Striking Gold Down Under

Kristal Bivona shares her experience of the English immersion destination that lives up to the promise of its name: The Gold Coast

From the observation deck of the Skypoint Q1, Queensland’s tallest building, what’s most striking about the Gold Coast is all the water. The vast Pacific Ocean to the east and the network of canals that twist throughout the city shimmer in the subtropical sun. Looming 890 feet above the city, the Q1 is a perfect orientation to the Gold Coast. From up above, visitors see well into the local mountains blanketed by forest and the curvy coastline that stretches in both directions as far as the eye can see.

Once on the ground, the Gold Coast is an explosion of excellent international cuisine, vibrant bars, luxurious hotels, and bustling shopping centers. Restaurants with views, like Saks Marina Mirage, offer beautiful seafood dishes complete with a sea breeze. Dance clubs, pubs, and Jupiter’s Casino beckon the nocturnal crowd. Those on a student budget need not worry as the Gold Coast boasts some less expensive options, such as Taco Tuesdays at Stingray lounge in the surfer chic QT Hotel.

Outdoorsy types will be smitten with the Gold Coast’s landscape. The beach offers activities from surfing and SCUBA diving to biking and running. And, just an hour inland is the world’s largest subtropical rainforest. Local tour companies offer guided visits — highly recommended is JPT Tour Group that provides among the most informative and educational guided tours in Australia. O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat in Lamington National Park is located a little more than an hour’s drive through green farmland dotted with grazing cattle, up a winding road through a eucalyptus forest and beyond into a dense rainforest. The Treetop Walk bounces hikers along wooden bridges suspended from cables up in the canopy level of the rainforest. O’Reilly’s is also a world-famous destination for bird watchers and visitors of all ages can feed the colorful local birds.

The Gold Coast has an extraordinary number of theme parks, such as Sea World and Movie World, and attractions that are favorites among Australians and international visitors alike. One quintessentially Australian show is the Outback Spectacular, which holds nightly performances. Cowboys and cowgirls show off their skills, and tell a story of national importance while amazed spectators nosh on steaks and indulge in bottomless glasses of beer and wine.

The Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is at the forefront of the display and preservation of Australia’s indigenous wildlife. Animal lovers can feed and pet kangaroos in their cage-free park, participate in an impressive lorikeet feeding, and even cuddle a koala. More committed visitors can volunteer in the park to assist guests or wildlife keepers, or even work in the vet hospital. The sanctuary boasts the largest collection of Australian wildlife in the world, and many of their animals were rescued from injury or illness. Currumbin’s Koala Conservation Program saves hundreds of koalas each year by working with local governments and accepting rescues from locals who find koalas in danger.

For students seeking an immersion experience, the Gold Coast has it all. Not only is Australian education highly regarded, but the system is accommodating to international students and realistic about their needs. Australia allows students to work for up to 20 hours per week while in school, and as many hours as they like during school recesses. Since students are allowed, and even encouraged, to have jobs, they enjoy the same wages and working conditions as Australian nationals. Therefore, students can earn money while studying English to help fund their studies, travel, and support themselves if they wish. Many schools offer assistance in creating a resume in English and job interview practice.

The Australian visa system is remarkably flexible — visitors on a tourist visa can study for up to 13 weeks, but may not work. On a student visa, visitors must study for more than 13 weeks and may work part time. Others come to Australia on a working holiday visa, which is valid for one year. Visitors on a working holiday visa have no study requirement, but they may study for up to 17 weeks. Some schools offer vocational training and courses specially designed for students on working holiday visas.

Many students come to the Gold Coast to study subjects other than English. In fact, students from the U.S. choose to study in Queensland specifically because they can do their coursework and live in English. Aurora Thompson, a business management student from Western New England University, remarked that her transition to life on the Gold Coast and studying at Bond University was smoother than anticipated.

“I chose the Gold Coast because the academic calendar at Bond closely correlated with the semester dates at home, and because I thought it would be nice to be right near the ocean, since I love going to the beach,” Thompson explained. “It’s located in the center of the coast, so I can easily go north and south, making it very easy to travel along the coastline. It also has a great nightlife.”

Her classmate at Bond, Claire Gelb, a pre-dental student from the University of Iowa, is happy that she is studying there even though credits from pre-dental coursework taken outside of the U.S. do not transfer. Gelb is taking advantage of her time in Australia to satisfy elective requirements and courses for her psychology minor. Gelb admits, however, she almost overlooked the Gold Coast.

“I was dead set on going to Sydney,” Gelb said. “I really like Gold Coast because it has a city, but you also have the beach. It’s the best of both worlds. We went and visited Sydney, and it’s really cool, but I like that Gold Coast is smaller.”

While Gold Coast is less well-known than other Australian destinations, there’s no shortage of quality educational institutions for both English language learners and international students who want to pursue university studies.

Here are some excellent local schools:

Browns English Language School
Browns English Language School has a smiley bunch of students. With ocean views from the student lounge, a new, freestanding building with a garden, and a healthy offering of social activities, such as surf lessons, barbecues, and movie showings, Browns’ students have a lot to smile about. Much of Browns’ charm comes from the personal feel that one expects from a family-owned and operated business. The positive social atmosphere is paired with friendly personnel, high tech “smart” classrooms, and Browns Academic Pathway, which gives successful students access to a selection of Australian institutions of higher learning, some of which have waived their entrance exam requirement in lieu of satisfactory completion of coursework at Browns. Students can transfer smoothly over to excellent universities, such as Griffith University, Southbank Institute of Technology, and the University of Southern Queensland. The student population at Browns is diverse, with a comparatively good ratio of students from the Americas, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Students can opt to live with an Australian host family, or in Browns luxury student apartments, located a three-minute walk from campus.

