The United States today is home to over a million international students. Being the world’s largest hub of the world’s international students brings with it an estimated 20 billion dollars into the economy each year. The US is clearly the most attractive destination for students seeking an education abroad. This is largely due in part to the quality of its higher education institutions which offer a wide variety of education paths. However,going beyond university rankings and standards of education, there could be other factors that attract individuals to the US. One such entity that may influence a student’s choice is the medium of film.

The soft power of Hollywood

With its power to transform and share ideas, culture and experiences, film is a powerful medium of communication with an audience. While a person from Nigeria and a person from South Korea may not share a common cultural heritage, they both may be able to recognise cinematic icons like Indiana Jones or Harry Potter. The words “Luke, I am your father” resonate with people around the world. The American film industry dominates the global market and provides an avenue for the proliferation of American ideals. Hollywood has
proliferated the international film market and has brought America to the world as described by Powder maker (1950) in Sigismondi (2012) “Hollywood is a unique American phenomenon with a symbolism not limited to this country. It means many things to many people.” The propensity of Hollywood films coerces people to the United States and makes the country seem like an attractive destination. It contributes to what International Relations scholars label as soft power. “What is soft power? It is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments” writes Joseph Nye, “It arises from the attractiveness from a country’s culture, political ideals and policies.” Cinema contributes significantly to a country’s soft power. According to Andrew Ibbi (2013) “Hollywood movies are key cultural artefacts that offer a window into American cultural and social history.” American films sell the idea of the American dream to people around the world. The infamous ethos of the United States life can be better for anyone and opportunities are given to you based on merit and not based on social class or the accident of birth. These beliefs of course are attractive to everyone regardless of where they may be in the world. Ideas of individualism, liberty and personal freedoms that are often core themes of many Hollywood films appeal to young minds that lean towards non-conformism and autonomy. Thus, by selling the American dream and individualism to the world, Hollywood serves to attract many to the United States.

The effect on students

Films are the medium of a choice for a number of youths who have multiple avenues to consume American films and television. Contemporary college students are deeply surrounded by and immersed in popular culture (Bourke,2013). The impact on students is
rather prominent. Perception of students of foreign places are predominantly shaped by exposure to media especially Hollywood films. Arjun Appadurai describe the “relationship between mass-mediated events and migratory audiences” as “the core of the link between globalization and the modern.” For students, international education is not just about the course they choose or the degree they will receive at the end of it. It also has a lot to do with experiencing a different culture and a chance to build a new life. A kind of life they envisage based on what they see in film and television. Not only does it affect the country a student chooses to travel to for education, it also affects their choice of university. Sir Anthony Seldon, vice chancellor of Buckingham University and former headmaster of Wellington College, says: “Television and film portrayals of schools and universities are far more important in opinion formation I think than generally realised.” A survey of South Korean and Chinese students showed that almost two-thirds of students were influenced by the depiction of
American universities and colleges in films (Tucciarone). Films such as The Social Network, A Beautiful Mindand Legally Blonde which are set in American universities can create a certain perception about a school. The Social Network, based on the events surrounding the creation of Facebook, borders on glamorizing the life of students in Harvard. It creates an almost fantastical image of a real place in the mind of a student. Universities are also reacting to the effect films have on potential incoming students. The University of Leicester for example, has been the location for a number of Bollywood films. “This has helped to create a
narrative for the university and definitely raised awareness of us in India” says University spokesperson Ather Mirza. With universities trying to attract students in an increasingly globalised international student market, film represents a unique avenue for them to explore.
This further reinstates the impact it can have on a student’s choice of higher education.

College and counsellors

Not only do films have an impact on student’s perceptions and decision making. They are also crucial in helping them understand American culture. For students travelling to the US, being accustomed to certain Hollywood films can go a long way in them learning about America. The aforementioned Star Wars, Pulp Fiction and The God-father are iconic and have entered the American imagination. If even a small number of the above movie moments are familiar to you, then you are already familiar with a big piece of American culture. Movies are a universal commonality. They are a way to bond with people. Movies lay bare everything from our technological breakthroughs to our hopes, wishes, nightmares,and dreams. Collectively, they represent the vivid imagination and potential of any culture. Thus, they
become crucial to understanding America.

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