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Inside America

At the heart of America are its people, and the best place to really get to know them is in the inland states, assert schools across America's interior, each offering a relatively unknown, yet quintessentially American experience. Amy Baker travels around America's heartland.

While students are often somewhat shocked at Conway's size when they arrive, they soon begin to appreciate it,' says Lynn Ramage Schaefer at the University of Central Arkansas' Intensive English Program in Conway, Arkansas, one of America's central states. 'By the time they complete their education here, they realise that they have had a unique 'American heartland' experience,' she asserts.

'[Our study abroad experience] is small-town America at its very best,' states Mary Lee Keefe of Lexicon College in Boulder, Colorado, which is situated further west near the Rocky Mountains. Kelly Franklin, of Maryville College in Maryville, Tennessee, adds, 'We think that students get much more of the 'real' American experience [in Maryville] of a small, friendly, safe American town, where strangers on the street say hello to each other.'

Many institutions situated in the USA's inland states are keen to point out the distinct advantages of studying in this vast region, which, according to Gordon Clark, of the Ashland University Center for English Studies in Ashland, Ohio, is sometimes referred to as the 'fly over zone'. Students appreciate the friendly way of life and the wonderful natural beauty in these areas, says Clark. 'Ohio is a beautiful green, hilly and forested state. The people here are very warm and take the time to get to know each other.' In fact, a sign on the outskirts of Ashland greets visitors with 'Welcome to Ashland, Ohio - World Headquarters of Nice People'.

There is a lot for visiting students to do in Ohio. The Access programme at Ashland University is based on a residential campus, and students can take part in weekly Friday excursions. Clark explains that because nearly all students live on campus, there are many activities available, both scheduled and informal. 'So many, in fact, that our secretary types up a memo to the students each morning about what campus activities are happening that day and week,' he says.

The American Language Program (ALP) at Ohio State University in nearby Columbus also publicises the many extra-curricular activities on offer to its students. 'ALP students are able to participate in any of the hundreds of student organisations on campus,' says Brad Van Den Elzen, Recruitment Coordinator at the university. 'ALP also offers an elective course that incorporates service-learning activities in and around the campus neighbourhood.'

Overnight visits are arranged to national parks in the area during the spring and summer sessions, while Van Den Elzen says that longer weekend-length excursions are organised to Washington DC and Chicago, in nearby Illinois. Bordering the northern states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin are the Great Lakes in the north, including Lake Erie, Huron, Superior and Michigan, which can easily be visited by students studying in the region.

On the edge of Lake Superior, facing Canada, is Houghton, home to Michigan Technological University. 'Many students think of this area as an isolated forest area, but hidden within our forests are international businesses like Northern Hardwoods, Pettibone, etc,' says Fran Wiideman at the university's Centre for International Education (CIE). The centre's range of English language programmes can incorporate technical options such as computer science, business and engineering, and it also offers a summer programme for students enrolling at the university in the autumn.

With its fantastic location on the Keweenaw Peninsula, Michigan Technological University offers students easy access to the region's remote, rugged natural beauty. 'Our school regularly takes international students on tours of the scenic wilderness areas,' says Wiideman. 'They are awestruck by the immensity of Lake Superior, and the autumn colours when our forests change from green to red, orange, gold and yellow.' In the summer, students can swim at local beaches, while cross-country and downhill skiing are available in the winter.

In Illinois, there are more study opportunities for students keen to progress on to university programmes. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Intensive English Institute offers English language instruction through an 'intensive programme designed to equip students with skills needed to pursue academic studies in the USA,' says Director, Susan Gonzo. She points out that the university is among the top-ranking institutions in the country.

Lila Blum, Director of the WESL Institute, at Western Illinois University in Macomb, claims that their programmes 'offer high quality at a modest price, have a high level of retention, a high completion rate and a record of student success in the university'. Gonzo puts forward a further argument for studying in the state. 'The cost of living is lower, the community is safe, friendly and diverse [and] it is easy for students to live on campus or [close] to the university.'

