From strangers to friends: How intercultural friendships develop between mainland Chinese and Hong Kong students

Yick Wah LEUNG

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Theses


Previous intercultural studies suggested that the non-local students who have friendship with locals would show better sociocultural and psychological adaptation in the unfamiliar host-community. Consequently, different researchers examined the intercultural friendship from the communication, psychological and socio-cultural perspective, which offered different lens to explore students' social interaction between cultural groups. Yet, the complicated sociocultural interaction between the sibling cultural groups of mainland Chinese and Hong Kong remain one of the most understudied topics in the field of intercultural friendship study.
Addressing the above research gap, this study adopted Knapp's well-known relational stage model and examined students’ perception through a mixed-method approach. One hundred and fifty-nine students at one Hong Kong university have filled in the survey, while twenty-four students have shared their experiences of mainland-Hong Kong friendship in the semi-structured interview. Five studies were conducted in this thesis.
Study one offered an overview on the Mainland-Hong Kong friendship, which examined the correlation between the number of friends, willingness to communicate in the second language and students’ satisfaction in the friendship between the mainland and Hong Kong groups. Results revealed that mainland students rated their intercultural friendship higher in terms of the number of friends, satisfaction with the friendship quantity, and the willingness to communicate in the second language on average. Moreover, the willingness to communicate is correlated with students’ satisfaction level of intercultural friendship, yet it does not associate with the depth of friendship.
Study two and three focused on the students’ perceived challenges and influential factors at different friendship stages. At the beginning of intercultural friendship, study two revealed that language difference, cultural difference, and the lack of common topics were perceived as the three main challenges. Study three compared students’ perception at different friendship stages, which revealed that value differences and seeking common topics were considered as two main concerns of students at all friendship stages. The propinquity was less recognized at the beginning, but it became vital at the advanced stage. By contrast, language differences played a more crucial role at the beginning, yet they faded away gradually at later stages.
Study four explored the students’ views about university supports towards friendship network formation and intercultural communication, while the findings revealed different mismatches between the policies and practices, and between students’ expectations and university practices.
Study five explored the students’ choices of using online social-network and how the mainland-Hong Kong friendship is affected accordingly. The findings revealed that the instant-messaging platform helps students build up a sense of “presence awareness” and strengthens their pre-existing friendship. The social networking site helped students explore their common interests and concurrently revealed values and cultural differences; This cumulative dissertation sheds light on implications to facilitate intercultural communication and improve student support services at universities, as well as directions for future research. Different from previous friendship studies, this thesis for the first time incorporated variables at different Social-Ecological levels into Knapp’s well-known Relational Stage Model, which enriched the literature of intercultural communication and intercultural friendship development with its theoretical and practical implications. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Education
Awarding Institution
  • The Education University of Hong Kong
  • YU, Baohua, Supervisor
  • WRIGHT, Ewan Thomas Mansell, Supervisor
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Intercultural communication
  • Friendship development
  • Mainland-Hong Kong relationship
  • Cultural difference
  • Online social network
  • Alt. title: 從陌生人到朋友︰如何建立中港學生的跨文化友誼
  • Theses and Dissertations
  • Thesis (Ed.D.)--The Education University of Hong Kong, 2020.


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