What do students enjoy most when studying in California? “More than anywhere else, experiencing the most emblematic American way of life,” says Krister Weidenhielm at ESL Education. “California offers all sorts of natural environments that are really stunning. The coast facing the west offers everyday magical sunsets,” he adds.
“Students are drawn to the energetic lifestyle of California,” adds Martha Delgadillo, Assistant Director of Operations, West Coast at EC. With schools in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, students really want to be part of the state’s free-spiritedness, she says.
Synonymous with film and celebrity, Los Angeles is hugely appealing to international students. “It’s what they see in the movies!” exclaims Delgadillo. With their centre just five minutes from Santa Monica Beach, it is also home to Pacific Park on the pier and the well-cycled Santa Monica bike path.
California Language Academy is located in Silicon Beach, an area of Los Angeles that is home to large internet corporations and budding tech start-ups. “Google, Facebook, and many others are moving right next door to us,” says the school’s Alissa Olgun. “We are just 15 minutes from the beach, and all of the tourist areas like Hollywood and Beverly Hills are easily accessible,” she adds.
Nadine Baladi at ILSC Education Group, which has a centre in San Francisco, notes that the highest and lowest points in the continental United States are located in California. One hundred miles apart, Mount Whitney measures 14,495 feet (4,418 metres) while Badwater in Death Valley, one of the lowest, driest and hottest areas in North America, is 282 feet (86 metres) below sea level, she says.
The state motto, according to Sean Cochran at the American Language Institute at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), is “Eureka!” meaning “I have found it”, and harks back to 1848 when gold was first discovered near Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, CA. The California State University system, of which CSULB is a part of, produces one in every 20 college graduates in America, notes Cochran.
Applying for a student visa for study in the USA can be lengthy. Patrick Himmelberg at CEL, College of English Language in San Diego and Santa Monica, recommends students book early to ensure plenty of time for their application to go through. To ensure a smooth and speedy process, Delgadillo advises students keep track of deadlines and requirements, make sure they have all their financial documents, I-20 and I-901 receipts in place and, if possible, know the address of where they will be living. “Always start applications early, and be patient; paperwork and administration take time!”
“Many of the California State universities give their students free bus passes,” says Cochran, but for convenience, and with miles upon miles of awesome coastal roads to discover, many students end up buying a car, he adds. The San Francisco Bay Area is best explored using public transport, says Baladi. The city boasts the world’s last manually operated cable car system. Fares cost approximately US$6 for a single ride. Ferry hopping is another transport option, says Baladi, with routes to Alcatraz, Sausalito, Oakland and more. email@example.com
5 places to visit in California
1. Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
One of the most photographed feats of engineering in the world, this iconic suspension bridge spans 4,200 feet (1,300 metres) across the Golden Gate strait and clears approximately 220 metres above high water. Its distinctive colour (officially called ‘International Orange’) was chosen to complement its surroundings and to make the bridge more visible in fog. Delgadillo suggests cycling or walking across it.
2. Alcatraz Island, San Francisco
Also known as ‘The Rock’, this now defunct island prison is a real honey-trap for tourists, but as Baladi notes, it’s a must-see. As America’s premiere maximum security prison from the 1930s to the 1960s, it attempted to reform some of the US’s most notorious criminals through a highly structured and monotonous daily routine.
3. Hollywood Sign, Los Angeles
“Visit the Griffith Observatory to see all across LA and the Hollywood Sign!” enthuses Olgun. Erected in 1923, the 45ft tall sign stands proud on Mount Lee in the Hollywood Hills, and was originally a temporary advertising sign promoting property in the area. There are several hiking routes offering different vantage points, and students should note that the best views are not always the closest. Meanwhile, the observatory has some great exhibits and offers visitors an insight into life beyond planet Earth. Boasting one of the world’s best planetariums, with star projections decorating its famous domed ceiling, stargazers can also enjoy the view through a lens on the roof or front lawn most nights.
4. Californian beaches
Whether you want to swim, surf or sunbathe, beaches in California cater for every whim. “Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach (in LA) are little-known scenic spots to wander around and hang out,” says Olgun. “They are full of locals; you can go surfing and get an authentic Los Angeles experience.” Venice Beach, LA, with its two-and-a-half mile long promenade running parallel to the beach, is bustling with street artists. Huntingdon Beach boasts excellent surf along its 9.5 mile stretch. It hosts the annual US Open of Surfing, the world’s largest surf competition and lifestyle festival, says Cochran.
5. Yosemite National Park
This World Heritage Site is a must-see landmark, says Himmelberg at CEL. Yosemite covers 1,200 square miles and offers a range of activities including biking, hiking, horse riding, fishing, camping, rock climbing and much more. Camera memory cards will be filled with pictures of phenomena including granite cliff El Capitan, natural viewpoint Glacier Point and the Wawona Fallen Tunnel Tree. This 227ft tall giant sequoia tree was used as a tunnel from 1881 up until it fell in 1969.
Tacos, chowder or burger?
San Diego is another major Californian city popular with international students. Food and culture has been greatly influenced by neighbouring Mexico, and Himmelberg recommends local taco shops which serve Mexican food with a Californian twist. “We recommend ordering the California Burrito,” he says, explaining that it is a corn tortilla stuffed with meat and potato and is considered a San Diego staple. Fish tacos are another delicacy, says Delgadillo, consisting of fried fish, cabbage, salsa and a type of sour cream.
If the idea of fried anything is stomach-turning, then look to Los Angeles. As the epicentre of healthy living, “Health food has become a big part of LA food culture,” says Delgadillo, who recommends healthy eating hotspots Tender Greens and Lemonade.
“San Francisco is known for its multicultural diversity, resulting in a fanfare of culinary options,” says Baladi. Clam chowder, traditionally served in a bowl made out of sourdough bread, is relatively inexpensive and can be found down on Fisherman’s Wharf, while Burmese/Asian fusion food is served up at gourmet outfit Burma Superstar in the Inner Richmond District. Curry Up in Mission District, meanwhile, offers a unique take on Indian food, including a Tikka Masala burrito.
“Sometimes called the orchard of the USA, California is famous for wine and fruits,” says Elinor Zucchet from Timpany Language Courses in Spain. “American beef is excellent so all meat lovers should go to a steak house or simply have a burger try it with monterey jack cheese, mushrooms and onion confit, yum!” Students with a sweet-tooth should check out the Cheesecake Factory overlooking Union Square in San Francisco, says Delgadillo. The menu includes around 37 different types to gorge on!