A neighbouring state of Illinois is Iowa, which was made famous by writer Bill Bryson, who wrote about his travels around his home state. Iowa is made up of rolling farmland and small cities such as Des Moines and Iowa City, 'a small cosmopolitan university city', according to Maureen Burke at the University of Iowa's ESL Department. 'Students are surprised by the open spaces and that once you leave the city limits, there is farmland,' she says.

Above Iowa is Minnesota, which borders Canada to the north and the edge of Lake Superior to the east. 'Minnesota is the Land of Lakes, with over 10,000 of them!' announces Sheila Hoffman-Hicks, President of Global Language Institute in St Paul. She continues, 'The state is loaded with natural beauty, yet the Twin Cities [of St Paul and Minneapolis] have a population of almost three million people.'

Separated by the Mississippi River, the Twin Cities, as they are known, boast world-class cultural opportunities, as well as the Mall of America, the largest shopping mall in the USA. Hoffman-Hicks adds, 'St Paul is the capital city and is more historic and quaint, while Minneapolis is modern and progressive. Both are beautiful.'

With so many lakes in the state, watersport opportunities are plentiful. Karin Smalkoski, of Minnesota English Center (MEC) at the University of Minnesota, says that students have the opportunity to go on canoeing trips around the state and take up ice-skating in the winter. 'The extensive park system and numerous lakes provide many recreational opportunities,' she says. Students at MEC can study at seven language levels and Smalkoski underlines that students value the 'extensive individual attention they receive from their teachers' at the centre.

In the central state of Nebraska, the University of Nebraska at Omaha similarly promotes the teacher care on its intensive language programme. 'Teachers are experienced and dedicated; their support for students continues outside the classroom,' states Steven Hoiberg, Program Adviser at the university. 'Nine core instructors and four part-time instructors have a combined teaching experience totalling over 150 years!' he adds.

The university also offers a programme for international professional development, which aims to improve language proficiency, increase knowledge of American business practice and develop a global peer network. Hoiberg says that students on the course delight at the chance 'to be willingly accepted as another link in an already diverse ethnic mix', meeting students from the USA and other countries. 'The highlight of a student's stay is usually the sense of self-discovery that they develop while they're here,' he adds.

Hoiberg details some of the excursions available to students, which include trips to a rodeo, small Nebraska farming communities, American prisons, elementary schools, baseball games, concerts, native Indian reservations and local courts. 'In developing these activities, we pride ourselves in exposing students to the essential elements of real American culture,' he says.

In Boulder, Colorado, Mary Lee Keefe of Lexicon College underlines the possibility students have there to get to know the typical American way of life. 'Our students easily assimilate into the local community by pursuing their individual interests,' she says. 'Some students have practised with soccer teams or joined running groups and run in local races. There is no limit to how a student can become involved [with the community] and the school and host family are always willing to help them.'

Keefe explains that one Japanese student was very interested in cheerleading. Her host family helped her find local sports teams and she ended up being a volunteer cheerleader for three local teams.

Boulder, 'consistently rated as the number-one sports town in America,' according to Keefe, offers the opportunity to partake in a whole host of sporting activities, not least snowboarding, skiing, kayaking and rock climbing, thanks to the town's location at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. 'The spectacular Rocky Mountains and world-class resorts are so accessible that everyone takes advantage of the outdoor adventures available,' says Keefe. Another plus point for the region is that Boulder and nearby Denver get over 300 days of sun per year - more than San Diego or Miami.

Utah, Colorado's neighbouring state, also has plenty of natural attractions to keep the outdoors enthusiast busy. With five national parks, many skiing and snowboard resorts, and numerous biking trails - including the renowned Slickrock trail - there are endless extra-curricular possibilities. Diane Ogden, Director of the International Centre at Snow College in Ephraim, also points out that Utah offers an intimate study environment for students. 'Students really become attached to the area and the people,' she says. 'Most students come from big cities and enjoy the different feel and closeness of the community. Because the classes are small, students get close to their teachers and classmates and keep in touch with one another for years to come.'

Across the state border in Arizona is Grand Canyon National Park, which encompasses the vast 227-mile long gorge - one of the seven natural wonders of the world. South of the canyon is Flagstaff, home to Northern Arizona University (NAU). Flagstaff is often compared to Boulder, CO, because of its sporting opportunities, particularly skiing, snowboarding and hiking trails. Camilla Vasquez, Programme Coordinator for NAU's Program in Intensive English, says, 'Our programme offers regular field trips to local areas of interest. We are centrally located within an hour of many national parks.'

