Working Paper 98
International Education in Hong Kong: Paradoxes in Intercultural Communication, Adaptation, and Acculturation Strategies
Published August 2023

Countries in East Asia that have traditionally been sources of international students are now being regarded highly desirable destinations for higher education. Yet little is known about the experiences of international students in East Asia as most research focuses on those in the Anglophone West. In this study, we explored the intercultural communication, adaptation, and acculturation strategies of international students in Hong Kong. We conducted in-depth interviews with international students from other Asian countries (n=14) and Western countries (n=10). Our findings identified a paradox between the international students’ enthusiasm to engage with students from other backgrounds and a lack of interactions and friendships with local students. First, cultural and language differences were perceived to create a wall separating them from the local students, inhibiting a cosmopolitan learning environment. Second, international students primarily identified with peers with a shared national or cultural background who could provide a readymade community. Third, international students often reported sociocultural adaptation challenges and feelings of being outsiders, potentially exacerbating psychological adaptation problems. Based on our findings, we propose a framework depicting interactive and responsive relationships among intercultural communication, adaptation, and acculturation. We conclude by putting forward initiatives aimed at realising the benefits of international student mobility for both international and local students.