Internationalisation and intercultural learning
: a study of students' perceptions of their intercultural learning experiences via short-term study abroad programmes in a self-financed sub-degree institution in Hong Kong

  • Pui Yee E Chan

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education (EdD)


Spurred by internationalization, short-term study abroad (STSA) programmes have been increasingly adopted by higher education (HE) for enhancing students’ global perspectives. However, students’ intercultural learning through STSA was under-researched in the context of the fast-evolving self-financed sector of Hong Kong HE.
This study investigated students’ intercultural learning experiences through STSA programmes in a self-financed sub-degree institution in Hong Kong. Based on the Process Model of Intercultural Competence (Deardorff, 2006), this study explored the process of students’ intercultural development from STSA experiences. A qualitative case study methodological approach was employed. Data was collected by semi-structured interview, photo-elicitation and reflective report of fourteen students participating in three different STSA programmes of the institution; and semi-structured interview with the three teachers-in-charge. Data was then coded and analysed by thematic analysis.
This study argued that intercultural learning in STSA in this context could be explained by the Process Model of Intercultural Competence (Deardorff, 2006) but what promotes the process of intercultural development from one constituent element to the other seemed missing in the framework. Meaningful intercultural contact or exchange with the host culture is essential for promoting intercultural development. Furthermore, students’ intercultural development is context-based as programme features, accommodation, students’ openness to differences would affect students’ interaction opportunities with the local culture differently.
Findings revealed that students perceived ‘cultural knowledge’ and ‘cultural exchange’ as two major aspects of intercultural learning in STSA. Students described the host culture and lifestyles as ‘spacious and green’, ‘slow pace’, ‘participative classroom’, ‘expressive style’, ‘high tolerance’ and ‘strong national identification’, which they perceived opposite to Hong Kong.
Students sought cultural knowledge by using cognitive skills to ‘observe, listen, evaluate, analyse, interpret and relate’ and constantly made comparison with their self-culture to identify cultural differences and enhance awareness of their self-culture. Yet, such awareness of cultural differences between their own and host cultures was superficial to develop new frames of reference for intercultural development. STSA programmes should be intentionally designed and implemented to facilitate intercultural contact for deeper intercultural learning. This study enriched our theoretical understanding of intercultural development and provided suggestions for policy makers in formulating STSA programmes in the self-financed HE sector. As the self-financed sector plays an equal part as the public sector in developing graduates for the globalized market, further research on intercultural learning and STSA programmes should be necessitated.
Date of Award6 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorLisa Lucas (Supervisor) & E V Washbrook (Supervisor)


  • intercultural learning
  • short-term study abroad
  • Internationalisation
  • thematic analysis

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