||TCalifornia is like no other destination in the world,” asserts Tyler Willson, School Director of Aspect Santa Barbara at Santa Barbara College. The beautiful beaches, first-class ski resorts, sightseeing along Highway 1, the fascinating cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles, and, of course, the warm and friendly locals, represent some of the many reasons why international students flock there.
“For lovers of the outdoors,” adds Kat Whitney at San Francisco’s Intrax International Institute, “California is one of the only places in the world where students can go surfing in the morning and skiing in the afternoon.” Furthermore, as Vanessa Andrade at Aspect Los Angeles points out, California especially southern California offers variety with its balanced mix of cosmopolitan cities, beaches, mountain areas and desert.
“Not only is our geography diverse,” she comments, “but so are the people.” Brian Gilbert at Kaplan in Berkeley, observes that the area’s multicultural character makes for a very open-minded and accepting atmosphere. “There is considerable freedom to be an individual and to act in a way that suits your own personal desires,” he elaborates. Indeed, he says, it is the kindness and helpfulness of the people that student visitors to Berkeley most comment on. Meanwhile, the presence close to the school of a large number of university students at UC Berkeley also helps international students to fit in.
While enjoying the trappings of a university town, Berkeley on the northeast shore of San Francisco Bay is, as Gilbert highlights, free from the stress and hustle of big cities. The school, “in the heart of a safe, exciting area”, is less than a 10-minute walk to Telegraph Avenue and College Avenue, which he describes as “two fun streets with great shopping and dining”. Meanwhile, good food and shopping are also to be found in Solono Avenue. According to Gilbert, “The food in Berkeley rivals that of any other city I have been to in the United States.” There are many gourmet restaurants, as well as cheaper options, he adds, and there is also a wide range of different types of cuisine. Another popular activity is Napa Valley wine tasting. Not all activities are sedentary, however. Berkeley Hills has many parks and good locations to walk, rock-climb, swim, bike, run and hike, while bowling and ice-skating are “new, local and extremely popular,” comments Gilbert. The attractions of San Francisco are also within easy reach.
“I think people fall in love with San Francisco, because it is a small city, which boasts not only world-famous tourist attractions, but also has a unique mix of diverse local neighbourhoods [that] give the city a real liveable quality,” comments Whitney. “Students in San Francisco quickly discover the many different neighbourhoods. It is like 25 little cities packed together,” adds Activities Adviser, Ted Cotsen from Intrax. The school itself is located one block from Union Square, the city’s largest shopping district.
When it comes to tourist attractions, “San Francisco is the home of the cable car, Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge [and] Union Square”, says Cotsen. “It’s known for gay culture, hippy culture, music culture, liberal politics and friendly people.” As you would expect, there is plenty to do from professional sports to world-class museums and Intrax offers a variety of events each month, including bicycle trips, special dinners, NBA basketball, Giants Baseball, the opera, ballet and barbecues. “Of course,” adds Cotsen, “there are many tour groups that serve our students who are interested in visiting [the recreational area of] Lake Tahoe, Napa [wine growing area], Yosemite [National Park], [the natural beauty of] Big Sur or Los Angeles.”
Public transport is excellent. BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and Cal Train provide links across the region and the AC Transit bus network also links both airports and long distance trains. Within the city, according to Cotsen, “Public transport is amazing, with the option of buses, street cars, cable cars, subways, taxis and bicycles. There are even skateboards that ride down the hills of San Francisco!”
For those who prefer a smaller city, with access to the pleasures of Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada mountains, as well as being within two hours of San Francisco, the state capital of Sacramento is a good option. With its own international airport, Sacramento is easily accessible and is a safe and quiet place to study, according to Paula Zabala at Kaplan’s Sacramento language school.
Depending on the season, recreational opportunities include camping at Lake Berryessa, wine tasting in the famous Napa-Sonoma wine country just an hour’s drive to the west, and skiing/snowboarding at Lake Tahoe. There are also plenty of alternative amusements, including American river rafting, Jelly Belly and Budweiser factory tours, the California State Fair in August/September and Six Flags Marine World. “Because of Sacramento’s unique central location, the prospects for recreation and activities are endless,” Zabala comments.