Another state ideal for outdoors enthusiasts is Arkansas, situated east of the Great Plains that border the Rocky Mountains. Internationally, Arkansas achieved notoriety for being the birthplace of former US President, Bill Clinton, but Lynn Ramage Schaefer at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA), says it is best known for being the Natural State. 'Outdoor recreation is the number-one tourist attraction here,' she says. 'We have lakes, forests and lots of mountains, so sailing, water-skiing, fishing, hiking and bird watching are plentiful.' The Ozark Mountains are just a few miles from UCA, while the Buffalo National River is within an hour's drive.

Arkansas is well located for travel into other southern states too, such as Louisiana and Tennessee among others. 'A favourite trip for students is New Orleans, Louisiana, for Cajun cuisine and music, traditional jazz, souvenir shopping and people watching,' says Ramage Schaefer.

Tulane University in New Orleans gives students a chance to immerse themselves in the New Orleans lifestyle while studying on a campus-based university. William Lennon, Executive Director at the Center for International Students and Scholars, explains, '[We] offer students the chance to have a full campus experience even if they only come for four weeks.'

New Orleans is a unique city - a blend of French, Spanish, African and Southern cultures, and home of jazz music. Populated by the Cajun people, who were driven from France and Canada because of their Catholic religion, the spirit of this city is resilient and fun loving, with its old French Quarter, famous Mardi Gras carnival and Cajun cuisine being just some of its highlights, as well as nearby alligator-infested swamps. '[Here], students improve their English quickly, enjoy the cuisine, music and ambience of New Orleans and easily become members of the Tulane University family,' says Lennon.

In nearby Tennessee, there is also a unique 'Southern charm' and another key tourist attraction, the capital, Nashville - home of country & western music. Near the smaller city of Knoxville, the original state capital, is Maryville College in Maryville. Kelly Franklin, Director of International Services, says students easily immerse themselves in the community of 25,000. '[Students] don't realise how much friendlier the people are in small towns,' she says.


Agent viewpoint

'Cities in America's south are less known to Korean students, but have much to offer. The schools are highly rated, have excellent comparable programmes and are steeped in the traditions of Southern history. They are usually less expensive and when combined with a lower cost of living, more Korean students find they can afford to study abroad. In addition, the southern people are often friendlier and more accepting of international students, and shy oriental students will find their innate friendliness a welcome relief. Southern states provide a wide variety of outdoor activities and offer a better feel for the real American lifestyle, which the majority of its residents lead. Students will enjoy jazz and Mardi Gras in New Orleans, country music in Nashville, the glass factories of West Virginia, Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, the Space Museum in Houston, Civil War battle fields and many state parks. It is a different experience, but as exciting and varied as living and studying in an expensive coastal city.'
Yongwoo Kim, Uhak.com, Korea

'New Orleans, Louisiana, is famous for its [Cajun] culture and, of course, for the French Quarter and jazz music. Tulane University offers a very good language programme on campus for a very good price. The language department offers very good services for language students too. Students like the university itself, the French Quarter in the city, its culture, [and] the activities [available].'
Susanne Camara, Council Deutschland (CIEE), Germany

'Denver, Colorado, is well known to Brazilian people, especially by those who have an interest in winter sports. I have been recomending Lexicon College to my students, because I know the teaching quality and good services of Centre Linguista in Canada, which is directed by [the director's] brother. I trust their caring attitude towards students. Highlights of Colorado include ski resorts such as Vail and Aspen, Six Flags Elich Gardens Amusement Park, Colorado State University, and the Great Colorado Marketplace, etc. In their free time, students get to know the local region and practise sports.'
Angela Tarnaud, Circuito Mundial, Brazil

'[Our students like studying in central America] because there are not a lot of other Spanish speakers there. Houston in Texas has some good language schools with good prices and also the cost of living is not too expensive. The local people are very friendly and students like to spend time with students from around the world.'
Martha Nelly Rozo, Go Estudios en el Exterior, Colombia

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