food / travel

Golf And Wine-Tasting Help Ease The Burden Of Improving Your English

Practice your sving!
Practice your sving!
Julie Conti

Wandering around Scottish putting greens -- this is how Pascal Bonvin, a 52-year old Credit Suisse executive, chose to improve his English language skills. He flew to Edinburgh early this summer to learn English with a private professor. Once his daily language class was over, Pascal Bovin swapped textbooks for golf clubs.

Language lessons in the morning, sport or leisure activities in the afternoon: this is the new winning formula in language course business trips. These past few years, the range of programs has become more diverse. A growing number of adults are choosing thematic language trips: Italian and oenology, tango and Spanish. There seems to be no limit to the schools’ imagination. This summer, the most popular program involves an English language course combined with cooking classes taught by famous British chef Jamie Oliver in Brighton.

"These trips have become more popular over the past three years, especially since 2011,” says Gautier Oudot, director of the ESL School in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Sport programs are no longer limited to teenagers and the Swiss firm now offers a wide range of athletic activities for adults.

Like Pascal Bonvin, dozens of ESL students have wandered around British golf courses this summer. One adult student out of five now chooses to combine language classes with sports or cultural activities -- despite their additional costs. A two-week ESL language program in New York costs $1,880. The average price for the same trip combined with dancing lessons is $2,400.

"Playing golf is a different way to practice my English and it is less demanding than two daily language lessons. I wanted to have fun”, explains Pascal Bonvin, who took a three-month break from company work to fly to Scotland. He chose the golf and English program, which combines a daily English course with four golf lessons per week.

“I wanted to improve my English for self-fulfilment purposes. But nowadays, it has become crucial to speak a foreign language fluently in the banking industry, especially in Geneva. Language skills are crucial, particularly when it comes to recruiting,” Bonvin adds.

A growing number of professionals are taking part in language course trips. They are picky customers. While young professionals usually choose sporting activities, older ones enjoy cooking and wine classes. The activities are almost always related to local traditions, such as yoga in India or art history in Florence. One can also study the architecture of the area or enjoy spas. At ESL, dancing tops the list of most popular activities, followed by sea-diving and surfing.

Several other schools provide special travel packages for executives. “Our Devon packaged trip which includes business English lessons and golf classes is very popular” says Camille Chavane, from the Contacts institute. “Most customers are middle-aged professionals in their forties.”

The average college student would struggle to afford such a trip, with its weekly rate of 2,940 euros. The Effective School, based in Bordeaux, offers English classes for seniors combined with discovery excursions around Malta; 1950s American architecture classes for architects, designers and interior architects; or an English course-Spa packaged trip in California.

These thematic language study trips provide original experiences. Pascal Bonvain hoped to play golf on the legendary Saint Andrews course. After three weeks of training, he did. Vanessa, a 25-year-old French-speaking student, had always dreamt of dancing in New York. She spent two weeks in the Big Apple in April. She took English classes in the morning and hip hop and dancehall dancing lessons in the afternoon.

“Dancing gave me the opportunity to learn a foreign language in a whole new context. I heard a lot of jokes and new expressions. I have the feeling that I had a very unique experience in New York. I enjoyed the city in my very own way," she says. "Everytime I was doing some activities with the locals, I had that Sinatra song in my head: “I want to be a part of it, New York, New York …” Vanessa now wants to take her dancing shoes to London.

Fun and perfectly suited to the needs of professionals, these language study trips are more popular than ever. A business where executives can improve their golf swing while adding some lines on their resume has a bright future.

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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