|CLife on the west coast is fun!” enthuses Deborah Turner, Director of Seattle Central Institute of English at Seattle Central Community College, WA. She lists relaxing at the beach, skiing, hiking and kayaking as just some of the highlights of the region. She continues, “It is also home to some of the most exciting and international cities in the US, with lively local music and arts communities, great shopping and wonderful restaurants.”
Martha Acosta-Pieters, Director of International Marketing and Recruitment at Edmonds Community College in Seattle, WA, believes it is the perfect mix of stunning scenery, a relaxed lifestyle and high standard of living that makes the area so attractive to international students. Another draw, she says, is that there are convenient flight connections from major cities like Seoul, Tokyo, and Hong Kong.
There is also something to suit everyone in the west coast states, according to Christopher Malenfant at the English Language Center (ELC) in Los Angeles, CA. “Snowboarders and skiers, surfers and sun-seekers, shoppers, movie lovers and culture vultures all find plenty to make their stay spectacularly fun and rewarding in and out of class,” he sums up.
Each state is a colourful mosaic of different landscapes, cities and people. William Dantona, Director of the American Language & Culture Institute at California State University in Chico, CA, says this is particularly true of California. “From Lake Tahoe to La Jolla, from Palm Springs to Chico, California offers outstanding diversity mountains, oceans, lakes and deserts,” he says. “The people of California are diverse, as well. You can find people from all over the world here. The cultural and ethnic diversity of this state is truly one of its greatest draws and one of its most spectacular assets.” With miles of sun-soaked beaches, the glamour of the movie industry and relaxed and friendly people, California is the most popular state on the west coast for English language studies and its international reputation goes before it. Students studying in LA often know of Sunset Strip, Hollywood and Beverly Hills before they arrive, but the city also has lesser-known attractions such as its many ethnic neighbourhoods. “LA has a wide range of cultural spots from Chinatown to little Ethiopia,” confirms Janet Lyuh, Student Adviser at Cal-America Education Institute in the city.
Malenfant adds that there is also plenty in the area for sports fans. “LA is home to various sports teams,” he says, “so our students often watch Dodgers baseball games, Lakers basketball games and USC or UCLA’s college sporting events.“
For “all the attractions of nearby Los Angeles and Hollywood but without the frenzy”, Kathleen Hylen, Centre Director at ELS Language Centers in Santa Monica, CA, recommends Santa Monica. “Students feel safe here and enjoy the multitude of activities from the more typical Universal Studios to the lesser known Bergamot Station museum and local arts festivals. And, of course, we have movie stars!”
Hylen refutes the notion that the LA area is a cultural desert a belief held by many non-Californians, she says. “Because [of the] cultural diversity here we have a lot of local festivals and free concerts celebrating many lands and cultures.”
For a different take on Californian life, students can choose the towns and cities around San Francisco, such as Monterey, situated 90 miles south of the city. Located at the southern end of the Monterey Bay, a designated national marine sanctuary, Monterey is a quiet town with a population of around 40,000. “Most people expect the stereotypical California sunshine that they might have seen on television,” says Bob Cole, Director of Intensive English Programs at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. “Instead, the Monterey area is more temperate… with cool nights and mild days throughout the year.”
California’s northern neighbour, Oregon, offers yet another west coast experience. Here, its 400-mile coastline is at times rugged and rocky, with caves and cliff faces, and then sandy, edged with pine trees and rhododendrons. In the southern part of the state is Ashland, home to ELS Language Center at Southern Oregon University. “Students are always amazed at the beauty of Ashland,” asserts the centre’s Director, Jodi Weber. “The mountains provide beautiful views from anywhere in town. One of the most exciting experiences for students is observing the stars. They often comment that they have never seen stars as they can in Ashland.”
With the outdoors being an integral part of life in Oregon, activities such as snowboarding, skiing, white-water rafting and hiking frequently feature in the activities arranged by English language schools in the state. Most schools are also willing to help students organise bespoke activities. Linda Galas at IH Portland recounts, “One student asked us to organise a Harley-Davidson trek across Route 66.”
IH Portland itself is just 10 minutes from the city centre, which, according to Galas, “has a European feel without the congestion”. In addition, she says, “It has more micro-breweries and restaurants per capita than any other city in the country. It is well known for its music, culture, arts, outdoor life and friendly people.” What surprises most people, she adds, is that its weather is similar to north Florida but less humid.
North of Oregon is Washington State, which according to Steve Horowitz, Director of the UESL Program at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, WA, is where “students can experience the ‘real’ America”. For example, among Ellensburg’s annual events are a Rodeo and County Fair. Wherever a student studies in the state, there are plenty of opportunities for making the most of the outdoors. Edmonds Community College, in one of Seattle’s northern suburbs, for example, “is just 10 minutes away from the beach [offering] wind surfing and scuba diving,” says Acosta-Pieters.
Turner emphasises the great location of Seattle as a base for exploring. “The Seattle area has spectacular natural scenery including Puget Sound beaches, Mount Rainier and Olympic National Park,” she says. “There are also many cultural and urban entertainment activities, most within walking distance of our centrally-located campus.“
Its natural and cultural attractions aside, the city also boasts a concentration of global businesses, as Acosta-Pieter points out. “[International students] are attracted to the fact that we are home to Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks and many other important world famous companies.”
This makes Seattle particularly popular with students interested in combining their language course with work-related studies. At Seattle Central Institute of English, students can take the American Internship Experience programme, which combines academic study with job skill preparation and an internship with a US company.
Indeed, a language course on the west coast promises to be much more than just an academic experience. “Foreign students get a new sense of what it means to be ‘American’, and find that their notion of the American culture is not what they had imagined,” asserts Lyuh at Cal-America Education Institute. “Not only are their eyes opened to a new way of life, but their knowledge and perceptions of the things they see have also broadened.”
“Swiss students like sea and sunshine, so the destinations like LA, San Francisco and San Diego are very popular. They enjoy the American way of life and ‘feel free’ spending time at the beach surfing, walking or enjoying the sunshine.”
Mamiko Mojzis, Cosmolingua, Switzerland
“Los Angeles has become the favourite city for our students, primarily because this city is the best known among the students of Central Asia. Once students land in the USA, they are surprised by the ethnic variety of the population and the various ethnic areas around LA. They are also surprised by the friendliness of Americans, who will often smile and greet them on the streets. They enjoy visiting natural areas of beauty, including the Pacific Ocean and various national parks.”
Daniel Ballast, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan
“The west coast is nearest to Korea, except for Hawaii. The flying time is much less than the eastern states, and in LA, there is already a large Korean community. Seattle is also popular and there are many community colleges too, which means tuition fees are cheaper and it is easy to transfer into university. Students like the beautiful scenery and coastline. They enjoy surfing and travelling.”
Ug Hyun Park, Koala International Education Co., Korea
“Popular destinations are LA, San Francisco, San Diego. LA is world famous and San Diego has an exotic image due to its proximity to Mexico. The beaches are also alluring. San Francisco has a good public transportation system and this can be a deciding factor for those who cannot drive. Seattle is becoming popular, most Japanese are familiar with Seattle Mariners.”
Yumiko Fukuda, Ryugaku Journal, Japan