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Opinion

Commentary: New language institute will enrich cultural life in Costa Mesa

EF school.JPG
This rendering shows the EF Education First international language campus planned for 3150 Bear St. in Costa Mesa.
(Courtesy of city of Costa Mesa)

At a recent council meeting, I listed Costa Mesa’s 2019 highlights, including opening a 50-bed shelter for those experiencing homelessness, transforming Lions Park with our beautiful new Donald Dungan Library and hiring our new city manager, Lori Ann Farrell Harrison, following a nationwide search.

One accomplishment that will benefit our community for years occurred at our Dec. 17 council meeting when we approved a development agreement with EF Education First.

EF was founded in 1965 and now has facilities in 52 countries that provide language learning, travel and cultural exchange programs.

In Costa Mesa, EF will be located on Bear Street, right off the 405 on the site formerly owned by the Trinity Broadcasting Network. EF will operate an International Language Campus for 1,300 students, predominantly ages 18 to 26 years.

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The students will come from throughout the world to Costa Mesa for intensive English-immersion studies. Some EF students will live with host families in Costa Mesa and our neighboring cities, while the remaining students will live on-site in student residences managed by the school.

City staff worked for months with EF on the entitlements and the development agreement for this project. Likewise, EF’s staff did a masterful job of outreach to address neighborhood concerns.

Costa Mesa will be one of only four cities in California with an EF campus (the others are Santa Barbara, San Francisco and San Diego).

EF will create 70 jobs on campus as well as $48 million in construction jobs to build out the facilities. EF has agreed to contribute $1.8 million to the city over 15 years for infrastructure improvements. EF’s property taxes will fund our local public schools with over $500,000 per year.

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Over time, EF’s affluent student base will pump millions into our local businesses and broaden Costa Mesa’s reach internationally, leading to increased tourism.

But enough about money. While the economic benefits of the project are substantial, the cultural benefits to Costa Mesa, particularly our young students, could be even more significant.

For instance, EF has agreed to sponsor a contest each year for high school students in which the winning team of three to five students and two chaperones will receive an all-expenses paid educational trip to another country. That contest is but a small aspect of EF’s potential cultural impact on our community.

When it comes to the benefits of international study, I speak from personal experience. Growing up, I wasn’t exposed to international travel. At the urging of my freshmen sociology professor, I studied for one year in Copenhagen, Denmark. My time living in Europe taught me that the world does not revolve around Southern California, among many other life lessons.

My family has hosted several foreign exchange students, including a Venezuelan EF exchange student who graduated from Estancia High School in 2006. Two of my children studied in Europe in college, and my youngest just returned from volunteering in Honduras.

Having EF’s campus in Costa Mesa will be like having a mini-United Nations in our town. Our residents will have an opportunity to interact with students of diverse backgrounds. The addition of EF to Costa Mesa will expose our residents, especially our students, to opportunities for international study and travel, making us better citizens of Costa Mesa and the world.

John Stephens is the mayor pro tem of Costa Mesa.

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