Nestled in the southeastern corner of the USA, Florida is well known the world over as a tourist haven, offering beaches, resorts such as Disney World and attractions such as the Florida Keys. This is not offputting to students keen to study English here; in fact, according to locals, this is a highlight to studying in the region.
Peggy Street at ELS Language Centers in Miami says that international students love “the weather, the friendly people and the fact that they can live in a touristic location and meet their goal of learning English”. She adds, “There is always something to do a new club, a new store, a concert or special event.”
Others are in agreement. “People are friendly and the lifestyle is very laid back,” says Ariadne Miranda, Director for Student Services and Marketing at the University of Southern Florida’s English Language Institute. “Florida offers many advantages including affordability, plenty and affordable housing, great weather all year long and great universities that are also affordable.”
There are not so many international language schools in Florida as there may be in New York state or California, but with a diverse Latino and English-speaking community and plenty of tourists, there is a cosmopolitan locale throughout that students find easy to tap into.
Miami is possibly the best known of all the cities in Florida and Street notes that its “multicultural environment, beautiful geographic location, beaches, weather and good airport connections make it an easy trip”. Miami is famous for its beaches at the tip of Miami Beach, Miami South Beach is famous for attracting celebrities and its muscle-bound sunseekers. Gianni Versace’s beachfront house is a tourist attraction, as are the many upmarket hotels including Delano’s, Fontainebleau and Loews Miami Beach Hotel.
Other highlights include the striking Bass Museum of Art, the historic Mediterranean-revival style Spanish village, Plaza De Espana and retro-style architecture in the Art Deco district. “The beaches, of course, are a main attraction [for students],” comments Street, “but also the Everglades.” The Everglades National Park is billed as the largest subtropical wilderness in the USA with mangrove swamps and plenty of wildlife including rare and endangered species.
Near Miami on the southern tip of Florida is Fort Lauderdale, another tourist haven that is also home to a variety of language
schools. Marco Pinna, Director and CEO of The Language Academy, states that students love his school’s “enviable location in the heart of downtown Fort Lauderdale, the Venice of America”. He elaborates, “Fort Lauderdale is an English-speaking community and represents a happy and harmonious compromise between the bustling Latin flavour of Miami a metropolis where Spanish is widely spoken and the rarefied glamour of Palm Beach, where the rich and famous come to play.”
Fort Lauderdale is indeed a water-based city; it has over 300 miles of canals, waterways and rivers, with many café-lined riverside walks and a 22-block long waterfront walk. Popular with Americans on vacation too, it is a stylish city mixing inevitable coastal high rises with colonial architecture and palm trees. Pinna notes that the “Miami/Fort Lauderdale/Palm Beach metropolitan region features some of America’s finest shopping centres” and he adds, “Central Florida is home to the world’s favourite theme parks and attractions.”
Indeed Florida is perhaps most famous worldwide for its theme parks such as Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World. At Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, further upstate, Judy Assad comments that despite most international students working hard, these are definite attractions for students’ freetime, although the main draw is the Kennedy Space Center.
Pinna also points to NASA in Cape Canaveral, Key West and the coral reef in Key Largo as some of Florida’s state-wide attractions. But, when asked about what students like most about the state, he responds, “It’s people’s friendliness, and the laid-back yet sophisticated atmosphere”.
Lucy Greaves at Study Group, which also runs a school in Fort Lauderdale, is in agreement. “Students like the easy-going pace of life; the fact that it’s reasonably-priced compared with other well known US destinations and the very high quality of life here,” she says. “There are lots of outdoor restaurants, barbecues and dance clubs. All the facilities that a tourist hub can support.”
Tampa is another student destination in Florida, on the opposite coastline bordering the Tampa Bay that flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Ranked as the fifth-best outdoor city in the USA by Forbes magazine, its university, the University of Southern Florida is one of the USA’s larger institutions.
Miranda comments, “Our ELI is located on the modern campus of the University of South Florida in Tampa. Our ELI is accredited and has a great reputation for the quality of its student services and its great curriculum. USF offers more than 200 study programmes.”
Another university-based English language learning institution in the state is the University of Florida, a large-scale institution which is located in Gainesville, further north. Lia Brenneman at the university’s English Language Institute (ELI), comments, “North central Florida has such beautiful lakes and rivers, the students love that we take them to parks and recreational areas for picnics.”
She continues, “University of Florida ELI has an outstanding cultural immersion programme, which arranges activities, trips, volunteering opportunities, and conversation partners. Also, the University of Florida is a highly ranked public institution. It is an excellent choice for business, law, medicine, and veterinarian medicine.”
Volunteering has quite a high profile as a freetime activity for students. “Every semester, we recognise the Volunteer of the Semester,” relates Brenneman. “We have had several students give many hours to St. Francis House, Shands/UF Hospital, etc. Residents, patients and community members appreciate the kindness and devotion of our students who care so much about their adopted community of Gainesville!”
Greaves at Study Group is also keen to point out the excellent opportunities that this school provides for community integration. “We have lots of students who join our internship programme and get really involved in the local community through the people they meet at work,” she relates. “Recently, we had a student who came and was an intern at a local real estate agency. He worked directly with the owner of the company and went to properties and even showed properties. He became very involved in the local life through this experience, and this is quite common for our interns.”
“Our students like the location, climate and the [ease] of getting to Florida. They will spend lower prices on their air tickets and will be in a friendly environment. I always tell them that Gainesville is a small town and a big city together. It has quite a calm environment. The city is less expensive than living in a big city such as Orlando or New York.”
Annelena Porto, Consultant, Brazil
“Fort Lauderdale is my top favourite destination in the USA and one we always recommend first to students. In their free time, our students tend to head to the beach first but shopping in the huge outlet malls is also a top priority. Doing a boat cruise along the canals of Fort Lauderdale is also a must and it offers a fabulous opportunity to marvel at the multi-million dollar houses, pools and yachts of some of America’s most famous and wealthiest celebrities.”
Gerald Soubeyran, Effective Linguistique, France
“About 97 per cent of my students choose Florida as their destination because the people are very kind and friendly. It has great weather, lots of things to do and it is only a three-hour flight from Venezuela. Our students like going on field trips to natural parks, museums and to visit Disney amusement parks. They also enjoy the cinema, restaurants, shopping, barbecues, night clubs and going to many parties with friends.”
Andreina Faig, Anfaig Study&Travel, Venezuela