||There are many preconceptions of California the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, body builders working out on the boardwalks and beaches crowded with sun-bronzed bodies but for every one of these there are several parts of California’s character that remain relatively unknown. International students therefore have a lot to discover during their stay at any one of the language schools dotted throughout the state.
“California is one of the most diverse and exciting places in the world to live, work, visit and play,” enthuses Karen Johnson, Director of IH San Diego. “With its rich history of ethnic settlement, Californians speak more than 200 different languages and are known as one of the most tolerant and open-minded societies.” Johnson goes on to describe California’s diverse landscapes, highlighting the “pristine Pacific coastline, the ominous Sierra Nevada Mountains, the parched Mojave Desert and Death Valley, the breathtaking sites of Yosemite National Park, the lush agricultural area of the Central Valley, and the giant redwoods north of San Francisco”.
Gwendolyne Guzman, Marketing Manager of the University of California, San Diego, agrees with Johnson, but continues, “While you will find metropolitan living, beach life, desert and mountain living in many parts of the world, what makes California special is the element of surprise when you see the random Hollywood Star, such as Vin Diesel at the snowboard park or Oprah Winfrey at a café.”
Just one-and-a-half hours’ drive from the huge metropolis of Los Angeles is Temecula, home to the California School of English and Foreign Languages. The school’s Director, Chris Cullen, says it is an ideal place from which to experience some of southern California’s attractions. “The Temecula is centrally located in southern California within easy reach of Los Angeles to the north, San Diego to the south, the ocean to the west, and desert and mountains to the east,” he says. Famous for its 30 wineries and 10 golf courses, the Temecula Valley is, according to Cullen, a “typical American community with first-class host families”, a low crime rate, modern shopping centres, good sports facilities and great year-round weather.
Just south of Los Angeles is Long Beach, another great base from which to explore Los Angeles County’s many attractions. Lynne Richmond, Director of the American Language Institute (ALI) at California State University at Long Beach, was born there. “I grew up spending my summers bodysurfing at local beaches here and I love this city and area. When California State [University] Long Beach saw a need for an intensive English programme for international students, [they established the ALI in 1984] I and my husband were the first teachers in the new English programme.”
Richmond says her personal highlights are the sea-view restaurants. She recounts, “On a recent beautiful day, I sat with a friend at a table at the window of an ocean-side restaurant, and watched as 10 dolphins cavorted in the ocean outside.”
South of Long Beach is San Diego where free-time activities abound thanks to its great year-round climate and ocean-side position. Students can take part in many watersports as well as cross country running, parasailing, motor-cross, bouldering and sky diving. For Guzman, her personal favourite pastime is “to paddle an outrigger canoe, after a long day at work, out past the ocean-side pier and watch pods of dolphins swim around my canoe”. She also mentions that a swim at La Jolla Cove is a good way to see the California Caribaldi a bright orange fish sea lions, leopard sharks and the famous California kelp beds. She adds, “After a nice swim in the cove a must-have California fish taco with fresh cilantro [coriander], diced tomatoes, lemon and a speciality sauce from the restaurants, Rubios or Fred’s, is a great way to satisfy any appetite.”
The USA’s eighth-largest city, San Diego may be large, but according to Johnson at IH San Diego, it possesses the air of friendliness, hospitality and safety of a much smaller city. It is also an ethnic melting pot giving rise to restaurants from almost every corner of the globe, and each quarter of the city has its own distinctive character. “For example,” says Guzman, “In Little Italy you can purchase fresh mozzarella cheese and pasta and, on a hot day, enjoy a nice scoop of gelato [ice cream]. Hillcrest is known for its festive gay-pride celebration, boutique shops and great restaurants, and Escondido is know for its ‘Cruisin’ Grand’ scene where renovated hot-rods and American classic cars come together every Friday from April to September.”
Like San Diego, San Francisco situated along the centre of California’s long coastline, is a hotchpotch of different peoples, and has a reputation as being a tolerant individualistic society. “San Francisco has such a diverse population that in many ways one can almost go on a ‘tour du monde’ when walking from one neighbourhood to another,” says Res Helfer of Brandon College in San Francisco, who himself was an international student at the college 18 years ago. “My plans were to study for about six months and return to my home country, Switzerland,” he recounts. He was, however, offered a job at the school and then bought the school years later. “One can easily fall in love with San Francisco,” he adds. “It is truly one of the most beautiful and romantic places I’ve visited.”
For students studying at Sonoma State American Language Institute (ALI) at Rohnert Park, just 50 miles north of San Francisco, one of the highlights is a trip to the city. “We take the ferry across the bay and visit several highlights in [San Francisco] including Alcatraz, Fort Point, Pier 39, Union Square, Chinatown, etc.,” says Helen Kallenbach, Director at the ALI. “We usually stop on the Golden Gate Bridge on the return trip and let the students walk on the bridge.”
For those students studying in the suburbs of San Francisco it is easy to get into the centre by public transport. Effie Ip, International Marketing Coordinator for IEC at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, on the outskirts of San Francisco, says, “In general, students enjoy this suburban setting with less traffic and cleaner air.”
To help students satisfy their wanderlust, Brandon College has partnered up with a local tour operator to provide guided tours for students throughout California and beyond when they have completed their language programme. “[Students] travel in maxi-vans, equipped with all the necessary gear, and each tour is accompanied by an experienced group leader. Participants explore national parks, get off the beaten track and enjoy the sights,” says Helfer. “The next step will be for a Brandon College teacher to accompany the tours and continue the English language training in a most unique fashion.”
Just 25 miles north of Golden Gate Bridge is Novato, home to the College of Marin Intensive English Programme, Indian Valley Campus. Its location was once the home of the Miwok Indians (native Americans) and the buildings are named after the Indian tribes. Sara Oser, Coordinator at the IEP says, “The attractions of Marin County include Muir Woods with its redwood groves, Point Reyes National Seashore with its annual elephant seals, China Camp State Park with its history of the Chinese shrimpers, and Angel Island the 20-minute ferry ride over to Angel Island and the six-mile walk around its perimeter are a scenic thrill.”
For yet another experience of California, there is Chico, a small city of 100,000 people, just a short flight north of San Francisco. “People often talk about the Chico experience when they speak of this region of California,” says William Dantona, Director of the American Language and Culture Institute at California State University in Chico.
Highlights of the city include Bidwell Park and Chico’s farmers market every Saturday. Further a field are trips to Mount Lassen National Park, popular for hiking and camping trips, Calistoga in Napa Valley and Fort Bragg on the coast.
“California is said to have 330 days of sunshine a year, and has people from many different countries over 10 per cent of Californians are from Asia. We send students, especially young learners, to Temecula because it is very safe and the standard of homestay is very high. We also send students to Santa Monica, where there are many shops and restaurants near the beach; Westwood, which is safe and near the world-famous UCLA university; San Francisco because it is easy to get around and there are many things to do; and San Diego as it is not too big.”
Yoshikazu Ueoku, Global Study Language Corporation, Japan
“Our students come to California to play baseball with American kids. They even take sports-themed language lessons at school before they go out on the field. Even though there may be a bit of a communication barrier, there is no denying that when all the kids hit the field they all speak the same language - baseball.”
Yutaka Hirabayashi, Baseball Comm., Japan
“California has a comfortable climate and beautiful landscape. As most areas are culturally diverse it’s easy to blend in. Many students prefer to study in metropolitan areas such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. However, some students find that the peace and quiet of a smaller town offers a better learning environment. I enjoy driving along Highway One that hugs the coastline. There are many beautiful beaches and quaint restaurants to stop along the way."
Emma Hansson, EIC Group Ltd., China