August 2009 issue

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West Coast USA

Stretching from Canada in the north to Mexico in the south, the US west coast states of Washington, Oregon and California offer a range of contrasting study and leisure opportunities. Jane Vernon Smith explores.

Seattle in Washington is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest, and represents, according to Anita Sokmen, from the University of Washington (UW) not only “a dream location for recreation”, but also – being surrounded by lakes, rivers and mountains, and blessed with a mild climate – “one of the most beautiful and liveable regions in the United States”. She adds that three ski areas are within 90 minutes’ travel time, which means that, from December to March each year, skiing (both downhill and cross-country) and snowboarding are weekly activities for students. The closest resort, Snowqualmie Pass, also offers the chance of night skiing.

Beyond this, UW is attractive on account of its beautiful campus and its variety of dining and housing options, both on campus and in the university district of the city. A further draw is the university’s Business English certificate plus internship programmes, offered at its city centre campus, close to the headquarters of world-famous companies, including Microsoft, Amazon.com and Starbucks.

A contrasting experience is to be found across the state in Eastern Washington. With hot summers and snow in winter, “We always have a white christmas,” comments Jenifer Hermes, Programme Director at the English Language Institute at Eastern Washington University (EWU). “In fact, the famous singer of the song, White Christmas, Bing Crosby, was born in [nearby] Spokane.”

Situated in the small town of Cheney, with easy access to the city of Spokane, EWU has much to offer. Hermes notes that Cheney is a quiet place to study, where the cost of living is very reasonable. It has “a wonderful downtown”, with many old-fashioned shops and restaurants, plus the added appeal that its people are “very kind and friendly”. If this is not enough, then good transport links open up the delights of Spokane. These include Riverfront Park, which, according to Hermes, is “the first place you will want to go after you arrive downtown”. Originally the site of the Expo 74 World Fair, this is now a park with a beautiful waterfall, featuring a gondola skyride. “The view is quite exciting,” she enthuses.

Kindness and friendliness also characterise the students and teachers at EWU. “With nearly 10,000 students, it is a big university, but,” says Hermes, “it’s also a place where you can easily make friends and where you can feel comfortable and enjoy your studies.”

For those who yearn to experience small-town life in “the real America”, and enjoy an experience that is safe and friendly, with natural beauty, fresh air and outdoor recreation, Central Washington University (CWU), in Ellensburg, could prove an ideal destination. The town itself is enlivened by its Summer Jazz Festival in July and the Labor Day Rodeo in August.

The university benefits from “a spacious, beautiful campus” that is surrounded by foothills, just one hour away from the Cascade Mountains ski/snowboarding areas. Here, there are also opportunities for river rafting, hiking, fishing and horse riding, while Mount Rainier National Park, the Olympic Peninsular, San Juan Islands and the wineries of the Yakima are all within reach.

Just over the border, in the state of Oregon, students wishing to combine academic coursework with their English language study may do so at Oregon State University (OSU). OSU’s four undergraduate pathway programmes are unique, according to Jane Averill, Director of the Intensive English Programme into Oregon State University Center. “We provide an extremely well organised and complete curriculum for students. They also have access to all the resources of a major research university: the library, tutoring, computers, recreational facilities, clubs and teams…And students are integrated into campus life, both in and out of the classroom,” she says.

Oregon is a beautiful state, according to Averill’s assistant, Nicholas Rhodes, and Oregonians “take great efforts to keep the natural beauty intact”, he says. He adds, “The Oregon coast and Crater Lake are two must sees! They are untouched land, so you really see nature.” The university itself is located in the small town of Corvallis, within an hour’s drive of the coast and 90 minutes away from both the mountains and the city of Portland.

A local highlight is the late-September Fall Festival, which, with its street performances, wine tastings, native American crafts and more, can serve as a great introduction to local culture for newly arriving international students. The da Vinci days, held during the third weekend of July, are also a major attraction, offering art, science and technology, music and hands-on activities for all. “It’s a really quirky Corvallis happening,” as one OSU student reports.

