Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Learning Holidays: Readers' Tips, Recommendations and Travel Advice

If variety is the spice of life, a visit to Luang Prabang, a World Heritage site in Laos surrounded by beautiful scenery, will excite your senses. Without having to journey very far, you can participate in numerous learning experiences.

Take part in a Mahout’s experience run by the Elephant Village and learn how to control your elephant, take her for a walk and bathe her in a tributary of the mighty Mekong. Go trekking with a guide from Tiger Trail and learn all about Hmong villages and culture. Our guide spoke very good English and gave us an interesting history lesson on the recent wars in Indo-China. He finished off with some beautiful, traditional folk songs.
Rise early for a cookery class and tour the local markets to buy your ingredients. Then back to the kitchen to concoct dishes. We came away with our recipe book and have prepared some meals at home. For those with an interest in textiles, there are wonderful courses in traditional dyeing, weaving and batik at the Ockpoktok centre.
Carole Robinson, of Manchester, wins a holiday with Vietnam Tours and Vietnam Airlines

Other letters from readers
The best learning holiday I ever had was when I decided to take my 16-year-old son away to learn to sail on the west coast of Scotland in August 2012. He has two sisters, so getting quality time with him was difficult. I thought the two of us, with a training skipper, would be an excellent way to learn together on a five-day course. This was part of a longer-term plan to take a flotilla holiday in Greece. He needed his Competent Crew ticket and I needed my Day Skipper practical as part of the Royal Yachting Association exams to be able to charter abroad.
We trained with ScotWinds (scotwinds.co.uk) with an ex-RAF Nimrod engineer. This meant my son would have to be accountable to a skipper from a military background, not his father. We sailed around Skye, mooring each night in a different spot and learning each day the art of sailing. The experience brought us closer together, allowing me in particular to see him as an adult with responsibilities for himself and other crew members. We subsequently chartered in Greece in 2013 and he now has the sailing bug.

Anthony Cumming, Aberdeenshire
Excellent learning holidays are offered by Arvon (arvon.org) to give people time and space to write. I went on a poetry writing week to Lumb Bank, which once belonged to Ted Hughes, near Heptonstall in West Yorkshire. It’s a great setting, which gives you a sense of the countryside that moved Hughes as well as offering a week of guided tuition to aid your own writing. Arvon’s other centres are all in inspiring settings: Moniack Mhor, a converted steading near Loch Ness, The Hurst, John Osborne’s former home in Shropshire, and Totleigh Barton, a 16th-century manor house in Devon. The weeks are structured with exercises in the morning, time to write in the afternoon, and chances to hear your tutors’ work and that of a guest writer before sharing your own work at the end of the week. Before that you will have shared a lot more, including the cooking.

Chris Allen, Bucks
A full-immersion course in a foreign country helps you to achieve unparalleled results when learning a new language. Several hours of daily tuition and a home stay with a native family all contribute to a learning experience that an hour’s evening class per week in the UK just can’t compete with. For those particularly interested in Spanish, I’d have to recommend the city of Quetzaltenango in Guatemala (affectionately known by its Mayan name Xela – pronounced “Shellah” – by its residents). After extensive research and travels in Latin America, for me Guatemala stands head and shoulders above other language destinations in Latin America as the only country that teaches classes one-on-one as standard practice, meaning that you progress at your own pace and have none of the crippling anxiety of having to speak up in front of others who are more advanced than you. Not only are the classes one-on-one, they are significantly cheaper than group classes in other countries.
The gorgeous, picturesque city of Antigua is where you’ll undoubtedly be drawn to when looking into a study trip to Guatemala. Its pebble-dashed colonial charm lures thousands of aspiring linguists each year. But if mastering the language is genuinely your ultimate goal, settle for just a visit to Antigua (where English is spoken at every picture-postcard turn), and head to the highlands of Xela for a truer Guatemalan experience and an opportunity to practise the skills you learn in class.

Lucy McGill, London
I can recommend a fantastic learning holiday, “An Introduction to Maasai Culture”. You will learn so much, covering all areas of knowledge. Academically, you will pick up the basics of language in an outdoor classroom in a sandy riverbed. Socially you will learn community spirit as you drink and cook together around the campfire that you have learnt to light without matches, developing your musical talents, singing warrior songs. You will also be taught survival skills as there is no running water or electricity.

Discover how to make the most of seeing animals in their natural habitat as you are taught how to approach wild animals in safety without disturbing them, and spy skills as you learn how to walk without making a noise and how to avoid someone picking up your scent. See how to track animals and witness elephants drinking. Learn self-defence and how to make traditional Maasai weapons for hunting, such as a bow and arrow and spears. Develop your sporting skills with Maasai wrestling techniques. You will be shown how to make natural remedies for common illnesses, such as backache and colds. You will also pick up so many botanical facts.

B Grace Hindle, North Yorkshire
Time your stay at the Bedruthan hotel in Cornwall to coincide with one of the inspiring workshops on offer and go home with a new skill. Choose from a fascinating variety of activities including foraging walks, jewellery making, “the art of pork” (butchering and sausage making), preserving, screen printing and upcycling furniture. The courses run for one or two days and hotel guests pay only a small fee. When your workshop is over, relax in the sleek spa, take a scenic stroll or, if you are still keen to master new talents, seek out the surf school on nearby Mawgan Porth beach.

Martha Hales, Dorset
When studying a new language abroad try to live with a local family. Not only will you progress your language skills at an increased pace but you will learn more about the local culture, become involved with family life and make strong friendships.

Holly Gwazdacz, Bristol
If you’re a keen photographer, passionate for travel in some of the most colourful locations across Asia and want an exciting and rewarding holiday, you can do no better than a week’s all-inclusive photography workshop run by Simon Taplin and Mike Browne of Aperture Asia. I met Simon when I was working out of Singapore. A top commercial photographer, hugely amicable and talented, he unravels jargon and simplifies the photographic process, resulting in the creation of some truly memorable images. Photographing in out-of-the-way places such as Burma and Vietnam, these forays into stunning locations of diverse culture, heritage and people really are more than photography courses, they are learning experiences. Their mission is to make a positive difference to the people and the environment of destinations travelled to, and as an advocate of responsible tourism, Aperture Asia commits to contributing back to the people and places it visits, making a difference to the lives of those you meet. The experience leaves you not only full of unforgettable memories but equipped with new-found confidence and a variety of advanced photographic skills.

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