Differing experiences of internationalisation as a Chinese PhD student in an Irish university – Yueying Gong, and Ann MacPhail.

This blog is inspired by Bowen Zhang who posted a blog questioning the extent to which her postgraduate experience was truly ‘international’ given the large number of Chinese female students (like herself) who populated many of her modules.

 We refer, where appropriate, to the two concepts referred to in the blog, ‘internationalisation at home’ and ‘internationalisation abroad’. Interestingly, Yueying’s postgraduate experiences in Ireland as a Chinese female student had few similarities and many differences from Bowen’s learning experiences noted in her blog. This has driven us to share Yueying’s experiences as an international student who undertook her PhD studies focusing on (physical education) teacher education in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences (PESS), at the University of Limerick (UL), Ireland.

Internationalisation perceived as at home and abroad

English language classes

Yueying’s first experience in coming to Ireland as a postgraduate student was to undertake pre-sessional English language classes to achieve the required English language requirements. The majority of those undertaking the classes were Chinese. This short study experience resonated with both ‘internationalisation at home’ due to the learning environment feeling more (unintentionally) domestic given the number of Chinese participants and ‘internationalisation abroad’ due to a geographical relocation. On successful completion of the English language classes, Yueying exposure to internationalisation as a postgraduate student residing in a university Department was significantly different.

Postgraduate research opportunities

Yueying was the first Chinese research postgraduate student to study in the Department of PESS and one of few international students. Yueying’s module classmates across the faculty in which she undertook her PhD studies were from many countries, including Germany, Ireland, Thailand, and the US. Throughout her period of study in the Department of PESS, given the lack of international research students enrolled in the Department, Yueying’s exposure to internationalisation was more reliant on the internationalisation of the sport pedagogy faculty and associates (to which her are of study closely aligned to). Interestingly, most of the group were not Irish and included colleagues from Canada, Ireland, Italy, Spain, the UK and the US. Yueying’s exposure to internationalisation was further heightened by being part of a community of international PhD students who were registered in universities in other countries (e.g., Portugal) and being supervised by the sport pedagogy faculty. In experiencing such diverse cultures, Yueying felt strongly connected to other researchers from different nations. Such internationalisation allowed PhD students, researchers and academics from different nations to learn, teach, and communicate collaboratively. The resulting exposure to such opportunities afforded Yueying ‘internationalisation at home’ in that the context provided an internationally focused learning experience within the domestic sport pedagogy environment cultivated in the Department of PESS. It also afforded ‘internationalisation abroad’ in the sense that Yueying’s geographical relocation exposed her to opportunities for cross-border education. There is an admittance from Yueying that ‘internationalisation at home’ is difficult to achieve as a Chinese postgraduate student studying at a Chinese university is likely to be exposed only to Chinese classmates and teachers/lecturers (only a few of them are from other countries at the top Chinese universities, e.g., Beijing Sport University). Another important element of internationalisation arose through professional and social engagements attached to the sport pedagogy faculty and associates and included attendance at international conferences (e.g., China, UK, USA) and funded European projects (e.g., Turkey).          

Returning ‘home’

On successfully completing her PhD studies, Yueying returned to China over a year ago. Given that she has returned to a predominantly Chinese population, she shares that it has been difficult to access ‘internationalisation at home’ as well as convince others of the importance of the same. In the process of looking for a position in higher education in China, she has realised that she has returned to a much less diverse environment with respect to internationalisation, with faculty in many universities from the local province. Yueying relies on an online professional learning community that is facilitated by her PhD supervisor and continues to provide time, space and opportunities for Yueying to connect with international PhD students and post-Doctoral candidates. Yueying hopes that as she begins to contribute to Chinese higher education, that she can similarly afford her (research) students’ elements of an international education as well as continue to maintain her interest in contributing to the internationalisation of research activity in (physical education) teacher education.


Yueying Gong completed her PhD within the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick, Ireland in 2022. The title of her thesis is ‘Chinese university-based physical education teacher educators’ professional learning and development needs’.

Contact: yueying.gong@outlook.com

Ann MacPhail is Assistant Dean Research in the Faculty of Education and Health Sciences and a member of the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick, Ireland. Ann’s main teaching and research interests are in (physical education) teacher education.

Contact: Ann.MacPhail@ul.ie. Follow on Twitter: @AnnMacPhail1. ResearchGate

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