||Situated in the Midwest of America, Illinois is by default a friendly place, say schools' representatives from the state. Lisa Ochoa from the Intensive English Institute (IEI) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) relates, "Besides its excellent university and college study opportunities, international students appreciate the friendliness of the Midwest and the opportunities to explore both college town and big city life."
At Solex Academy in Wheeling, in the outskirts of Chicago known as "Chicagoland", Elizabeth Gould testifies, "Illinois offers a lot in terms of Midwestern kindness and friendliness", while Tom Leverett at Southern Illinois University (SIU) in Carbondale, in the south of the state, says, "The most memorable thing about the state and the area in general is the warm hospitality of the people. People make close friends here and remain friends for a lifetime."
Many students choose to study in the state for a fairly lengthy period of time, according to Gould, starting off as English language students and then progressing on to university or college. While they are in Ilinois, there is clearly great potential to make friends. Gould says that many of their students organise living accommodation in the same area, setting up a de facto international community. Ochoa points out that students studying on campus can also benefit from the university infrastructure to make friends and meet people.
"Students at the IEI enjoy opportunities to get involved with activities in the local UIUC culture, simultaneously enhancing their living and language learning experiences," she says, giving a uniqe example. "Many international students have joined the powerlifting [club] over the past few years," she relates. "They are trained by IEI teacher, John Hudson, a world champion in powerlifting. One IEI powerlifter from Taiwan received a fourth place medal at the World Championships in 2005!"
The academic institutions in the state all tend to organise a number of extra-curricular activities for their students also. These include "seasonal excursions" at UIUC such as canoeing and horseback riding, hay rides at local farms or visiting the local apple orchards. At SIU, Leverett underlines that students enjoy the southern Illinois countryside with its forests and lakes, and many organised activities encompass these natural attractions.
"We will go to Kentucky Lake soon, and often take trips to local parks and places where students can see spectacular scenery, such as Garden of the Gods or Giant City State Park," he says. Garden of the Gods boasts outstanding sandstone rock formations and a glimpse of the earth as it was millions of years ago. Other highlights of the area include the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, made up of five wineries that are an easy drive from each other within the scenic Shawnee National Forest.
In central Illinois, students can learn about the history and culture of Illinois' Old Order Amish community at the Illinois Amish Interpretive Centre. They can experience exhibits that give a glimpse into the traditional Amish way of life, as well as sign up for a variety of tours that include enjoying a family-style meal at an actual Amish home and a visit to a working Amish farm.
Leverett suggests that all first-time visitors to Illinois "should see the old Native American mounds and other historical sites that give an idea of the history of the place", and adds, "[In our location in Carbondale] we are close to the Mississippi River and have many state parks with beautiful scenery."
For keen hikers, in the western part of the state is the Great River Road, which traces Illinois' entire western border. This 550-mile route follows the Mississippi River, traversing charming river towns, sacred sites and breathtaking limestone bluffs.
Of course, as Mark Olson, Dean of Enrollment at North Park University in Chicago points out, a definite highlight for all students in the state is exploring the big city itself. "Chicago is a tremendous draw for students from around the world," he says. "It is a world class city, home to the skyscraper, great museums and a very multicultural population." Madonna Carr at the University of Illinois at Chicago agrees that the city boasts a "wealth of historic and cultural sights" and says that the university campus is within walking distance of the downtown area.
Olson relates that their students take public transport to reach the downtown area where they enjoy the parks, restaurants, museums and shopping. City highlights include the Lincoln Park Zoo, Sears Tower, Navy Pier a shopping and recreation centre located on the edge of Lake Michigan and, according to Olson, "Millenium Park, which has some sculptures and the new Frank Gehry outdoor music pavilion".
Another famous architect called Frank Frank Lloyd Wright has also been influential in the region and the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in the suburb of Oak Park bears testament to his life and works, including his most famous work, the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The site has been restored to appear as it did in 1909, the last year Wright lived and worked there. Visitors can tour 25 buildings designed by Wright in the vicinity.
Ochoa says that many of their students in Urbana-Champaign, which is a modern town with 100,000 inhabitants and a sizeable student population, travel to Chicago for special events. "Many make weekend trips to attend events such as the Taste of Chicago, the Chicago Blues Festival and the Chicago Air and Water show," she says. "The endless variety of food and entertainment choices make a visit to Chicago a weekend treat."
Long-term students also use their weekends and longer breaks to travel further afield in the USA. Gould at Solex Academy relates that many students go the Wisconsin Dells water park and campsite in nearby Wisconsin.
Making friends seems to be a recurring theme of any stay in Illinois, and Leverett recounts an amusing story to emphasise the welcome that foreign students receive. "One student was a swimmer and soon got a place on the SIU men's swimming team," he relates. "The swimming team had a tradition of cheering on the women's volleyball team and when I saw this student, he looked completely integrated into the sports traditions of the campus!"
"Our students choose the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign more than any other college or university in the state. It is one of the major research universities offering graduate and undergraduate education in over 150 fields. That is more than enough to satisfy any student's academic desire. Notably, its academic reputation is well known in Japan, and numerous Japanese universities have signed exchange agreements with the university. The students seem to like the small and safe college town atmosphere of the Champaign-Urbana area, yet enjoy easy weekend drives to Chicago, St. Louis and Indianapolis."
Tomoya Yahagi, OvECS Ltd, Japan
"Most Korean students prefer big cities like Chicago. Chicago has numerous excellent colleges and universities, famous buildings and museums, many opportunities to enjoy theatre, music and dance interests, and beautiful scenery throughout four distinct seasons. Korean students choose Illinois because it is near the centre of the USA, it borders one of the Great Lakes and while being modern and culturally rich, it has a more ‘homey' image than many other states."
Julia Hong, Uhak.com, Korea
"Illinois is one of the most popular states in the USA for Korean students who like to study English seriously. For short-term students the Chicago area is popular due to the cultural experience and the fact that there are fewer Korean students than in New York or Los Angeles. For long-term students there are many good schools to study at and they are low cost. Students like the fact that the state is low cost, is safe, has fewer Asian students and is friendly."
Mansuk Bae, KAMC, Korea