Internationalisation outside the classroom: Opportunities and challenges of cultural integration in residential halls – Kevin Yung

The number of non-local students at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) has been on the rise since the promotion of internationalisation. This has led to a pressing need to increase the residential places for non-local students. As recommended by the University Grant Council, approximately one-third of the places in a residential hall shall be allocated to non-local students, and integration between local and non-local students has become one of the university’s “out of classroom” learning goals (The University of Hong Kong, 2011, p. 25). In this article, I discuss the opportunities and challenges of internationalisation in residential halls based on my insight as a past local resident and a current resident tutor, and the data from my own studies investigating university students’ use of language in out-of-class contexts.

Internationalisation in residential halls creates opportunities for students to enhance their university experiences outside the classroom. Hall life plays an important role for students’ whole-person development (Yang & Chau, 2011; Yung, 2016). The Hall Education Development Office (2012) stipulates that “[h]all education is a learning process throughout years of hall life, during which students’ learning experience can be enhanced and the university educational aims can be achieved.” Through participating in hall activities with residents from diverse ethnic backgrounds and cultures, students can expand their social network worldwide and enhance their intercultural awareness. Some local residents travel abroad to visit their non-local friends who have left the hall. Others treasure the opportunity to learn new languages from non-local hallmates while they are teaching them Cantonese and local cultures. Students’ exposure to English is also increased when they use the language as a lingua franca to communicate with non-Cantonese speaking residents in daily life, in addition to formal occasions such as high-table dinners and meetings involving non-local residents (Yung, 2016).

Nevertheless, opportunities come with challenges. The crux of the matter is language barrier, which has been listed as one of the greatest obstacles to internationalisation in many Asia-Pacific higher education institutions (Egron-Polak, Hudson, & International Association of Universities, 2010). Since the majority of the local students speak English as a second language, they may find it challenging to use it as the medium of daily life communication. They may lack the confidence to use English lest they should make mistakes in front of their local peers (Yung, 2016). Even though some students received outstanding English results in secondary school, they lamented that what they had learnt might not be suitable for casual conversations:

I got to know some foreigners in university, and I am not used to talking to them. Maybe the words they are using are not what we have been learning. […] They told me that, while talking to them I used formal English, too formal, and they thought I was not using spoken English. (Lam, as cited in Yung, 2015)

Another situation is that local residents may be too “lazy” to speak English when they have had a long day using it in class, as one of the participants in an ongoing study revealed:

I have already been using English a lot in class. Now after class when I get back to the hall, I want to use a language that I am comfortable with speaking. (Ming, as cited in Yung, ongoing)

It turns out that, in many situations, Cantonese is used in hall functions and daily life. Otherwise, activities for local hallmates and those for non-local are organised separately. For instance, Cantonese is used in the local orientation camp for efficient passing of hall values to local freshmen, and English is used in the non-local orientation camp (see Yung, 2016). The dominant use of Cantonese and separation between the local and non-local students in hall activities may lead to cultural segregation and, as Tsui (2014) observed, a symbol of denying non-Cantonese speaking students’ access to a community dominated by local students.

To achieve the goal of true internationalisation, we need to problematize the assumption that simply “bringing students from diverse backgrounds into the same physical space would create a social space conducive to intercultural understanding” (Tsui, 2014, p. 90). It is important for students to understand the benefits of cultural integration in in-class as well as out-of-class settings and achieve the goal collectively. While many hall traditions are undeniably valuable and should be kept, hall student associations should prioritise cultural integration as a developmental goal, amid the busy hall schedule. Furthermore, local students are encouraged to enhance their intercultural communication skills and English proficiency for social purposes. In this regard, the Centre for Applied English Studies (CAES) has been organising discussion groups, workshops, peer tutoring and English advisory services for students to practise their English and boost their confidence in speaking (see By overcoming the challenges of cultural integration, we could truly embrace the opportunities of internationalisation both inside and outside the classroom.


  • Egron-Polak, E., Hudson, R., & International Association of Universities. (2010). Internationalization of higher education: Global trends regional perspectives – IAU 3rd Global survey report. Paris: International Association of Universities.
  • Hall Education Development Office. (2012). About hall education. Retrieved from
  • The University of Hong Kong. (2011). Quality assurance council audit: Progress report. Retrieved from
  • Tsui, A. B. M. (2014). English as lingua franca on campus: Cultural integration or segregation? In N. Murray & A. Scarino (Eds.), Dynamic ecologies: A Relational Perspective on Languages Education in the Asia-Pacific Region (pp. 75-94). New York, NY: Springer.
  • Yang, M., & Chau, A. (2011). Social involvement and development as a response to the campus student culture. Asia Pacific Education Review, 12(3), 393-402. doi:10.1007/s12564-011-9149-x
  • Yung, K. W. H. (2015). Learning English in the shadows: Understanding Chinese learners’ experiences of private tutoring. TESOL Quarterly, 49(4), 707-732. doi:10.1002/tesq.193
  • Yung, K. W. H. (2016). Identity formation in a multicultural university residential hall: An ethnographic narrative inquiry of a local–non-local ‘hybrid’. Language and Intercultural Communication, 16(4), 519-534. doi:10.1080/14708477.2016.1159692
  • Yung, K. W. H. (ongoing). English as the medium of integration: Experiences of local and non-local undergraduates at a hall of residence in Hong Kong.
Dr. Kevin W. H. Yung
Dr. Kevin W. H. Yung

Lecturer, Centre for Applied English Studies
Senior Resident Tutor, Simon K. Y. Lee Hall
The University of Hong Kong

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