What do Emma Watson, King Abdullah II and Penelope Cruz have in common?

(Shutterstock, © AP images)

Record numbers of international students are coming to the United States to study.

They will have something in common with these celebrities, all of whom studied here at some point. These eight gravitated toward diverse programs of study — learning foreign languages, law or theater, for instance — and all have fond memories of their school days.

Lupita Nyong’o

Lupita Nyong’o at the Festival de Cannes in 2015 (Shutterstock)

In 2007, Mexican-born, Kenyan-raised actress Lupita Nyong’o earned her bachelor’s degree in film and theater studies from Hampshire College in Massachusetts. A few years later, she returned to the U.S. to earn a master’s degree in fine arts at Yale University’s School of Drama.

“My training at Yale is the core of the actor that I am,” Nyong’o said in an interview with Vogue magazine. “Before that I was just going on instinct … having my imagination take over. But Yale taught me that it’s about giving yourself permission to pretend.” One year after graduating from Yale, she earned her first Oscar for the film 12 Years a Slave. “The idea that you can be self-made is very vibrant in America,” she said. “You can do anything that you want to do. That spirit pushes you on.”

King Abdullah II

King Abdullah II of Jordan with his wife, Queen Rania (© AP Images)

King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein of Jordan attended middle school and secondary school in Deerfield, Massachusetts. He enjoyed the private, college-prep schools and has since founded a boarding school in Jordan based on their approach. American teachers, he said, “taught me more than algebra and English. They instilled in me a desire to do service.”

After working for some years in the Jordanian military, King Abdullah returned to the U.S. to attend Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in a program designed for people in midcareer.

Emma Watson

Emma Watson after commencement at Brown University in 2014 (© AP Images)

Before enrolling at Brown University to study literature, Emma Watson had gained international fame from her role as Hermione in the Harry Potter series of movies. She chose an American college because American schools allow students to study many subjects at once. Watson told Yahoo, “I love history. I love English. I paint and draw, so I love visual arts. … I am happy that I got to experience it [all].”

Dikembe Mutombo

Dikembe Mutombo shoots for the Houston Rockets in a playoff game against the Utah Jazz. (© AP Images)

This scholar came to Georgetown University in Washington to study medicine. But at 2.18 meters, Dikembe Mutombo was quickly asked to play basketball. His initial answer? “I’m here to study.” But by the end of his freshman year he relented and started playing college ball, which led to an 18-year career in the National Basketball Association.

His take on college? “I met so many wonderful people. Those people ended up being part of my family, including all of the student and faculty members.”

“The culture is a little bit different, especially coming from Africa,” he said. “You come to the land of opportunity where everybody is chasing a big dream,” Mutombo said. In addition to playing basketball, he also pursued other dreams: He landed an internship in Congress and studied diplomacy and linguistics.

Kofi Annan

Kofi Annan speaks at the World Economic Forum in 2007. (Courtesy photo)

The former secretary-general of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Prize winner attended Macalester College in Minnesota for his undergraduate studies. After working as a Ghanaian diplomat, he returned to study in the U.S., earning a master’s degree in management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Recently, Annan was introduced to students at his alma mater, Macalester, with a mention of his accomplishments in a 1960 table-tennis tournament. “I hope the students in the group don’t walk away with the impression that the most important achievement … or the most important activity is Ping-Pong,” Annan said, “because I noticed that got the loudest applause.” But then he joked, “I must admit, it is fun to play Ping-Pong.”

Kim Jae Seop

“AJ,” also known as Kim Jae Seop (center), with fellow U-KISS members (Courtesy photo)

A member of the K-pop band U-KISS, “AJ,” or Kim Jae Seop, studies psychology at Columbia University. He rarely gets noticed by New Yorkers, but he told the New York Post newspaper that one night, missing Korean food desperately, he went to Koreatown, where after eating dinner, he was greeted by a fan declaring, “I’m a KissMe!” (U-KISS fans call themselves KissMes.) “Someone in New York recognized me as a singer. I took a picture with her,” AJ said.

Penelope Cruz

Penelope Cruz poses on the red carpet before a special screening of “The Counselor.” (Shutterstock)

Cristina Rota’s theater school in New York is where Penelope Cruz enrolled before going on to take roles in movies such as Todo sobre mi madre, Vanilla Sky and Volver. She made her debut in music videos after seeing an ad in a window in New York.

Cruz told El Mundo that part of the attraction of U.S. study was the high chance of finding acting jobs here, where the film industry is large.

Christiane Amanpour

Christiane Amanpour at Glamor Magazine’s 2005 Women of the Year Awards (Shutterstock)

Born in London and raised in Tehran, Iran, Christiane Amanpour came to the U.S. to study journalism at the University of Rhode Island. She credits her career-mindedness for her later success, telling Harvard Business Review, “Many undergraduates don’t know what they want to do, so most of them put off the final decision and go to graduate school.”

One day you could be wildly successful and be included on a list like this. Take a first step and find out how to study in the U.S. from EducationUSA. Learn how international students are thriving at U.S. colleges from ShareAmerica.