Southern California’s main entry-point for air travellers is the city of Los Angeles. According to Andrade of Aspect Los Angeles, “The majority of people who travel here are immediately impressed with the beautiful Californian landscape beaches, trees, mountain backdrops and sunny, blue skies as well as by the laid-back southern Californian lifestyle.” Furthermore, she claims, “International students enjoy the fact that they can relax and study in the California sun, as well as walk to their favourite coffee shops or restaurants in the uptown area.”
Aspect Los Angeles is located on the campus of Whittier College, a private university situated approximately 20 miles from the centre of the city, and boasts flower gardens, water fountains and rolling hills. It also has a range of facilities, including a swimming pool, soccer and baseball fields and a gym. These will, of course, need to be squeezed in between visits to the many local attractions. The popular Los Angeles city tour includes the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Rodeo Drive and Santa Monica Beach, while another favourite is a full-day trip to Disneyland. As Andrade points out, “These are southern California landmarks.” Those who appreciate wine will be pleased to know that the school is only a 30-minute drive from some of southern California’s vineyards, she adds. More cultural options include the Getty Museum at Malibu, or the Universal Studios in Hollywood. “As everyone knows,” remarks Andrade, “this town was made to entertain.”
Alternative destination choices include the resort of Santa
Barbara and the city of San Diego. On the far southern coast of California, San Diego lies within 100 miles of deserts, mountains and Mexico, comments Nini Hirschsohn at Aspect San Diego. With the mountains to the east of the city, and the beaches and ocean to the west, it is an attractive location. The school itself is situated within the San Diego resort of La Jolla, and is close to some world-renowned surfing beaches. Additionally, “With our proximity to Mexico, Mexican food is always a delight,” says Hirschsohn, while the city’s diverse population “guarantees a multitude of ethnic eating adventures”. For those who want to explore beyond the boundaries of California, the school organises trips to Mexico and Hawaii and, with its own international airport, San Diego is convenient for air travel and also well connected to the rest of California.
Located between mountains and the Pacific Ocean, and surrounded by natural beauty, Santa Barbara is known locally as “The American Riviera”, according to Tyler Willson of Aspect Santa Barbara. “This resort has it all,” she claims. Famous both as a tourist destination and on account of its celebrity locals, Santa Barbara is close enough to Los Angeles for day trips, while students can simultaneously enjoy “the serenity and security offered by a small city”, she says. The resort has an active beach culture, and this, with its rich Spanish heritage, has given rise to a variety of festivals and events that students can take part in. “We have a big celebration in June for Summer Solstice and another in August called Fiesta,” explains Willson. It is the friendliness of California and its great beauty and diversity that lead Willson to conclude, “Of course, there are other great places to study English around the world, but California remains the premier study location for international students coming to the United States.”
“California represents the exciting lifestyle and the mixture of activities students could enjoy there. The state has famous university campuses, lovely beaches and the countryside, as well as exciting cities [such] as San Francisco and Los Angeles, and the relatively nearby Las Vegas. Visiting the glamorous city of Los Angeles in the hope of seeing a star, driving down the highway, diving into the nature of the beautiful national parks, relaxing in the hippy atmosphere of San Francisco, or [trying] one’s luck in the casinos of Las Vegas. This, together with the image of California’s sunshine is probably why German students love this place.”
Peter Cassalette, LAL Group, Germany
“I believe the main reason [French students choose California] is the ‘American Dream’, which is related to the California state. Usually, they love the climate and the atmosphere. California is a fun state that our students love. Of course, many of our ‘surfer’ students have a strong interest in beaches and bars/restaurants along the waterfront. The laid-back attitude is cool!”
Marie-Laurence Perrichon, ISPA, France
“California stands for a lot of things that Switzerland doesn’t have. Warm weather, beaches, the famous Californian way of life and the perfect combination between studying and a vacation feeling. California has a very Mediterranean atmosphere. Switzerland is small and the USA and California feels big and open in comparison. It is so different from where they come from. Students play sports, go to beaches, do watersports, go shopping and in the evening they go to parties.”
Andrea Gerber, Pro Linguis, Switzerland