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Byron Bay English Language School – Interview with Michael O’Grady


Founded in 1998, IALC-accredited Byron Bay English Language School (BBELS) in Australia is an ideal place to learn English in tropical surroundings. Byron Bay lies on the North Coast of New South Wales, 80 kilometres south of the Gold Coast. It has stunning beaches, a laid-back lifestyle and excellent water sport facilities.

We spoke to school director Michael O’Grady to find out more about BBELS’ aims, life in Byron Bay and being a member of the “IALC family”.

Q: Hello Michael, how does it feel to be part of this exclusive group of quality language schools?
A: It is for sure one of the pleasures of my working life to be part of this group of people. I know it is a collective of schools, but really it is more about the people behind them – the individuals who own and manage their schools. When we get together at the workshops, we all learn and laugh so much.

Q: How/ has 2011 been for the school so far and how is it looking compared to last year?
A: Right now our numbers are good – same as last year. However the forward bookings for summer are down on last year. We are hoping that students might book closer to their start dates, but who knows. There is not a lot of good economic news around. The Australian dollar’s strength does not really help.

Q: You were established in 1998. How have things changed at the school since then?
A: We have got better at what we do and definitely more comfortable in how we deliver our services. The teaching staff are really professional and experienced. The building is also looking great as is our cafe – which is jammed packed as I write this interview. I guess technology has helped greatly with marketing and branding possibilities. But there is so much more that can and will happen in that department.

Q: What are your main aims for Byron Bay?
A: I am happy with the size of the school and how it operates. I am searching for new experiences for our students to complement the language acquisition - but not too hard. Sometimes it is just good to hang out with the students and get to know them.

Q: Which countries do the majority of your students come from?
A: We have a good mix of students at the moment but Summer brings at least 60% Europeans, with the rest being Brazilians and Asians. Spain and Switzerland have always been good source countries. It varies a lot with each season.

Q: What are the most popular student activities?
A: Beach volleyball and surfing....plus our live music nights!

Q: What are the biggest attractions and advantages for students learning English in Australia?
A: I always believe that Australians, especially those in regional areas, benefit from a great lifestyle. This makes us more friendly and relaxed. Students comment on this. I guess Byron Bay offers a great lifestyle, especially if you enjoy the ocean and beaches...and music and people! Travel normally leaves us with memories of the nice places that we visit and the great people that we meet. Australia has an abundance of both!

Q: What would you say are the biggest challenges facing your school and language study in Australia?
A: The strong Australian dollar – due to the mining boom. There are some big readjustments happening in the Australian economy at the moment – and in every other economy. There was always going to be long term negative effects from the GFC of 2008 etc...and more to come.

Q: Moving on to find out more about you, which is your favourite city in the world and why?
A: I am not really a city person, but Paris is hard to beat...and I recently visited Lyon and was massively impressed. I speak French, which helps my appreciation of those cities.

Q: Your favourite pastime?
A: Surfing and playing music!

Q: Your favourite meal?
A: I love all food...pizza and red wine, a good Aussie steak....and Indian food – spicy stuff!

Q: Your dream dinner guests?
A: God - assuming he’d RSVP and show up...and if not....my wife!

Q: Finally, what would you say are the main benefits of learning English in Australia?
A: For most of our students, it is about the adventure of leaving home for an extended time, travelling far to a new land that offers so many different things, meeting nice people, exchanging ideas in a classroom, and trying new things. I did the same in France when I was younger. Australia is a welcoming place but far away from the big populations of the other continents.

BBELS run a variety of English language courses based on level of proficiency. Activities available include yoga, diving and surfing.

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