Our journey begins in the East South Central State of Tennessee, home to the classic Corvette, Jack Daniel’s whiskey and Elvis Presley’s spectacular white-columned mansion and historic landmark, Graceland. According to Allison Cavopol at the International English Institute (IEI) in Nashville, music is at the very heart of this state, having played a pivotal role in the development of music forms such as rock and roll, rhythm and blues, country and rockabilly. “Nashville is known as Music City and many students with serious musical talent and interest come to our school for the opportunity to attend live events, train and perform with some of our local musicians in their free time,” she says.
Strip away the music, what else does this state have to offer? Cavopol recommends students nip over the Tennessee/Kentucky border to marvel at Mammoth Cave, one of the longest cave systems in the world or discover America’s most visited national park, Great Smokey Mountain. As part of its social programming, students at IEI have the added opportunity to go white water rafting on the Ocoee River or enjoying a day trip to the Jack Daniel’s distillery.
Meanwhile, the ELS Johnson City centre on the campus of Eastern Tennessee State University is located in the foothills of the vast Appalachian Mountains, providing a relaxed and natural atmosphere in which students can study, says ELS’s Matthew Laubengayer. The mountain chain boasts some wonderful hiking trails all within 20 minutes of the campus.
Moving further northwards we find Wisconsin, renowned for producing vast quantities of dairy produce, so much so locals affectionately refer to themselves as ‘cheeseheads’! “Students should visit the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Babcock Hall Dairy Plant where cheese, milk and ice cream are produced,” ventures Ally Merten at the Wisconsin ESL Institute in Madison.
But it’s more than just a ‘cow town’, she adds. Its close proximity to UW-Madison gives visiting students the chance to experience college football at its best, while the university’s Memorial Union Terrace hosts live music events five nights a week during the summer. Pitched on the shores of Lake Mendota, this campus icon is transformed during the winter season for ski and snowboarding competitions, while the lake itself turns into a giant ice rink.
Students already accustomed to city life will appreciate the small town vibe of De Pere, a suburb of Green Bay, notes Christina Hankwitz at the ESL Institute at St. Norbert College. “Our students tell us they enjoy living here because it is safe and quiet very conducive to studying English,” she says. Green Bay is home to American football team the Green Bay Packers. “Players are often seen around the town, and every summer they conduct free practice sessions that are attended by hundreds of visitors and fans.”
Miller Park home of baseball team the Milwaukee Brewers; Lake Michigan lighthouse and the Peninsula and Whitefish Dunes State Parks in Door County are local attractions, observes Hankwitz.
Everything about the state of Texas is big: its size (it’s bigger than France), its cities, its highways and more importantly its welcome. Immigrants have helped shape much of Texas’s cultural makeup and, according to Chelsea Curtis at Aston International Academy in Austin, this has not gone unnoticed by international students. “We’re finding more and more students have family ties in Texas,” she notes.
While Dallas and Houston have ‘big city’ allure, owing to internationally recognised events like South by Southwest and Austin City Limits (both entertainment festivals), the city of Austin is emerging in its own right. “Students come here because it has as much to offer as bigger cities in terms of culture and activities, but is easier to navigate and thanks to the University of Texas at Austin (UT), is very student friendly.”
The latest craze to hit the state is food trucks, observes Curtis, essentially a fleet of mobile restaurants serving up a range of different delicacies. She says, “We recommend that students go on a tour of trucks to try lots of different foods for not much money.” The academy’s close association with UT means the academy regularly advises students experience some of the free on-campus activities. “My favourite is the free two-stepping [a type of dance] classes at the Broken Spoke,” says Curtis.
You can’t come to Central US without gorging on traditional barbecue fare and Kansas does BBQ by the bucket load (it boasts over 100 barbecue joints). Mark Algren, Director of the Applied English Center at the University of Kansas notes that Kansas City is regarded as the country’s barbecue and jazz capital. The university is located 45 minutes west of Kansas in Lawrence, a city bustling with activity. “The city is known for its art scene and for its specialty shops, coffeehouses, and restaurants that cater to students,” he adds. Home to two universities it has a large student population but manages to retain a small town feel.
Wedged between Texas and Kansas is the state of Oklahoma. The Language Company, which operates 13 centres dotted throughout the whole of the United States, has two centres in the Sooner State, a name given to its early Midwest settlers. Students can expect a good dose of southern hospitality in the city of Edmond, notes Robbie Scott, Director at TLC-Edmond. Locally, she suggests students visit the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, the Oklahoma State Capitol building and the dynamic Bricktown area, which features numerous eateries and visitor attractions.
Oklahoma has the largest Native American population and there is a wealth of heritage among its inhabitants, attests TLC-Ada Director, Sandra Bradley. By visiting one of the state’s many museums that are wholly dedicated to its indigenous people, students can familiarise themselves with their history, culture and art. The rural community of Ada, however, is a perfect example of the much slower pace of life enjoyed by those in the state, says Bradley. Home to several famous people including country music star Blake Shelton, Ada boasts over 200 lakes that will surely appeal to those looking for a more refreshing escape.
The neighbouring state of Arkansas is synonymous with the classic western movie genre. Both Clint Eastwood’s Hang Em’ High and John Wayne’s True Grit were filmed on location here and students studying at ELS Fort Smith, located on the campus of the University of Arkansas Fort Smith, will appreciate the city’s old west charm, says Simon Smith. Trips to The William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park the presidential library of the 42nd President, one of Arkansas’s most famous exports and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Fayetteville come highly recommended.
Escaping Arkansas’s humidity for cooler climes: North Dakota hugs the Canadian border in a region called the Great Plains. “Minot is a great location to learn English,” notes Bonnie Carrera, Director at TLC-Minot. Being situated on the campus of Minot State University students have access to university facilities including a wellness centre and rock climbing wall. Physical pursuits are a big deal here and extra-curricular activities at the centre include hiking, canoeing and ice skating. Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the USA, fell in love with the state’s ruggedness and a national park was named in his honour.
Our journey ends in Indiana, one of several areas associated with the Amish. Leah Zimmer, Director at TLC-South Bend advises students visit a local community to experience this unique, Midwest sub culture. The atmosphere at the Shipshewana Flea Market, where hundreds of vendors gather to sell anything from fresh fruit to furniture, is also not to be missed. The centre hosts several trips to the buzzing city of Chicago in nearby Illinois and students and staff also head out to support Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the local college ice hockey team and the South Bend Silverhawks baseball team.
“Safety is one of the key factors that most Chinese parents will consider while searching for a suitable US university for their kid. After my five years spent at St. Norbert I strongly recommend it [as it is in] a very safe community and the local people are very welcoming towards international students. While many states in the US are melting pots of different culture, attending college in the Midwest gave me the opportunity to see authentic American culture and family values.”
Charlie Zhang, MMP Worldwide - Sino Bridge, China
“Brazilians looking to study in this area of the USA are looking for places that are not top priority destinations for tourism and so seek a more “close” experience about real American life. After school hours, they do some shopping (after all, they are in the US!) and visit tourist attractions nearby as well as walking around the area to get a feel for the place.”
Tereza Fulfaro, CI, Brazil