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March 2002 issue

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Travel News
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US west coast

Agent viewpoint

"Students who choose to study on the west coast of the USA like the fact that they are close to lots of tourist attractions such as Disneyland and Universal Studios. The sea is very cool and clean and the local people are friendly and caring towards visitors. Turkish students have no problem adapting to the American way of life, although some find it quite expensive, especially those from outside Istanbul. The mix [of English and Spanish speakers] reminds them of the strong Mediterranean influence at home."

Zeynep Gunduzyeli, International House, Turkey

"Most of our students choose the west coast because the weather is mild and they consider it a good place to practise sports. In their spare time they like to go to the beach or take part in sporting activities. Brazilian students learn to live with any cultural differences they might encounter and it is actually one of the attractions of the area. I would recommend any of the west coast destinations to students aged between 18 and 28 years old."

Luciana de Almeida Sampaio, CI - Central de Intercambio, Brazil

"The US west coast has reputable schools, a warm climate and lots of places to go sightseeing. Most students visit the main attractions such as Sea World, Disneyland and Universal Studios while others [try] new activities like surfing and skiing. The region is quite diverse in ethnicity and Korean students have little difficulty overcoming cultural differences. However, the fact that lots of Koreans choose to study on the west coast means there are lots of students of the same nationality which is not very conducive to learning."

Yongwoo Kim, Uhak.com, Korea

The west coast of the USA offers an exhilarating and varied language travel experience for international students, with spectacular scenery and a wealth of entertainment opportunities on offer. Anna Zachariassen reports.

Stretching from Mexico in the south to the Canadian border in the north, the states of Oregon, Washington and California on the US west coast have always been popular English language learning destinations. From imposing mountain ranges to large expanses of desert, the region's varied landscape has ensured its continued popularity among international students as a destination waiting to be discovered. English language schools in each of the three states are keen to help students to explore their surroundings and familiarise themselves with the American way of life.

California is the best-known west coast state and the images it conjures up of sun, sea and sand are recognised the world over. "International students are attracted to the easy, laid-back lifestyle of California," says Karen O'Neill, Associate Director of Studies in American Language at San Jose University. "San Jose is considered one of the safest metropolitan areas [in the USA] and is well known for its Mediterranean climate, averaging 300 days of sunshine per year." As the fastest growing city in California, San Jose boasts an impressive array of museums, shopping centres, restaurants and clubs. Although it is one of the oldest cities in California, its emergence as the heart of Silicon Valley has secured San Jose's reputation as a progressive city. Excursions at the school include visits to the Technology Museum of Innovation and the nearby National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) centre.

California's state capital, Sacramento, is situated in the flatlands of the Central Valley and lays claim to being the birthplace of the American Gold Rush. Nowadays, office blocks and hotel complexes dominate the landscape, but traces of Sacramento's rich heritage are still evident along the waterfront, where a refurbished steam train offers a seven-mile round-trip along the Sacramento River. "In my opinion, Sacramento is an ideal place to study," comments Bill Sharer, International Programs Director at California State University in Sacramento. The English Institute is situated close to the university campus and international students are encouraged to integrate with American students at the college. "It is often the simplest activities that create the biggest impressions - Halloween parties, Thanksgiving celebrations, barbecues and volleyball games," says Sharar.

San Diego in the south is an up-and-coming city, with warm, inviting beaches and easy access to Mexico. "Through San Diego's proximity to Mexico, there are actually two cultures to be experienced during a stay in [the city]," explains Iris Hoefling, Programme Coordinator at Language Instruction Centrum in the city. The superb coastline means that San Diego is the essence of a southern Californian beach city and the pace of life here is noticeably slower than elsewhere in the state. Hoefling continues, "San Diego has a perfect climate and a wide variety of recreational activities to choose from [such as] sailing, water skiing, jet skiing and kayaking."

Situated close to downtown San Diego, La Jolla is a prosperous city with a cosmopolitan atmosphere. One of the most impressive features of the city is the Pacific shoreline, where breathtaking waves attract water sports enthusiasts throughout the year. Downtown La Jolla, known as The Village, is home to some of the trendiest shops, boutiques and restaurants in California, while the main thoroughfare, Prospect Street, has been dubbed the Rodeo Drive of San Diego. "Students are drawn to the warm climate, sandy beaches and laid-back California lifestyle," says Tanya Knebel, Student Affairs and Marketing Coordinator at the International Center for American English. "Surfing, swimming and sunbathing are some of the favourite pastimes."

