December 2008 issue

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Texan dream

Texas may be best known for its Old West Heritage, and hot desert location, but it also has diverse towns and cities, a varied landscape and many English language learning opportunities, as Gillian Evans finds out.

The desire for a “different experience” of the USA is what motivates many international students to choose to study in Texas, according to Connie Gyenis, Director of Language Plus in El Paso.

Terry Simon, Director of Texas Intensive English Program (TIEP) in Austin agrees, adding that Texas offers students a unique American experience at an affordable price.

A vast state that stretches almost a thousand miles from north to south and 800 miles from east to west, Texas is perhaps best known for its cowboy culture. According to Keith Maurice, Director of the English Language Institute at the University of Texas at Arlington, Fort Worth in particular provides an “authentic view of the Old West”. In the 1870s, Fort Worth was the last stop on the great cattle drive to Kansas, and then with the arrival of the railway it became a bustling livestock market itself. Today it remains a major hub for the cattle trade.

Arlington itself, which is situated in the middle of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex (metropolitan area), offers a good mix of tourist attractions, says Maurice. “The Stockyards district is Old West, but on the other side of town is the cultural district, with several very good art museums, a fine zoo, and botanical gardens that include an authentic Japanese Garden,” he says. El Paso in southwest Texas is also a place steeped in Western history. “Native American cultures lived here hundreds of years before European settlers came to this area,” relates Gyenis. “The cowboy tradition is still strong although you don’t have to carry a gun and ride! However, there are ranches with horses, hay rides and horseback riding.”

But Texas is by no means all about cowboys and cattle, as Simon points out. “When international students think of Texas, they usually have images [of] cowboys and prairies,” he says. “As such, students are always pleasantly surprised by the cultural diversity and landscapes here.” In addition, its cities and towns range from small, rural farming communities to some of the USA’s biggest metropolitan areas such as Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. “Whether you like camping in the outdoors, dancing in clubs, or lying on the beach, there is something for everyone in Texas,” says Simon.

In terms of landscapes, Texas has it all: swampy forests in the east, the lush fields of the Hill Country, the farmlands of northern Panhandle, the awesome beaches of the Gulf Coast and the dry beauty of the mountainous deserts of the west.

Even for those based in El Paso, which is situated in the desert, other areas are easily accessible. “If you drive [for] two hours [you] can enjoy the woods and coolness of Cloudcroft, New Mexico or go skiing from November through February in Ruidoso,” says Gyenis. The city is also conveniently located for a visit to Carlsbad Caverns – home to a large bat population – which is considered the eighth wonder of the world.

There is also plenty to do in and around El Paso. “Our students enjoy the outdoors [for example] mountain hiking [and] bicycling in the spacious Chihuahuan desert. El Paso [also] has great museums, a symphony and, twice a year, the Opera.” And for shopping, “several malls and outlet malls make it interesting for international students to do their shopping at very affordable prices”, says Gyenis. El Paso is also the third safest city in the USA and, according to Gyenis, is “one of those places with the most sunny days in the year”.

While El Paso may boast plenty of sunshine and a Native American tradition, state capital, Austin, situated in the centre of Texas, is the self-proclaimed “Live Music Capital of the World”. A laid-back city with a significant student population, Austin has attracted artists, musicians and writers to make the city their home since the 1960s. Its open and accepting atmosphere is something the population is keen to conserve, illustrated in the city’s motto, “Keep Austin weird”.

“[Austin] has a thriving downtown with lots of restaurants and bars,” relates Curtis. “The music venues offer all kinds of music ranging from reggae to jazz to punk rock, and you can find a good show any night of the week.” The city also hosts many annual events, mainly to do with music. “There is ‘South by Southwest’ every spring,” says Curtis. “Austin City Limits Festival comes around in September. Both have bands come from around the world to play in Austin, some very famous and others unknown.” Other events include the hot sauce festival, the ice cream festival and Eeyore’s Birthday Party – which is held in Pease Park and involves fancy dress, drum circles and egg tossing. Then there is a kite festival, of which Curtis states, “It’s always amazing to see hundreds of kites in the sky whether one of them is yours or not!” Simon adds that as well as the eclectic music scene, Austin benefits from a pleasantly temperate climate, making it ideal for outdoor lovers. She relates, “The city’s many parks and lakes are great for jogging, canoeing, kayaking, or just having a picnic. Meanwhile, the beautiful natural scenery of the Texas Hill Country and Texas State campgrounds are a half-hour drive away.”

According to Curtis, Austin’s proximity to the countryside is a distinct advantage of this study location over more urban areas such as Houston or Dallas. “[Students] enjoy seeing the stars at night, and visiting places like Enchanted Rock where they can rock climb and camp, or Barton Creek, a spring-fed swimming hole,” she relates. However, one of the major draws of Texas as a whole is its people. “Texas people have a heart as big as their state and our students always comment on the friendliness and the warm welcome and hospitality of the people they encounter,” says Gyenis.

The friendliness of the people of Texas can be illustrated by the actions of Maurice at the English Language Institute at the University of Texas. “Many students don’t know my name. Some don’t even know that I’m the director, but they know me by the nickname of ‘Cookie Man’ because I distribute cookies and chocolates every other week at break-time,” he says. “I now wear that name with pride as it sends a message that we care and we’re friendly. Needless to say, students love to see me coming with the cookie tray.”

With so much to offer international students, Texas is certainly one of those places that students may find hard to leave. Gyenis related her own experiences of the state. “I myself came to El Paso, Texas in 1977 as a foreign exchange student and all these years later I am still here and running a language school for international students!”

Agent viewpoint

“Ten years ago we were requested by one of our major clients, a big global corporation, to visit English language training centres in different cities of the USA. They intended to have a list of possible schools where their emplyees could be exposed to high- quality, customized programmes. One of the cities we visited in Texas was Austin and out of the schools we scouted, we liked the Texas Intensive English Program (TIEP) best. Our students like Austin because it is a friendly city. They enjoy walking its streets, visiting the University of Texas at Austin, and driving to neighbouring cities.They find events of all sorts, where they can have fun while they practise the language. At the TIEP, the Director and Professors are always very collaborative in making the students feel at home in Austin and in helping them find extra class activities that allow them to confirm that they have improved their lingustic performance.”
Maria Elena Lavelle, Managing Director, Casoc Clare Muniz and Associates, Argentina

“There are several reasons for students to choose to study in Texas. Some of my clients have their own branches in Texas, and their regional colleagues relatively praise Texas. Additionally the image of Texas is famous worldwide as a music zone. Students particularly like the safety and hospitality in Texas. We usually send students to destinations such as Austin and Lubbock. Austin is the most popular place for students to go as it is an exciting and very safe city. Students are surprised by the hospitality and safety of the area plus the very small sizes of the cities – like Osaka in Japan. Students in Texas enjoy the music, food, beer, and travelling.”
Katsunori Hara, TCLC, Japan

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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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