Aug 8, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

What do actress Natalie Portman, human rights leader Archbishop Desmond Tutu and basketball players Steve Nash have in common, aside from being famous? They all studied abroad. And they’re just three of the many celebs who’ve benefited from the powerful and transformative impact of international studies. Read on for a roundup of actors, academics, authors, activists and more who have studied abroad.



1. Bradley Cooper

How strong are Bradley Cooper’s French language skills after having spent six months in a student exchange program in Aix en Provence? When he travels to France, he gives his interviews exclusively in French.

While Cooper reportedly took English language coursework, he attributes his fluency to his time living with a host family, according to The Hollywood Reporter.  But what drove him to France in the first place? The inspiration came from a childhood viewing of Chariots of Fire. Cooper told People, “So there’s a scene where a guy was speaking French and I thought, ‘Man, that sounds so cool. I want to learn French.’”

Swoon for yourself here:



2. Albert Einstein

Revered genius (and developer of the theory of relativity) Albert Einstein was born in Germany, where he attended elementary school. He did both his bachelor’s and doctorate in Switzerland, however, before eventually making his home in the U.S.

Einstein also traveled frequently, and was a member of the League of Nations' International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation, an organization which promoted international exchange between scientists, researchers, teachers, artists and intellectuals.


3. Harper Lee

International studies can help you reach your academic and career goals, but they can also help you refine or redirect them correctly. Such was the case for To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee. According to the University of Oxford’s Department for Continuing Education website, the young American law student’s time in summer school in England there was a strategic move by her father aimed at “get[ting] literature out of her system so that she would concentrate on her law studies.”

Instead, upon completion of the program, Lee returned to Alabama, dropped out of school and headed to New York City to pursue her writing dreams. The Telegraph has identified this as a defining moment in her illustrious career.


4. Mahatma Gandhi

Young Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi -- who would grow up to be Mahatma -- faced many of the same obstacles many students do when contemplating international studies. For starters, his mother was disapproving and didn’t want to see him so far away. And then there was the cost. But he persevered in his desire to see the world, and eventually made his way from India to England, where he studied law and was eventually admitted as a barrister.

Said the Indo American News of Gandhi's time in England, “Those were days of great intellectual activity, and there was tolerance for every school of thought. The country as a whole was a living university. As Gandhi sailed for home on the S.S. Assam, he felt that, next to India, he would rather live in England than any other place in the world.”



5. Ang Lee

At age 24, Taiwanese contemporary filmmaker Ang Lee moved to the US, where he received a BFA in Theatre/Theatre Direction and an MA in Film Production. Says Oxford Bibliographies of the Oscar winner’s pioneering career, “Lee has not only brought international attention to Chinese-language cinema, but also has gone beyond his Taiwanese and Chinese cultural roots to speak to audiences all over the world. His multiple affinities with Taiwan, Hollywood, and Chinese-language cinemas have resulted in a rich amount of scholarly works on an international scale. In examining Ang Lee and his works, scholars and critics investigate perspectives on how Lee’s films are able to cut across cultural, national, and sexual boundaries. Primarily, Lee’s ability to blend artistic and philosophical sources from diverse backgrounds successfully in both Eastern and Western cultures has made him a distinguished and versatile director.”

Furthermore, Oxford Bibliographies highlights the role Lee’s bilingualism has played in his success: “The director’s proficiency in translating between Eastern and Western cultures enables him to reinvent the conventions in both English- and Chinese-language films.”



6. Vera Wang

Heralded for her unique ability to balance the modern and the tradition in her exquisite designs, Vera Wang is one of the bridal wear industry’s most prominent designers. (Vera Wang brides have included Victoria Beckham, Hilary Duff, Alicia Keys, Kaley Cuoco, Mariah Carey, Chelsea Clinton and two Kardashians.) 

Given Paris’s status as an epicenter of fashion, it’s hardly a surprise that Wang --  born and raised in New York City to Chinese parents -- studied art and history there before earning a degree back in the U.S.

Credit: CNN.com7. Anderson Cooper

While it’s typical for students to integrate international students into the undergraduate years, the benefits of studying abroad are profound -- at any point in your career.  Take Cooper, for example. After working as a journalist for a spell, he moved to Vietnam to study Vietnamese.  During that time, he also began selling his reports on Vietnamese life and culture to Channel One, which helped bolster his ascent to media superstar.

The takeaway? While international studies are a leap of faith, they’re also a leap in the right direction. Will you look back on your own study abroad experiences as a pivotal part of your fame and fortune some day? You’ll never know until you go!

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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