The University of California also has a campus in La Jolla. Peter Thomas, Director of International Programmes, summarises the region's appeal. "For many Europeans and South Americans, the west [coast] is seen as a less conventional choice than the east coast," he says. A new course being offered by the university is the Great American West programme, which encourages students to learn about the region and improve their English skills on excursions to nearby places of interest including Yosemite National Park, the Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree National Park.

The university is also home to one of the region's most popular attractions, the LaJolla Playhouse, famous for its innovative cutting-edge theatre productions.

Situated on the northern California peninsula, San Francisco is a bustling city which thrives on the unconventional lifestyles of its inhabitants. The "flower power" generation made the city its own in the 1960s, setting the trend for modern-day alternative events such as direct action bike rides and the annual gay pride festival. The city also affords some fantastic views of the surrounding area, including San Francisco Bay and its famous bridges. "San Francisco is a small, vibrant city with easy public transport and fantastic scenery," sums up Jason K Lynn, Marketing Coordinator at St Giles College International. "It has everything a student could want within easy reach and it has a large multicultural population that is accustomed to accommodating people from other cultures."

The climate in the two northern Pacific states of Washington and Oregon is significantly cooler than in California and although both are heavily populated, a large proportion of the landscape has remained relatively unspoilt. Oregon, divided from north to south by the Cascade Mountains, is a state of windswept beaches, lush forests and snow-capped peaks. The Florentine facades and Gothic towers of many of the major cities are reminiscent of European capitals, and although central Oregon has been forward thinking in its urban planning, a community atmosphere prevails. "The Pacific northwest is known for its stunning natural beauty and its concern for the environment," says Joann Geddes at the Institute for the Study of American Language and Culture at Lewis and Clark College in Portland. Named after the city of the same name in Maine on the US east coast, Portland is surrounded by fertile valleys and was an important international trading port during the 19th century.

Nowadays, the skyline is dominated by the imposing Portland building, whose concrete, steel and glass structure made it one of the most talked-about American buildings in the 1980s. Regional cuisine is also highly regarded and seafood, particularly salmon and oysters, is an integral part of the local diet. "Regional specialities include northwest salmon, [and] fresh fruit and vegetables, and many orchards have festivals that introduce students to their produce," says Geddes. The Saturday Street Market in the Old Town district is the perfect place to sample what Portland has to offer, from arts and crafts to buskers and street entertainers.

Oregon's second largest city, Eugene, has an energetic, lively atmosphere, which attracts large numbers of students, hippies and professionals, all of whom contribute to a heady cultural mix. The Hult Center for Performing Arts is home to several local art organisations including the Eugene Opera, the Eugene Ballet Company and the Willamette Repertory Theater. Art lovers are also catered for at the University of Oregon's Museum of Art which houses an interesting collection of Asian and regional contemporary art. An impressive record of sporting achievements is another trademark of the city, and cycle paths and running tracks can be found along almost all of Eugene's major streets.

Home to some of the USA's most dramatic landscapes, Washington state runs from the Pacific coast to Idaho in the east and Canada in the north, encompassing three distinctive climatic regions. The coastal area can experience torrential storms and high winds in winter, while the central and eastern regions are more temperate and usually experience warm, dry summers.

Seattle, the commercial and cultural capital of Washington, is perched on the edge of the picturesque Puget Sound and provides an excellent vantage point from which to explore the surrounding area. According to Debbie Turner, Academic Coordinator at Seattle Central Institute of English, "our location makes it easy for students to visit Victoria or Vancouver in Canada and we are also near Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners baseball team".

Other noteworthy aspects of the city include Olympic National Park and the volcano, Mount St Helens, which last erupted in 1980 and still smoulders today.

The residents of Seattle are relatively laid-back, despite the upsurge in wealth generated by the establishment of large multinational companies such as Microsoft and Boeing. Shopping opportunities in Seattle are plentiful and many students like to visit the famous Pike Place Market, which offers an extensive selection of fresh seafood, fruit, vegetables and flowers as well as regular performances by local musicians.

The monorail links the many districts that make up the city and sums up the futuristic vision of Seattle. Turner says, "Seattle is a city of distinct neighbourhoods, each with its own unique shops and restaurants. Its inhabitants are generally well travelled and keen to learn about the world."