July 2008 issue

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US West Coast

Comprising the states of California, Oregon and Washington, the west coast of the USA borders the Pacific Ocean and is flanked by a rugged coastal range that makes this a truly awe-inspiring destination. Nicola Hancox takes a tour.

The west coast has a great climate with beautiful beaches and clear skies,” sums up Dr Carl Hightower, Director at Speak English USA in Santa Barbara, CA, who also points to a population that is “friendly and cosmopolitan, with many tourists from various countries”. A haven of natural landscapes dominated by mountains, lakes and deserts, the west coast promises an exciting experience with blue skies and warm weather likely. Spanning over 2,000 kilometres of coastline, the region offers visitors an epic adventure with sights to take in such as the Sierra Nevada in California, Crater Lake in Oregon and Mount Rainier in Washington.

Washington, nicknamed the Evergreen State because of its bountiful plant life, is the only state to be named after a US president. It is, according to Steve Horowitz, Director of the UESL program at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, a beautiful part of the country. “It has mountains, the ocean, peaceful farming valleys, small university towns and major urban areas like Seattle,” he enthuses. Horowitz, who has been working with international students for over 40 years, advises students to visit local wonders such as the islands and waters at Puget Sound, a large salt-water estuary fed by the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges, and Mount Rainier, a 14,411-feet active volcano that sits surrounded by 36 square miles of lush woodland (Mount Rainier National Park).

The largest city in the state of Washington and a major coastal port, Seattle is famed for its coffee consumption and frequent rainfall – it is estimated Seattle experiences cloudy skies an average 226 days per year, Peter Hauge, Director at Alps Language School in the city, notes that as a city it’s not an obvious first choice for students. “Seattle is off the beaten path for the European student and that is good, excellent even,” he says. “While New York and California are wonderful and popular places to go it can be difficult to practise English there because it is difficult to get away from people speaking the student’s same language.” Indeed, perhaps not as daunting as the bigger cities of New York or Los Angeles, Hauge moots that Seattle is the perfect place to study. “[The school] is close to downtown Seattle and we are a great place to learn because the teachers love teaching and the classes are small,” he says. Just as adventurous as his students, Hauge relates how he likes to get out into the open in his free time. “On weekends I love to go for breakfast or lunch next to the sunny beach at Alki. In winter I love the fact that it only takes an hour to reach the ski slopes and I love hiking in the mountains and kayaking on the lakes inside the city,” he says.

Seattle is also considered to be the home of grunge music, having produced artists such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam, and the city hosts alternative music festivals throughout the year. Hauge remarks that their students often take up volunteering at these events, for example, Bumbershoot – an international music and arts festival.

Travel south across the state border and students will find themselves in Oregon. With a diverse landscape ranging from dense forest to glaciated volcanoes, Debbie Anholt, Acting Director at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR, says that there are many benefits to studying in the region. “[Our school] is located in Portland, Oregon, possibly one of the most environmentally rich corners of the earth,” she ventures. “Without even leaving campus you can explore forested trails for moments of quiet contemplation.”

Portland is Oregon’s most populous city and students enrolled at Lewis & Clark College can sample some of the city’s many parks. Mount Tabor Park, situated in the southeast, is said to have been built, albeit inadvertently, on an extinct volcano and affords some great scenic views of Portland and the surrounding area. Anholt relates that students also enjoy visiting Forest Park – a 5,000-acre park that offers miles of hiking and mountain bike trails.

Students at Oregon State University in Corvallis are also well positioned to take advantage of both the ocean and the mountains. “Students can go skiing in the winter about an hour and half from campus, and white-water rafting and kayaking are a short drive away,” relates Lois Knutson at the university. She notes that a warm and welcoming community is a must if overseas students are ever to feel at home while studying in a foreign country. “The Corvallis community is friendly and welcoming for international students, making it a good place to live,” she stresses.

The golden state of California is of course a popular destination for tourists and students alike. Here, one can bask in the warm and sunny climate and sample multiculturalism at its very best.

