||Studying on the US West Coast offers students a colourful slice of American life. “Popularly known as the ‘left coast’, US West Coast cities are vibrant communities, each with a unique regional culture, reflecting the multi-cultural diversity of the population,” says Joe Picard of ALCI Chico.
The region’s most famous state, California, is also the country’s number-one destination for international students and Southern California attracts thousands each year. “Students like Southern California for the great weather and the opportunity to visit several places of interest during their stay,” says Teresa Neale, CISL School, San Diego. “Some students really like the beaches and surfing, others like the golf courses.”
Dawn Schmid of the American Language and Culture Institute (ALCI) at California State University (CSU) San Marcos, says their students enjoy riding the local Sprinter train from the campus to Oceanside for the farmers’ market or to go surfing. She enthuses, “Students can take their surfboards onto the Sprinter train in the morning, surf at Oceanside beach, and then catch the Sprinter home again in the evening.” For those who are brave enough, ALCI organises an annual trip to the Haunted Hotel, where, Schmid explains, actors dress in scary costumes and “haunt” the hotel. “Some students who initially were afraid of the ‘hotel’ experience actually have ended up going through twice!”
If the ocean plays a major part in destination choice, then the American Language Institute (ALI) at California State University, Long Beach, is ideal. “Long Beach and its campus are along the ocean, enjoy 333 sunny days a year and is 32 kilometres south of downtown Los Angeles,” says Kelly Martinez at ALI. “Long Beach uniquely blends the character of a sophisticated urban area with the charm of a seaside community.”
Nearby is Los Angeles, and its fabled movie industry. “Hollywood is the entertainment capital of the planet where the world’s favourite films are made, where the most popular television shows are produced and where the stars live, work, and play,” attests Vanessa Navarro at the English Language Center, which has several USA schools including LA and Santa Barbara.
Indeed, its celluloid reputation exerts a strong pull on its international visitors. “Students always want to go to places like Beverly Hills and Hollywood that they have seen in the movies,” confirms Alissa Olgun at California ESL. Many excursions also centre on the city’s celebrity heritage with the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Beverly Hills Shopping, and visits to the Hollywood sign, Disneyland, and Universal Studios featuring prominently on most itineraries. As an alternative, Olgun recommends a trip to the studios to watch the filming of a TV show, which can be surprisingly easy to get free tickets for. “It takes a lot of time on the day and you spend most of your day sitting on a sidewalk holding your space in line, but if it is a show you like with an actor you enjoy, it can be well worth it!”
Once California’s secret, Santa Barbara is now renowned for its exceptional climate, scenery and palm tree-lined, sandy beaches. Navarro says, “Santa Barbara combines the cultural and recreational offerings of a major city with the warm, friendly and relaxed atmosphere of a small town.”
California’s fourth-largest city, San Francisco, is, according to Picard at ALCI Chico, rich in cultural diversity, with gorgeous parks and beautiful beaches. “Whether sightseeing on a cable car, enjoying fish and chips at Fisherman’s Wharf, cheering on the Giants baseball team, or strolling neighbourhoods, you’re sure to find excitement in San Francisco,” he asserts.Neale at CISL says the San Francisco Cable Car is a must. “Every newcomer to San Francisco needs to take [it] at least once.”
Getting to know the locals is an advantage of a smaller study location such as Chico in the beautiful Sacramento Valley, at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, northern California. “The small-town feel of Chico and the university is a highlight,” confirms Picard. Just a three-hour drive from Chico is Lake Tahoe. “Several world-class ski resorts cater to both experienced and beginner skiers, and most offer discounts for college students. The lake itself is breathtaking in its vastness and beauty, and you’d be hard pressed to find water bluer or clearer than this,” says Picard.
Year-round recreation and a safe, community feel are why families choose to send their children to Squaw Valley Academy, a co-educational boarding school facility in Lake Tahoe, according to Adrienne Forbes. “There are nearby opportunities for skiing and snowboarding in winter and hiking and swimming during summer,” she observes. The school has sponsored a host of excursions including surf camps in San Diego, whitewater rafting on the American River near Sacramento, golfing at Pebble Beach and touring the major cities.
For a range of outdoor activities, John Carter at Saint George’s School in Spokane, claims Washington State is the USA’s most geographically diverse state with its ocean beaches, rainforests, alpine peaks, immense river canyons and rolling wheat fields. Even the city’s heart is endowed with awe-inspiring natural features: the Spokane River cascades into a breathtaking waterfall. “Students enjoy exploring this wild and scenic river using numerous hiking and biking trails like the Centennial Trail a 37-mile trail stretching from West Spokane to North Idaho that traverses farmland, basalt canyons and downtown parks,” says Carter.
Seattle is, according to Andrew Turgeon at ACE Seattle, “a dynamic city on the cutting-edge of business and technology”, as well as “a playground for outdoor adventurers and nature enthusiasts”. Turgeon says, “Our students want to experience how a city known for its high-tech and consumer companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks moves and shakes,” he relates. “Whether climbing Mount Rainier, kayaking through the Puget Sound, or watching whales on the San Juan Islands, students love to explore the region’s natural beauty.”
“Students from Germany prefer California for their study abroad experience firstly because of the location. Secondly, most of the Californian universities offer a broad range of study programmes, and they are all very affordable in comparison to other US institutions. Bigger cities such us San Diego and Los Angeles, and their suburbs, are the most popular study destinations for IEC. [Students] enjoy exploring the many different parts of California during their studies, [and] often organise trips to LA, Las Vegas or San Francisco. These students try to see as much of the US as possible.”
Akos Kiraly, IEC Online, Germany
“Every summer I chaperone student groups of 30-to-35 female [students] to California State University, San Marcos, for two weeks. San Marcos is located 45 minutes north from San Diego. It is rather a small city and this is what we like about it. It is very safe which is the most important factor especially for young female students and we also like the weather there. The highlight of the tour is visiting Disneyland. The students also enjoy shopping and every year we go to an outlet shopping mall in Carlsbad where they can buy famous brand bags and clothes at very reasonable prices.”
Robert Tsuji, ISES, Japan
“Students from the Far East (China, Japan, Korea) seem to wish to kill two birds with one stone which means [they want] to enjoy entertainment culture while they study English. The Southern California area has Disneyland and Universal Studios along with beautiful beaches. Students enjoy homestays with American families who normally entertain students by taking them around every corner of everyday American life, such as shopping and amusement arcades and movie [theatres].uthwest and Bahia de Salvador to the northwest.”
Howard Kwon, Associates in Cultural Exchange, Korea