was about improving my knowledge of English. At the beginning, I found it very difficult to understand the teachers and other students. But step by step you try, and finally people don’t laugh at you; they know that they were like you in the past. Therefore, the most important thing that I learnt is DON’T BE AFRAID TO TRY TO SPEAK ANOTHER LANGUAGE. If you make mistakes or if your pronunciation is not perfect, nobody really cares! After my first months in Warsaw, I was able to understand, read and write English. But my learning is not over at all…I now have to learn to understand native speakers better. 

I want to mention one other point. When you embark on this kind of experience abroad, you are not only learning a new language but so many other things, about you, about living in a community, about meeting people all over the world. At the beginning of the year I wasn’t very confident in myself or ready to live such a rewarding experience. But now I have only one idea in my mind: what is next? And you, when will your next experience abroad be?

Une année en Pologne, Warszawa – Version Française

Après ma première année à l’école de commerce de Montpellier (dans le sud de la France), j’ai décidé de partir étudier un an en Pologne, à Varsovie! Il est vraiment difficile pour moi de décrire cette expérience, tellement magique à mes yeux.

La partie la plus importante de ce voyage a été l’apprentissage des langues. J’étais dans un pays où l’on parlait polonais mais tous mes cours étaient délivrés, eux, en anglais! Mais finalement, cela n’a pas été si difficile.

Pendant le premier semestre, j’ai choisi de prendre un cours de polonais à l’université de Varsovie dans le but d’être capable de parler avec les polonais dans la rue. C’était vraiment important pour moi d’être imprégnée de la culture polonaise, d’essayer d’être en immersion totale. Et sans la connaissance du langage cela me paraissait impossible. J’avais 5 heures de polonais par semaine. J’ai appris à être indépendante dans la rue ou dans les magasins: “Ile kosztuje?”. Il est tellement gratifiant d’être comprise par les habitants du pays où l’on a décidé d’habiter.

La deuxième partie de mon apprentissage a été d’améliorer mon anglais. Dans les premiers temps, il a été très difficile pour moi de comprendre les enseignants ou les autres étudiants. Mais petit à petit, vous essayez et finalement personne ne rigole, ils savent qu’ils ont été dans cette situation dans le passé. La chose la plus importante pour moi a donc été de comprendre qu’il ne fallait jamais avoir peur d’essayer de parler une autre langue. Si vous faites des erreurs ou que votre prononciation n’est pas parfaite, tout le monde s’en moque en réalité. Après mes premiers mois à Varsovie, j’étais capable de comprendre, lire et écrire en anglais. Mais mon apprentissage n’est pas encore fini, loin de là… il faut maintenant que je progresse sur la compréhension des natifs.

J’aimerais également parler d’une autre chose vraiment importante à mes yeux. Quand vous décidez de faire ce type d’expérience à l’étranger, vous n’apprenez pas seulement une autre langue mais tellement d’autres choses, sur vous, sur le fait de vivre en communauté, de rencontrer des gens venant de toute la planète… Au départ de l’expérience je n’avais pas vraiment confiance en moi ou je n’étais pas prête à vivre de telle expérience. Mais maintenant je n’ai qu’une idée en tête: what is next? Et vous, quand est-ce que va être votre prochaine expérience à l’étranger?

What makes Perth a great English study destination?

One of the most commonly cited facts about Perth is that it’s the world’s most remote city. Whilst this can sometimes be perceived as a negative thing, perhaps it goes some way to explaining why Perth has become a city with so much to offer…having to travel so far to get anywhere else means that it’s essential that there is enough to do on your doorstep!

Here’s a run-down of some of the best things about Perth:

1. Climate and location

Perth enjoys a Mediterranean-like climate with warm, sunny weather for most of the year. In fact, Perth enjoys more hours of sunshine annually than any other Australian city.

There is very little rainfall in summer, and even in winter it’s accompanied by plenty of warm sunshine.

Perth’s location on the west coast of Australia means that, for anyone coming from Europe, it is the closest place to get to in Australia. Flying to Sydney or Melbourne could add on a further 3 to 4 hours to your flight time, which can make a big difference with such a long journey.

2. Size and population

Although Perth is not as big as some of Australia’s other capital cities, its smaller size makes it really easy to get around. The city centre is big enough that there is plenty going on, but not so big that you need to take public transport to get anywhere.

Perth has a relatively modest population for its geographic size, which means that there is more than enough space for everyone. There are enough people to give the city a buzz, but not so many that it’s overcrowded and unfriendly.

The city also benefits from a fairly diverse population, which makes it cosmopolitan and accepting of other cultures. It is currently estimated that more than one third of Perth’s residents were actually born overseas.

3. Beaches and parks

Undoubtedly one of the best things about Perth is its stunning array of beaches. The Sunset Coast in Perth comprises a long stretch of beautiful coastline and beach side suburbs, from Cottesloe west of Perth, to Mindarie Keys north west of the Perth city centre. Many of the beaches are just a short drive from the centre of Perth, and this northern coastal area is popular for Perth’s safe swimming beaches and walking paths.

If you’d prefer to take a walk in one of Perth’s surrounding natural parks, you’ll be absolutely spoilt for choice – they’re everywhere! Taking a trip out to one of these will give you first-hand experience of Australia’s famous ‘bush’ and the fantastic array of flora and fauna that it houses.

However, and the good news is that with Kings Park right on the edge of Perth, you don‘t necessarily have to travel out of the city to experience Australia’s Great Outdoors. One of the largest inner city parks in the world, Kings Park overlooks Perth and the famous Swan River, and gives you some spectacular views of the distant Perth Hills to boot.

The park features both cultivated gardens and rugged bushland and you can picnic on grassy lawns, take a jog through the bushland or go to one of the many outdoor concerts held there during the summer.

4. Bars and restaurants

Whilst Perth doesn’t have nightlife on quite the same scale as Sydney and Melbourne, it nevertheless has plenty to keep you entertained. Just outside the Perth city centre is the district of Northbridge where there’s a range of nightclubs, pubs, cafes and restaurants, offering a wide range of cuisines. Fremantle, just south of Perth, is also known as a great destination for anyone looking to party!

5. History

Perth is a city with a rich colonial past and a long Aboriginal history. The Noongar people occupied Western Australia’s southwest and the area in which Perth stands today was called Boorloo. The coastal plains of the area were very important to the people both spiritually and for hunting and gathering.

Europeans first started exploring the west coast of Australia in the early 17th century, however due to rough seas, dangerous reefs, Perth’s sand bars and shipwreck the area was considered unfavourable and remained unexplored. It was not until 1829 when Captain James Stirling arrived there and recognised its great beauty that the idea of settlement occurred.

Perth is overflowing with breathtaking landmarks and monuments, including the modern Swan Bell Tower, Government House, Parliament House and Perth Town Hall, built by convicts in the late 1860s.  Famous throughout the country, many of these Perth landmarks and Perth monuments date back to the early 19th century and are in excellent condition.

A variety of English courses are available in Perth, including General, Individual and Intensive. Courses are available to begin all year round.