top of page

Dr. Sam Van Damme


University College Dublin




Othering, Orientalism, Community Safety, International Mobility

Thesis Title

Intercultural Communication in Chinese Education: An Immersive Study of the Experiences and Views of Western Students Spending a Semester Abroad


This PhD thesis presents three papers as the core chapters or case studies, each exploring the dynamics of intercultural communication in the context of the internationalization of education from distinct angles. The three papers together offer a unique picture, from the inside, of the Chinese experience of internationalization policies applied in practice in Chinese higher education. Specifically, the thesis considers: what useful insights can be gleaned into the global internationalisation of education when the perspectives of Western students in China are considered and reported directly as part of an immersive mixed methods research process? To date, there has been little analysis of the impact of the study abroad experience in China in terms of participants’ perceptions. This PhD thesis captures the immersive research conducted in China, focussing on the exposure of students to their Chinese daily reality.
The first chapter (paper) explores what factors exist today that can explain Western students’ Othering of Chinese culture and of the ‘locals’ they encounter during their semester abroad in China. It argues that the construction of an image of an ‘Orientalised Chinese society’ by Western students in the first semester can mainly be attributed to (i) negative destination image, (ii) host-cultural rejection and (iii) self-Occidentalisation.
The second chapter (paper) presents the societal dimensions of sense of safety from crime, as shared by western students - regardless of their country origins. The research shows that Western students in Beijing tend to feel safe anytime and anywhere. It argues that this sense of safety can mainly be attributed to four societal dimensions: (i) Confucian harmonious values, (ii) uniformity amongst neighbourhoods, (iii) perceived positive discrimination by Western students and (iv) urban crowdedness.
The third chapter (paper) analyses barriers facing Western students when they seek to foster extensive mutual understanding and friendship with Chinese locals. The first barrier identified is that efforts to deepen mutual understanding are blocked by the unavailability of both English and Chinese as bridge languages. Further findings also show that in terms of efforts to deepen friendship, three further barriers exist: (i) low cultural similarity, (ii) different daily rhythms and (iii) contrasting perceptions of locals as ‘awkward’ in the contrasting forms of either ‘shy’ or ‘pushy’.
Overall, the thesis provides the results of four years of immersive research conducted by a European researcher in the Chinese Higher Education landscape, and contextualises the findings in that framework. This study aims to fill this important gap in existing research literature and to offer some deeper insights into these students’ first-hand experiences, in order to create a broader understanding of how meaning is created in the Chinese higher educational context. The thesis aims to make an original and substantial contribution to the field of International Relations and International Education Studies, and to be of use to future researchers and educators alike.



Dr Sam Van Damme obtained his PhD in Intercultural Communication from University College Dublin. He has been lecturing for over 6 years for University Colorado Denver (Beijing Campus, China) on various topics within Social Sciences for BA, MA, and PhD students (Research Design, Theories and Methods of Political Science, US Foreign Policy, US Politics and Society, Theories of International Relations, Sociology of Chinese Culture, Human Communication and Public Speaking). He also held lecturing positions at China Agricultural University (Beijing) and the University of International Business and Economics (Beijing). His research interests comprise Public Diplomacy and Media, International Mobility, EU-China Relations, Orientalism and Othering, Crises Responses and Community Safety. He generally likes to approach a variety of problems in social science combining perspectives from political science and sociology; topics include political culture and transparency, misperception and conflict, identity politics, cultural capital and generation gaps. Sam speaks 6 languages and has witnessed a fast-changing China in the past 10 years.

bottom of page