Home to Southern Oregon University, Ashland, in the far south of the state, “doesn’t have the big name of places like San Francisco or Chicago”, comments Jodi Weber, Director of ELS Language Centers at the university, “and perhaps students overlook the wonderful opportunities of a lesser known town.” However, she adds that Ashland has received recognition from the National Geographic Society, which has listed it as one of the best-rated historic tourist sites. “Ashland is a unique town,” says Weber, “because the community principally revolves around the university, cultural activities and outdoor activities, such as snowboarding, rafting and hiking”. Culturally, the town offers a number of theatres, concerts and galleries. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is a highlight, with three different theatres showing 11 different plays. With its views of the mountains, “Students are always amazed at the beauty of Ashland,” says Weber.

Turning south, to California, cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego are well known student destinations. Less famous is the “exceptionally beautiful” Marin County, set between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco. Here, students will find the charming and well-heeled city of Novato, home to the College of Marin Intensive English Programme.

“This is a terrific area for being outdoors”, remarks college Coordinator, Sara Oser, and she recommends students take the opportunity to go hiking. “We have a lovely climate most of the year, so conditions are perfect. The area is hilly, with oak and redwood trees and wild flowers in the spring. The green grass turns to gold in the summer, giving California its name, the Golden State.”

Oser explains, “The attraction of our school is the peaceful environment. This is a place for students who want to get away from the city. This is a campus for students who like clean air, natural surroundings and a relaxed atmosphere.” Thronging with wild life, the campus offers free tennis courts as well as fields for soccer and baseball. The surrounding area also offers many alternative leisure opportunities. “Angel Island State Park…is my favourite,” reveals Oser. Other noteworthy places of interest include Muir Woods in Mill Valley and Point Reyes National Seashore on the Pacific, where visitors can see reconstructed huts and a spiritual house of the native Miwok Indians, as well as trying an earthquake hike to view movement resulting from the 1906 earthquake.

For those who seek the classic California “surfing USA” experience, California State University (CSU) offers this and much more. Situated on the hills of the small, suburban city of San Marcos, in the heart of coastal southern California, CSU San Marcos is a small university offering modern facilities, up-to-date technology and small classes, where students receive individual attention, comments Dawn Schmid, Director of the university’s American Language and Cultural Institute. “Close to [both] beautiful beaches and mountains, where visitors can surf, swim, cycle, play golf and ski almost year-round”, San Marcos is also well placed for wider travel, comments Schmid.

Agent viewpoint

 ”Washington’s nickname is the evergreen state, and Seattle is true to the nickname, with evergreen forests within and around the city. It is also a good sized city: not as big as others, but big enough to have everything that you need, and many things to do. Coffee and food are another attraction. In Taiwan, there’s a big coffee culture and this is very popular with students. They think Seattle and think coffee. There is also a growing awareness of good foods (local seafood) and the wines of Washington State and the West Coast.”
Dayne Eguchi, Talk Club Marketing, Taiwan/USA

 “The weather in California is very nice. Also, there are many higher-ranking universities in the west coast area, especially in California. Many students would like to apply to these good universities… after their English study. [Added to that], there are many Chinese people, compared with other parts of the US, and it is easier to meet Chinese friends and have Chinese food in this area.”
Grace Wu, Shenyang Han Terry Consultancy, China

“We have more than 100 students coming to Seattle from Japan every year…What they most like about it is that the Seattle area has both city and countryside, such as lakes and mountains, together. Also [there is great] diversity in this area, so people are kind and friendly to people from different countries, and they are willing to try to understand the differences.”
Tomoe Tawara, ICC, Japan/USA

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The following language schools, associations and accommodation providers advertised in the latest edition of Language Travel Magazine. If you would like more information on any of these advertisers, tick the relevant boxes, fill out your details and send.





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