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Celebrities Who Studied Abroad

Celebrities Who Studied Abroad main image

Not sure if you want to study abroad? You may be surprised to see how many of your favorite celebrities have spent time abroad as part of their high school or university studies. From the ever-popular UK and US, to romantic France and exotic Costa Rica, celebs have had their fair share of fascinating international student experiences. So, why not follow their example? Besides you never know… you might end up studying alongside the next Hollywood A-lister or the future President of the United States!


1.  Matthew McConaughey

Matthew McConaghey

Hollywood star Matthew McConaughey was born in 1969 in Uvalde, Texas, and graduated in 1993 with a bachelor's degree in Radio-Television-Film from the University of Texas at Austin Communication College. Before that, however, he lived for a year in Warnervale, New South Wales, Australia, as a Rotary exchange student in 1988. After many successful leading roles in the rom com universe, McConaughey made a 180° turn in his career by starring in films like Magic Mike, The Paperboy and Mud. This potentially risky change of direction really paid off in 2013’s acclaimed Dallas Byers Club, a film about Ron Woodroof, an AIDS patient diagnosed in 1980s Dallas. The role, which required McConaughey to lose 38 pounds, brought rave reviews from critics worldwide and earned him his first Academy Award for Best Actor. We hope there’s more to come…


2.  Bradley Cooperbradley_cooper.jpg

“Hangover” star Bradley Cooper was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the US. While attending Germantown Academy he became fluent in French and spent six months as an exchange student in Aix-en-Provence, France. In 2011, while promoting The Hangover Part II, he gave an interview entirely in French, and we suspect his high school study abroad experience had a lot to do with this! Later in 2000, he received an MFA in acting from Actors Studio Drama School at The New School (now the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University) in New York City. His career highlights include being nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in three consecutive years for the films Silver Linings Playbook (2012), American Hustle (2013) and American Sniper (2014).


3.  Brian Molkobrian_molko.jpg

Belgian-British musician Brian Molko is the lead singer, songwriter and guitarist of the famous alternative rock band Placebo. Molko was born in Brussels, Belgium, in 1972 to an American father and a Scottish mother. His father was an international banker, and during his childhood the family lived in many different places, including Dundee, Liberia, Lebanon and Belgium, eventually settling in Luxembourg. There, Molko attended the European School of Luxemburg but had to leave after being severely bullied, and continued his studies in the American International School of Luxemburg. Aged 17, he moved to London, where he completed a degree in drama at Goldsmiths, University of London. In 2012, the university awarded Molko an Honorary Fellowship, recognizing his band’s huge international success and his efforts to challenge gender stereotypes with his androgynous image and musical content.


4.  Harper Leeharper_lee_flickr.jpg

American novelist Harper Lee (the pen name of Nelle Harper Lee) is widely known for her Pulitzer prize-winning bestseller To Kill A Mockingbird, published in 1960, which deals with thorny issues of racial injustice, as well as class and gender stereotypes. Lee was born in 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama. After graduating from high school in 1944, she attended the Huntingdon College in Montgomery for a year and then went to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa to study law. However, she later dropped out and moved to New York to follow her dream of becoming a writer. What you probably don’t know is that while in the summer of her junior year at the University of Alabama, Lee attended the University of Oxford in the UK as an exchange student. Earlier this year, aged 88, Lee published Go Set A Watchman, which reportedly served as a first draft for To Kill A Mockingbird and was written in the mid-1950s. These remain her only two published novels.


5.  Bill ClintonBill Clinton

Another famous American who attended the University of Oxford is Bill Clinton, who served as the 42nd President of the United States of America from 1993 to 2001. Born and raised in Arkansas, he studied at Georgetown University, where he got the Rhodes Scholarship that allowed him to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) in Oxford. While there, he developed an interest in rugby and participated in protests against the Vietnam War. After his time at Oxford, Clinton attended Yale Law School, where he earned his Juris Doctor (JD) degree and met his future wife, Hillary Rodham (now Hillary Rodham Clinton), who is now herself running for election as the next Democratic presidential candidate. In 1996, Bill Clinton became the first Democrat after Franklin D. Roosevelt to have been elected president twice.


6.  Ang Lee

Taiwanese contemporary filmmaker Ang Lee was born in Pingtung, Taiwan, in 1954. In 1978 he moved to the United States and completed a BFA in Theatre/Theatre Direction at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Masters in Film Production at New York University. Lee’s work includes films like Sense and Sensibility, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi. He’s won two Academy Awards for Best Director and numerous other awards at international film festivals. He is the first person of Asian descent to have won an Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA for Best Director.


7.  Mahatma GandhiMohatma Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, commonly known as Mahatma Gandhi, was born in Gujarat, Western India, in 1869. Now a legendary figure worldwide, he became the primary leader of the Indian independence movement when India was still under British rule. The name “Mahatma” came to be known by is taken from the Sanskrit words Maha and Atma which together mean “great soul”. A philosopher, pacifist and advocator for non-violent civil disobedience, he is considered the Father of independent India. But did you know that before he became such a famous leader, he studied abroad? In 1888, aged 18, Gandhi decided to study overseas at the UK’s University College London (UCL) to become a barrister. In 1891 he was called to the bar and was even enrolled in the High Court of London. Later that year, however, he returned to India – putting his preparation for public speaking in the courtroom to a different use.


8.  Vera Wangvera_wang.jpg

American fashion designer Vera Wang was born and raised in New York City to Chinese parents who had immigrated to the United States. Wang spent time studying in France at the University of Paris-Sorbonne (IV Paris), taking art and history courses, and she later earned her degree from Sarah Lawrence College. Early in her career she worked as a senior fashion editor for Vogue magazine and later on spent several years at Ralph Lauren as a design director. She has designed wedding gowns for many famous figures, including Victoria Beckham, Avril Lavigne and Kate Hudson, and many Hollywood stars have shown off Wang’s eveningwear at red carpet events. She is considered one of the most successful and famous fashion designers worldwide and in 2013 was honored with the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award.


Image credit: Wikicommons/Shutterstock/Flickr

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Written by Sofia Konstantzou
Sofia formerly worked for QS's social media team. She holds a Master of Arts in Brands, Communication and Culture from Goldsmiths, University of London. She is originally from Athens, Greece.

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