March 2005 issue

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Lively Los Angeles

A sprawling city that is in actual fact a series of smaller neighbourhoods, Los Angeles is more welcoming to international students than might be expected, and not that expensive either. Jane Vernon Smith reviews the A-list city.

Among the most famous cities in the world, Los Angeles, on the US western seaboard in California, offers a genuine all-American experience. Its name is synonymous with the glitz of Hollywood, the fashionable glamour of Beverly Hills and the many stars of film and television who make the city their home. Visitors are attracted by a desire to soak up its atmosphere and see for themselves one of the world's most famous cities.

''The first impression of many visitors is that it's a huge, sprawling city without a centre,'' says Julie Jaskol, Public Affairs Manager at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Extension. ''However, they soon discover that LA is really a collection of neighbourhoods and small towns that merge together to form one large city. Part of the fun of living in Los Angeles is the opportunity to explore these neighbourhoods and discover all the culture and excitement the city has to offer,'' she explains.

Extending over 1,200 square kilometres and with a population of 9.9 million, Los Angeles is huge by any standards. Its different neighbourhoods have their own, very different characters - Beverly Hills, home to the stars, with its fashionable shops; Hollywood (1) with its film studios and dance clubs; West Hollywood (2), one of the city's ‘hippest' areas, including the famous Sunset Strip and Sunset Plaza, with its high-class boutiques and restaurants; and Westwood Village (3), which is characterised by its Spanish revival architecture and luxury boutiques. Westwood is home to UCLA and, according to Jaskol, ''has a village-like atmosphere with many movie theatres, cafés, shops and a fine arts museum.''

Blessed with 300 days of sunshine a year, the city has a fine climate. ''The weather is mild year-round, and it doesn't rain all that often,'' notes Meagan McNally, Assistant Director at English Language Center (ELC) Los Angeles. This allows students ''from both the colder and warmer regions of the world to escape the extremes and relax in the sunshine'', she says. This also means that students are able to take advantage of the many outdoor attractions that are on offer nearby.

As McNally points out, both the beach and the mountains are in close range. Hence the Los Angeles motto: ''You can go ski-ing in the morning and surfing in the afternoon.'' The surfing beaches of Venice and Malibu are both popular with student visitors, as is Long Beach (4) with its shops and boutiques, restaurants and cafés and a boating centre. By way of contrast, the Malibu Mountains offer the opportunity for hiking, ski-ing and snowboarding trips.

Los Angeles is also a good base for exploring further afield. ''We offer three-day bus tours of San Francisco, Las Vegas, national parks and the Grand Canyon,'' says Ryan Boyd of Los Angeles-based Language Systems. ''By far, the Las Vegas and Grand Canyon tours are the most popular.'' The mountainous Catalina Island is another popular weekend trip away, as are the Yosemite National Park, Santa Barbara and San Diego.

At Kaplan in Los Angeles, according to General Manager of Kaplan English Programs, Anthony Bailey, ''The most popular activities are theme park day trips, especially [Six Flags] Magic Mountain.'' He adds, ''This theme park has the largest collection of roller coasters on the planet!'' Disneyland is also a magnet for visitors of all ages, along with the more recent addition, Disney's California Adventure, while Universal Studios - a theme park and working studios combined - is also not to be missed.

Spectator sport is also well represented in the city, with basketball at the world champion Los Angeles Lakers and the Clippers and baseball at the Los Angeles Dodgers. Students at UCLA Extension also have the chance to watch college basketball and football games.

As Bailey points out, ''Los Angeles is the entertainment capital of the world,'' so there is plenty going on in the city at all times. ''Los Angeles… boasts dozens of live theatres, many featuring famous film and TV actors,'' comments Jaskol. Moreover, ''When it comes to music, you can find everything from classical to jazz, blues, hip hop, ethnic and underground.''

Unsurprisingly in the home of the cinema industry, movie days are a popular activity at Kaplan. At ELC, according to McNally, ''We have just started running trips to see movie premieres, as many movies premiere only blocks from our school, and the students can go and photograph the stars of the films as they enter the theatres. They love these,'' she comments, ''as they often get to shake hands with their favourite stars!'' In cultural terms, Los Angeles boasts 300 museums - more than any other US city, as Jaskol points out. A major attraction is the Getty Center (5). According to Bailey, ''The J Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center is a recent addition to the Los Angeles cultural scene which has become popular with students.'' This museum houses European paintings, drawings, sculptures, illuminated manuscripts, decorative arts, and European and American photographs. ''Our teachers often take their classes there because of its educational value, proximity to our centre and free admission,'' says Bailey.

In Los Angeles, entertaining yourself doesn't have to be expensive. In fact, as Boyd highlights, the cost of living in LA is lower than in most major US cities. Aside from visiting the local beaches, there is plenty to do that is inexpensive and, according to Boyd, many students prefer these activities. Prices at the city's many designer shops may be prohibitive, but window-shopping costs nothing. Jaskol observes, ''LA also features world-renowned architecture and design by stars such as Richard Meier, Frank Gehry, Frank Lloyd Wright, Rudolf Schindler and Richard Neutra.''

Furthermore, with its many resident film stars, LA is a great place for celebrity spotting. ''Los Angeles is a great city for people watching,'' asserts Boyd, and the city's parks offer a relaxing place to enjoy doing this. Los Angeles' Griffith Park (6), which is home to the Los Angeles Zoo, is the largest city park in the USA.

When it is time to relax and talk over the day's events with friends, another inexpensive option enjoyed by students is the happy hour (reduced prices) at local bars. ''Happy hour always proves to be popular,'' confirms McNally. Anyone who makes the effort to go out and meet people will find that a defining characteristic of the city is its cultural diversity. With more than one third of the city's population born outside the USA, it is unlikely to take long for students to feel at ease. ''International students can always find stores, restaurants and supermarkets catering to their cuisine, and they often run into Americans or immigrants who can speak their language,'' says McNally.

Agent viewpoint

''LA is distinctively American, with its many centres held together by a bustling freeway and people constantly on the go. [Students] are also drawn to LA because it is the centre of media studies and film and television. They see a lot of LA in movies, so when they arrive, they feel like they are living inside a movie! All the props are there - palm trees, wide, long beaches, surfers, skyscrapers, blue skies and people from all over the world.''
Laura Vejarano, Studi Internazionali, Italy

''Los Angeles is the heart of the Californian lifestyle, and people really want to see if the clichés like Melrose Place, movie stars, Bay Watch, etc. exist. Hollywood is still a magic word for most students and the unbelievable music scene is another favourite point. [Students enjoy] the extreme variety that the city offers - to have a busy financial district, music bars, beaches, shopping and parks all in just one place.''
Claudio Cesarano, globo-study Sprachreisen, Switzerland

''Some students choose LA because of their family or relative's [advice] to enjoy its rich attractions. Others choose it to feel closer to their home country, while enjoying living in a big town. [They appreciate] famous attractions, such as Hollywood movie stars, world class education institutes, the surroundings, weather, beaches, cosmopolitan city environment.''
Tony Kim, iAE Edu Net, Eduhouse Inc, Korea

''Japanese students have been greatly influenced by a wide range of Hollywood movies. So, they hope for such a movie-like lifestyle and cosy atmosphere created by the blue sky and friendly people in LA. We often hear that they were moved by the warm-hearted mind of people in this city.''
Hiroyuki Hane, Gio Club, Japan

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