Sacramento is the state capital and is located in California’s Central Valley. Labelled one of America’s most ethnically diverse cities by Time Magazine, it is also thought to be one America’s most livable regions. According to Beth Loureiro at Kaplan Aspect there, the city’s low cost of living also makes it an appealing choice. “Students are able to afford their studies and still travel while in the country,” she notes. She encourages students to take advantage of their handy locale. “We are located 1.5 hours away from exciting San Francisco, two hours from Lake Tahoe and three hours from the beaches in Santa Cruz.” But there’s plenty to see and do while in town and Loureiro favours annual festivities such as Festival de la Familia (a celebration of Latin culture), Jazz Jubliee and Gold Rush Days – where more than 200 tonnes of dirt gets dumped on the streets of Old Sacramento transporting the historic district back into the 1850s.

Eighty miles west of Sacramento is San Francisco – a tourist haven renowned for landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and Fisherman’s Wharf. Res Helfer, Director of Brandon College in the city, says students are spoilt for choice in terms of things to do. “There are so many places to visit in the San Francisco Bay Area that it’s difficult to narrow it down to my favorite places! However, we always send students to Yosemite National Park for a weekend of hiking, picnics and nature and the Napa Valley is a wine lovers dream!”

The small city of Monterey offers visiting students escapism from the larger cities of San Francisco and LA. Patricia Szasz at Monterey Institute of International Studies relates that international students make up over one third of their student population and she says being among different nationalities makes for a well-rounded experience.

For those after a little sun and surf, the city of Long Beach – situated around 30 kilometres south of downtown Los Angeles – offers much in the way of beachfront activity. Christopher Mefford, Curriculum Coordinator at the American Language Institute at California State University in Long Beach, says that the ocean is a big draw for students. “Huntington Beach, or ‘surf city’, is a popular area for many students as it offers restaurants, bars, shopping, festivals, markets, surfing and volleyball events, and the best of all, clean beaches to enjoy!” He also lists extra-curricular activities such as whale watching, visiting local art museums, attending bonfires and – owing to the university’s close proximity to a major televison studio – attending TV show recordings.

Just north of the Mexican border lies San Diego and aside from the typically touristic attractions such as Sea World and San Diego Zoo, students will find an array of museums and art galleries to whet their artistic appetites. Gwen Guzman at University of California San Diego enthuses, “Every second Saturday, all art galleries are open for passers-by to view the latest exhibits, listen to live music, and drink the local wine from the wineries.” Meanwhile, La Jolla – known as the jewel of San Diego – offers students some up-market shopping, plenty of restaurants and some beautiful beaches. “A wildlife preserve exists at La Jolla Cove,” says Guzman. “Students should take the opportunity to snorkel with Leopard Sharks, scuba dive in California’s kelp beds and kayak in and out of caves along the cove.”

Agent viewpoint

“Students choose the US west coast because it’s closer to China. The weather attracts them, as does the good education system in Washington. It’s open, close to big cities, but not too noisy and it’s easy to get away from. Students enjoy campus life, not too many Chinese students there and they can still mix well with other international students and experience real American culture and life.”
Wendy Wang, Markham International Education Center (MIEC), China

 “First, there are many great schools. Second, when many international students think of the West Coast, they think of the images that American TV and movies have provided to them – sunny, warm weather, blue skies, beaches, a comfortable, relaxed lifestyle, etc. They are also attracted to the West Coast’s popular attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge, and Seattle’s Space Needle as well as the many natural wonders like Yosemite National Park, Death Valley, Big Sur and Mount Hood.”
Mike Daly, Universal Placement Program, USA

 “There is a large diversity of schools along the West Coast and also many places where students can do sightseeing and travelling. Our students tell us that they enjoy those schools for sometimes different reasons than they expected at first. Many students who originate in Asian countries say that they are surprised at the size of the schools and environment around them. In the end, they value those relationships with teachers and classmates that they make more than just living and studying on the West Coast specifically.”
Chris Frederick, Intl’ Education Group, USA

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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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