San Diego is considered a language school magnet – and with good reason. The climate, beaches and village-like charm attract language students from all corners of the world. “America’s Finest City” is a great place to combine study with pleasure.

Whether the goal is to improve an English grade, advance a career or for personal reasons, whether for a few weeks, a few months or a full year: studying a language abroad is always beneficial. Students with previously little enthusiasm for learning vocabulary and grammar become more motivated, sometimes within just two or three weeks, when meeting people from other countries and finding themselves able to interact in that erstwhile unappreciated language.

Language skills have become increasingly more important for a career. Nowadays, many job profiles require good or very good English. For most executive positions, it is considered essential. In job applications, language studies abroad are weighted very strongly. And many employers are generous about granting such stays — especially if the result is a language diploma.

Photos: pictures provided/Boa Lingua

Guidance in the maze of language schools

Such was the case for Luca Ruch from the canton of Thurgau, HR specialist at the Thurgau Cantonal Bank (“Thurgauer Kantonalbank”). Luca spent nine weeks studying English in San Diego – and then took some additional unpaid leave. "I had a fantastic time. My stay abroad is definitely just as good for my CV as any job-specific further education." Luca Ruch is convinced of that. San Diego was not a random choice for him: "My sister also went there to learn English. She was so enthusiastic about the city and the school that I basically had no choice but to go there too," Luca adds with a smile.

But how to find the right language school if you don’t have a sister to advise you? The choice of destinations and schools is vast, with databases like listing as many as 2,587 schools in 83 countries. "Choosing a competent language travel specialist is essential," Lukas Krebs of Boa Lingua explains. "We offer a choice of 300 schools, and we know them all personally. We are happy to help with selecting the right course. That advice is free of charge." According to Jennifer Hipfl from EF, preparation is also key: "Studying a language abroad is not the same as a holiday. For many language students, this is the first time they have ever been fully immersed in a foreign language and a foreign culture. "Getting used to a new environment can be challenging and take some time." That is why many language schools offer special orientation meetings before the trip, so as to prepare students for the first few days in the new environment.

Host family or student hostel?

In principle, language travel specialists offer sojourns for people of all ages. There are special courses for young teenagers aged 13 to 18 and for young adults, as well as for adults whose goal is to master a language at a professional level. The choice of accommodation is not only a matter of personal preference, but also a question of age. Very young students usually feel most comfortable living with a host family. This is also to be recommended if gaining insight into the customs and traditions of the host country is a priority. A real glimpse into people’s everyday lives says much more than a thousand image brochures can ever express. In addition, the more a language is spoken in everyday situations, the greater the progress.

Slightly older students often decide to live in a student hostel, like Luca Ruch, who booked his stay via Boa Lingua. "I wanted to organise my own free time, without having to take other people into consideration, "he explains. "The students in the hostel come from all over the world, so English is widely spoken. English is also needed to communicate in daily situations, like shopping and going out." Luca also joined a local soccer team which allowed him to get to know the San Diego way of life — "not just in terms of sports but also in culinary terms", he adds with a laugh.

Ideal conditions for language stays

Getting the wrong impression of an envisaged place of study does occur, says Jennifer Hipfl. "Los Angeles, for example, is not necessarily the Hollywood seen in the movies. Rather, it is a huge city in which it can be hard to get around." San Diego also has some major advantages over other destinations. Lukas Krebs of Boa Lingua: "The climate is less humid compared to Miami, the weather is much better and the beaches are nicer than in England, and it is easier to reach than Australia, which makes San Diego suitable for shorter stays as well."

According to Lukas Krebs, there is good reason for San Diego’s popularity as a place to study English: "San Diego offers a bit of everything. Good climate all year round. All the perks of a big city combined with stunning beaches and good English schools." Though a city, it is easy to find your way around in San Diego. "It has a very lively cultural scene, and there are activities to suit all interests and tastes. Furthermore, San Diego is a great starting point for travel within California, including to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon." Luca Ruch made the most of this. After completing his course, he hired a car and travelled around for three weeks. On his return, he rented a motorbike and spent another two weeks exploring San Diego and surroundings.

A bit of surfing and plenty of baseball

Throughout his stay, Luca Ruch thoroughly enjoyed the Californian lifestyle. After school, he would go to the fitness centre, followed by dinner with friends — his favourite restaurant choices being Sushi Deli and The Cheesecake Factory (known in Switzerland from the TV hit series "The Big Bang Theory"). Then on to the Gaslamp Quarter. Besides learning to surf a bit. Luca discovered a passion for another sport: baseball. As a result, Petco Park —which is home to the San Diego Padres baseball team— soon became one of his favourite spots. "It’s amazing how quickly a conversation is struck up with people there. As soon as the person sitting next to you realises you’re not from the US and have no idea about baseball, he’ll explain the rules of the game to you. I think that’s fantastic and not something we Swiss are used to. "

San Diego is also a very safe city, Luca Ruch adds. "There is no problem to walk around the city, even at 4 in the morning. "And, according to Luca, no problems ensue at school the next day either: "Everyone here is relaxed and friendly, including the teachers." What with all the fun, did he actually get round to studying? Luca laughs. "Well I passed my exams and got my diploma." And Luca knows one thing for sure: "I definitely want to visit San Diego again. The sooner, the better."

(Text: Sandra Casalini)