International Students in Popular Culture


Living and studying in a different country is one of the most interesting, amazing, and also in many cases difficult times of any international students life. Only a handful of people get the chance to continue their education abroad, and for many that time will be their first away from their home, and family. As an international student I feel like my depiction in the media is extremely interesting, as it brings light to many views that the American public has towards different religions, ethnicity, and cultures. Also I went in-depth on how the portrayal of American culture around the word has made America such a desirable place for many students around the world. That depiction of American culture can be seen through Hollywood movies, American sports, music, and the countries big role in global fashion, and trends. I will also be looking on how different students from different countries and cultures are treated in real life American college life, and how they are depicted in American movies.  Movies and other forms of American culture, that are currently very popular around the world play a big role in an international students choice to come and study in the United States.


 As my research started I wanted to find a movie where an international student was depicted in a good light. After some research I noticed that in the movie Foreign Student (1994) which was directed by Eva Sereny and written by Menno Meyjes. In the movie the main character (Philippe) is an international student that is French, which is important to underline as throughout my research I have seen a trend of different experiences from students depending on country of origin. Meaning that if the students’ country of origin in romanticized by main stream American culture then that student would have a different experience than someone whose country of origin is seen in a negative light. Going back to the movie I personally I felt like the movie even though was very informative of the depiction of foreign students in America was a little unrealistic. “The script often gives its characters such clumsy material” that can be seen in how quickly Philippe (the main character)  falls into a daring love affair, he also hears Faulkner give a reading, a white Southern girl falls in love with him and he plays in the season’s big football game. All plays on how American movies play a huge role in making an International Students want to come to America, these movies that give an impression that foreign students are kings on campus, plays a big part in an international student’s choice to come to America.

Another very interesting finding that was extremely appealing throughout my research was the whole “party culture” that is so attractive to international students. One of my artifacts was a TV series called Blue Mountain State, which portrays certain aspects of American university life, including American football, sex, binge drinking, drugs, wild partying, and hazing. Although these aspects may not seem very appealing to some American students, a large majority of international students, especially male students would find these aspects of American college life very appealing, and very different to the culture they come from. The freedom that international students get from living alone in a different culture is part of the appeal for coming to the United States, and experiencing new things they wouldn’t of been able to experience in their perspective homelands is also a big part of the appeal.


The Cover of the ‘Blue Mountain State’ series which portrays the certain American University life, including American football, and sex

In alternative part of my research I wanted to look into how other international students, which come from countries less romanticized in American culture, are treated. Examples of countries less romanticized by main stream American culture are Chine, India, Middle Eastern countries, East Asians, and African students. The literature review that I looked into was very well written, and I felt like it gave me a different view on International student’s life, and overall media depiction than the views I was looking at throughout my research. The review talks about how “students from China face considerable more difficulties both academically and socially, given the formidable language and cultural barriers.” This was very interesting for me as most of my research consisted of International students being depicted in a certain light depending on ethnicity, and how they are choosing harder, and more in demand majors compared to their American/US born counterparts. This review sheds light on the difficulties some international students face when they have a completely different culture than the American. Also the review highlights how students that have language barriers, accents, and culture barriers are treated if they come from countries that are considered are romanticized vs. not romanticized. To put in perspective a male with a French accent would find it easier to connect with an American as France, especially Paris is seen in a good light, compared to the same student if he was to be from Pakistan, which is connected to the Taliban in mainstream culture. Also many of the Popular culture today would depict a French international students as a attractive “badass” who has lots of female attention, compared to his Indian counterpart who has no experience talking to the opposite sex, as seen in popular TV series the Big Bang  Theory.


Indian PHD student character in ‘The Big Bang’ TV series Rajesh Ramyan “Raj” Koothrappali who’s principle characteristic was is inability to speak to or around women.

Looking into how the United States would benefit from International students coming, and studying in America, I looked into different articles. One that stood out was  “American schools aren’t producing enough skilled workers for high-tech companies like Microsoft” that was said by Microsoft founder Bill Gates in this article, and that is a big reason young people from across the world attend American universities, to seek out there ‘American Dream.’ The article highlights how “If you look at the computer science department in the top [colleges], the majority of students are not US born. That says something about our education system.” This means that not only is America so appealing to International students for college, it is also appealing for life after college. This gives more backing to my idea that America is not only a fun experience it is a step towards the life an International Student cannot attain in his/her homeland.


A picture seen a lot in many universities websites that promote International Students coming and studying in America

Learning moments

This Pop Culture class has truly been one of a kind, as I was able to learn and go in depth in a culture that plays a huge part in my life. As millennials we get most of our information online, we also spend a fair amount of our social and personal time online. Pop Culture was able to get me to look into this part of my life in a different prospective. I find it interesting that we as a generation are proud of the fact that we questions the norms, and try to be different, but by doing so we are creating these barriers between what we know, and what we don’t know. We spend so much of our time in an online universe consuming so much information, that we forget to truly grasp what’s happening. I’ve learned that certain websites are made to give the user what he/she wants to see, Facebook has a whole algorithm to show you the ads that you want to see that relate to your views, and in doing so we are creating even bigger barriers between people. I personally have this problem as I am so used to seeing ads, and news sites that give me what I want to see that in a way I’m blinded by the fact that there is a whole other perspective. It is good that we see things that make us happy, but to truly grow I feel being fed the news, and the side of the world you want to see is damaging to a person’s true understanding of the world.


Abrams, Corinne. “Why Indian Student Numbers in U.S. Are on the Rise After Three-Year Decline.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 17 Nov. 2015. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

Barta , Patrick . “How International Students Are Changing U.S. Colleges.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, n.d. Web. 07 Mar. 2017.

Falconer , Eric , and Chris Romano. “Blue Mountain State.” BMS. Lionsgate Television. Montreal, Canada , 11 May 2014. Television.

MMAMeetsBoxing. “Foreign Student 1994.” YouTube. YouTube, 23 Sept. 2013. Web. 02 Mar. 2017.

“International Students in the US .” The New York Times. The New York Times, n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.

Tucciarone, Kristy. “How HOLLYWOOD Movies Influence International Students to Study in the United States.” College and University. American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, 01 Apr. 2013. Web. 09 Mar. 2017


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About yousefabdocom

I'm an Egyptian national, currently living and studying in Portland, Oregon. I'm attending Portland State University, and i am currently in my sophomore year majoring in Architecture. I am also part of the PSU men's tennis team, and i feel very lucky to be able to studying and compete in one of the most unique and beautiful cities in the United States.

2 thoughts on “International Students in Popular Culture

  1. Hi Yousef,

    You picked such a unique, great topic. I don’t often hear about the portrayal of international students. Your sources and interpretations were spot on. It’s true that international student characters are often portrayed as either “fitting in” or far from it. I actually had this case in the movie Sixteen Candles. Not only was the International Student’s name made fun of countless times, but he was also portrayed as stupid. I also agree with your last comment. Overall awesome job with your Big Picture assignment!

  2. I liked how your essay turned out. It was such a fun blog to read and I always love learning perspectives of those who are not from the United States. I never really thought about the romanticized cultures and how that impacted students experience. Although it does make sense because I feel that the media growing up has been very bias toward individual countries and really impact people’s opinions on different countries. I also liked learning about the opportunity of education the U.S has. I never thought of this either, when I first read that I definitely became more thankful that although I am an out of state student, I can still go home versus international students who are very limited to when they’re able to see their families. I also realized that I always viewed students studying abroad as a fun experience that they wanted and now I know that this is not necessarily true because not all countries offer the same majors as we have here, which also adds to the pressure of international students succeeding.

    Thank you for sharing,

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