June 2005 issue

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Carefree in California

Well known for its glamorous and fashionable image, California also offers top-class educational opportunities and an idyllic climate in which to combine intensive study and relaxation. Bethan Norris finds out more.

The US state of California, also known as El Dorado or the Golden State, has many attractions for language students, not least of which are the well-known higher education institutions that lie within its boundaries. Many of these institutions offer intensive English courses, which prove very popular with overseas students looking towards future education and career opportunities.

"We are the only University of California Intensive English Programme in the San Francisco Bay Area with campuses in Silicon Valley," says Carol Johnson from the University of California Extension Santa Cruz (UCSC). "But we also offer intensive English courses in Santa Cruz, just blocks from the beach. The UCSC campus is one of the most beautiful in California, with towering redwood forests and sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean."

As well as the prestige and opportunities associated with studying on the campus of a world famous US university, language programmes located on a higher education campus also offer certain advantages for international students, in terms of a ready-made social scene and extensive facilities. Anthony Bailey, General Manager of Kaplan English Programmes, which has four language centres in California, points out that one of their schools is located in the heart of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) campus in Westwood. "Students benefit from the class size and personal attention of a small school, while enjoying the atmosphere and resources of a large university," he says, adding, "Many free events offered at UCLA are open to the public, from planetarium discussions to concerts and sporting matches."

Even if they are not studying within a university campus itself, many language students are still very interested in the further educational opportunities California can offer. Those studying at Kaplan in Sacramento benefit from a surfeit of universities and colleges located nearby. "Students have the opportunity to pursue undergraduate and graduate programmes at several local colleges," says Bailey, "including California State University, Sacramento; University of California Davis Extension; American River College; Sacramento City College and many more."

However, a study trip to California is not just about the academic opportunities available and many students are just as attracted to the state by the distinct Californian lifestyle. "California not only satisfies the requirements to learn [English], it also includes an extraordinary opportunity to be immersed in the unique culture which is California," confirms Tyler Wilson, Director of Aspect Santa Barbara. "Our state is beautiful with a perfect year-round climate and a healthy, open-minded way of life."

Carlyn Aguilar from International House Santa Monica agrees. "Sun, surf, palm trees and a mild Mediterranean climate make this a perfect destination year-round," she asserts.

Famed for its sunny weather and laid-back lifestyle, California offers much in the way of activities for students wanting to unwind after a hard day's study. Wendy Henderson from Aspect San Francisco relates, "Students can do almost anything here: from cheap to expensive, physical to relaxing, or high tech to traditional. Students can go to free music festivals or shop at exclusive department stores. [They] enjoy dancing at reggae, rap, hip hop and house music clubs in the Mission District and North Beach, sit in cafés - there's a Starbucks on almost every corner - and enjoy some of the best dining on the west coast."

California is also home to Hollywood and all the glitz and glamour of the movie industry. Language students from around the world are often familiar with many of the local sites, due to its exposure in films and on television. One particularly famous area is Venice Beach in Los Angeles, which is popular with both tourists and locals. "Venice Beach pretty much sums up the LA lifestyle," says Douglas Fay at Aspect Whittier. "The beach's ocean front walk is a human circus of jugglers and acrobats, tarot readers and pick-up basketball players."

While Los Angeles offers all the glamour and excitement of a big city inhabited by many movie stars and famous people, Whittier itself is a residential community located a short distance to the east of the city and, therefore, offers students the best of both worlds, says Fay.

"On any given day you can catch a baseball game at Dodger's Stadium, take a walk down the Santa Monica Outdoor Shopping Mall, walk on the beach at Venice or get away from it all in the San Bernadino Mountains," he recounts. "Every Wednesday in the summer, [Whittier] closes a street uptown and vendors set up small booths to sell their goods for a family festival called 'Market Night'."

Another pursuit enjoyed by students is following local sports teams. "We offer trips to San Francisco Giants or Golden State Warrier games," states Johnson.

With many language schools located in or near cities, opportunities to get away from it all may not always be that easy to find. Yet a number of natural and scenic attractions are a roadtrip away from urban areas. Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada, six hours' drive from Los Angeles, is a designated World Heritage site and recognised for its spectacular waterfalls, giant sequoia tree groves and biological diversity.

The park is a popular excursion, but Fay describes a natural attraction closer to home. "La Brea Tar Pits – just outside [Whittier]– are one of the world's most important paleaontological sites," he says. "The bubbling pits have trapped thousands of plants and animals over the last 40,000 years and fossils of all sorts of prehistoric beasts are still being uncovered."

Agent viewpoint

"A lot [of students] are attracted by California as a destination, others by [the fact that] California is the home of some of the best universities in the world. In Italy it is important to say 'I studied at the University of California', not only for the status that it provides but also as an important reference when people look for a job. [Students like] the sun, attractive places and the relaxing life. Students who attended courses first on the east coast and the following year in California report [that they enjoy] a lot the more relaxing life in [California]. After the lessons it is very popular to go to have a swim or stay at the beaches [or] visit places that are famous because of literature, movies, newspaper articles and television."
Marco Righetti, Righetti – Education Consultants, Italy

"The two main reasons students go to California are the climate and the relaxed atmosphere. They also like to live in big sophisticated and glamorous cities such as LA and San Francisco and also continue their education in well-known universities such as UCLA and UC Berkeley. [Students] enjoy improving their English in the warmth of the California sunshine and making close friendships with students from around the world. They attend concerts, the theatre or visit the many famous jazz clubs. Students also enjoy swimming, sailing, jogging, biking or sunbathing at nearby beaches. They can take easy day or weekend trips to famous big cities."
Olcay Erten, HIT International Education, Turkey

"Brazilian students usually choose California due to the climate, the beaches and the many tourist options available. California is home to the great amusement parks, such as Universal Studios and Six Flags Magic Mountain. During the day, students go to the beach or participate in any outdoor activity. In the evenings [they] usually organise parties with friends or, if they are over 21, they go to nightclubs in cities like LA, San Diego or San Francisco."
Claudio Chalom, BEX, Brazil

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