International Students Discuss American Media Influence


Warm orange sunsets pouring over mountains into valleys where miners are bowed over, sifting through bits of earth and picking out the diamonds that queens wear around their necks — these are things Maria Arnolta Koroma remembers about her home in Sierra Leone, Africa.

But when Koroma talks about her home country with others, there is a misconception on what life in Africa is like.

“Because of the media, Americans think Africa is a poor, third world country,” Koroma, a sophomore studying pre-med, said.

Some international students at Ohio University said they are shocked when American students ask questions about their home countries. The questions often reveal perceptions that are ill-informed and adopted from media or movies.

“When people ask me about Africa, they imagine it as elephants and mud huts,” Koroma said. “It’s funny because America gets so much stuff from Sierra Leone like oil and diamonds, and they don’t even know what the modern culture (there) is like.”

Koroma talked about a recent devastating mudslide in Sierra Leone and how there wasn’t nearly as much coverage like the relief programs for Hurricane Harvey. The mudslide claimed nearly 500 lives, according to CNN.

“So many people died in the mudslide,” she said. “(But) you don’t hear about any relief for them.”

Koroma said there are some differences between American and African culture, but none so extreme.

“Daily life is not so different. We go to the beach, we go to school. We have good school programs,” she said. “In American schools they need to teach more about African history. It helps kids to know there are other places besides America.”

Teacups filled with chai clinking in the morning, one refreshment among many at a beautiful wedding that will last almost a month, jubilant with feasting and dancing — these are things Sundus Zahra remembers about her home in Islamabad, Pakistan.

“I did my undergraduate thesis on “Pakistan through a Hollywood Lense: A Textual Analysis.” The American media have a big influence on Pakistani culture,” Zahra, a graduate student studying journalism, said.

Zarah said American media play a huge role in deciding the narrative and image of other countries portrayed to the world and often times, the media focus only on the bad.

“I want Americans to focus on selective news, it's even worse than fake news because when you select only the bad parts to show, you believe that place is bad,” Zarah said.

Hollywood movies would also sometimes portray major cities as underdeveloped, Zarah said.

“We used to make fun of Hollywood all the time because they don’t do basic research,” she said. “They’ll mix up Middle Eastern culture with Pakistan. Then Americans think this is what it’s really like, when in reality Pakistan is more similar to India.”

Gazing from the bow of a yacht across the turquoise Red Sea at the beach, where people play among the waves that melt onto the shore — these are things Omar Halawani remembers about his home in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

“I think a lot of Americans live in their own world,” Halawani, a senior studying aviation, said.

Halawani describes the people of Athens as friendly and said he enjoys attending school here.

However, he said he believes Americans in general could benefit from researching further into the many diverse cultures of the world. He grew up in Jeddah, a city by the ocean and “because of media, Americans often think of Saudi Arabia as some oil-rich desert.”

“But we have strong culture and beautiful cities,” Halawani said.

In the reverse, Koroma, Zarah, and Omar all mentioned their countries have experienced some sort of Americanization through the influence of the media.

Zarah said it’s natural for anybody moving to a foreign country to have generalized ideas of the place they’re migrating to, but it’s better to wait and form your own opinion than believe what the media portrays.

“It’s best to have an open mind,” Zarah said.