Gold Coast Language Schools
Gold Coast Language Schools are supportive of their students even after the school day is over. Aside from the excellent English courses they offer, GCLS has a well-organized work placement program, which facilitates the job hunt and offers continuous support to students as they adjust to their new workplaces. GCLS’ Demi Pair program connects international students with Australian families who can offer full room and board in exchange for 20 hours of domestic work per week. With a flexible, part time schedule, demi pairs have time to pursue language studies and experience life on the Gold Coast. GCLS is dedicated to the individual English goals of each student, and offer courses for everyone from the serious academic to the student who wants language skills for travel. The Fun in English program allows students to join extra classes for free along with fun activities to meet friends from all over the world. The campus is located in Southport with views of Broadwater Park and is just a couple of miles from the center of Surfers Paradise. The school is accredited by Australia’s National ELT Accreditation Scheme (NEAS) and the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students (CRICOS).

Gold Coast Institute of TAFE
TAFE (Technical and Further Education) institutions are the Australian answer to the American community colleges in that they are publicly funded, offer a more intimate educational space than universities with smaller class sizes, and transfer students who intend to pursue further studies at a university. The Gold Coast Institute of TAFE is at the forefront of adult literacy and English as a second language education. They have nationally accredited English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students taught by experienced instructors in a center full of technological resources. Beyond ESL, TAFE offers a diverse array of programs for international students, including Business, Finance, Hospitality and Tourism, and IT. The Institute has pathway programs that encourage students to transfer on to university, and students often transfer with two years of college credit already under their belts, shortening their time at the university and saving tuition fees. TAFE is an ideal institution for goal-oriented students who want to study at a high-quality public institution side by side with Australian students.

Langports is located among the restaurants, shops, and entertainment of Surfers Paradise, two minutes from the beach on a quiet side street. While Langports offers a variety of social activities and assistance for students looking for jobs, they pride themselves on the excellence of their teachers and the high quality of language instruction. Langports puts a strong emphasis on effective teaching and uses the current pedagogical research in second language acquisition so that students receive the best possible education. Their Use Focus Options (UFO) English system ensures that students are placed in the appropriate classes for each skill. The Use course is a core class of general English, while each day of the week a different skill is honed in the Focus classes. Option classes include TOEIC, Business English, TOEFL, and TESOL. Langports is also proud to be an official testing center for both the TOEIC and Cambridge exams. The Langports Pathways program streamlines the process for students who wish to pursue higher education in Australia, with partner institutions such as James Cook University, Aviation Australia, and the University of Queensland. Langport students can live with host families, or live with other students in one of the school’s own houses.

Martin College/Embassy CES
Martin College together with Embassy CES are a powerhouse of English language learning and technical education in the heart of Surfers Paradise. Martin College of Business, Technology, and Design offers many programs that prepare both international students and Australians alike for 21st century careers. Course options include graphic design, venues and events, marketing, business, and management. All Australian universities under the Australian Qualifications Framework recognize Martin College course credits and degrees. For English language learners, Embassy CES, a global leader in English language education, is partnered with Martin and on the same campus. Their teachers are trained in instructional technology and deliver dynamic classes using multimedia. Embassy CES takes pride in their student housing options and has longstanding relationships with their own network of host families.

Bond University
Locals say that when walking around Bond University, one becomes overwhelmed with an intense desire to study. The sprawling campus is pristinely landscaped, the buildings are new and sustainable, and the fountains glisten in the sun. The Bond University English Language Institute (BUELI) is located in the center of campus and strives to ensure that English language students feel integrated in campus life. They have access to all the facilities, including the vast library, the state-of-the-art fitness center, all computers on campus, doctors and nurses, as well as cafés and social areas. Students have safe, secure 24-hour access to many areas of the university. Instructors at BUELI are experienced and internationally-aware to help serve the over 40 nationalities that are represented in the student body. Many BUELI students move on to pursue a degree at the university once they have mastered academic English. Bond has many partnerships with other universities around the world. But the majority of students are Australian, so international students have plenty of opportunity to mingle with locals and make Australian friends.

Southern Cross University
Southern Cross University is currently expanding their Gold Coast campus and adding sustainable, new buildings fitted with cutting-edge technology. Southern Cross mostly serves a homegrown student body, giving their English language students the chance to build relationships with Australians. Many of the university’s unique undergraduate and graduate degree programs are open to English language students. Southern Cross attracts students from all over the world through agreements with overseas universities and its reputation amongst independent travelers. The English language institutes take care to ensure that students have an easy transition into Australian life by providing a housing database through which students can review housing options, contact prospective landlords and roommates, and get housing quickly. They offer general English and English for academic purposes to enable students to enter into Southern Cross University without an entrance exam upon satisfactory completion of the language program.

The stunning vistas, active lifestyle, and excellent schools make the Gold Coast an ideal study abroad destination for students with any educational goals, from studying English to earning a Ph.D. To find out more, connect via social media: and

Kristal Bivona traveled to Australia on Virgin Australia as a guest of the Gold Coast Tourism Board and Study Gold Coast.