Sense of Belonging and the Intercultural and Academic Experiences Among International Students at a University in Northern Ireland




International students, belonging, acculturation, student adjustment, student experience


Higher education institutions have a strong interest in attracting international students; however, there is little research on international students’ experience while studying in the UK and how this relates to their adjustment and belonging. This research was conducted with 16 international students at an institution in Northern Ireland, using qualitative interviews to examine academic and sociocultural challenges they experience while studying and living in a new country. Findings suggest that the academic challenges posed by a different educational system, issues affecting social relations within the campus, and living in a homogenous society have an impact on the international student experience. Adjustment challenges were primarily attributable to language and cultural barriers. These findings highlight that it is vital for institutions to better understand students’ needs and tailor their services to enhance international students’ learning experience. The study discusses possible areas for intervention that can be taken into consideration by HEIs.

Author Biographies

Elida Cena, Queen's University Belfast, UK

ELIDA CENA, PhD is a Lecturer of Psychology (Education) at Queen’s University Belfast, School of Psychology. Her research interests focus on exploring international migration; belonging and ethnic identity; and international student experience. She can be reached via email at

Stephanie Burns, Queen's University Belfast, UK

STEPHANIE BURNS, PhD is a Lecturer of Psychology (Education) at Queen’s University Belfast, School of Psychology. Her research focuses on issues of social identity, multiculturalism and respect for diversity; inclusivity in education; and shared & collaborative models of education. She can be reached via email at

Paul Wilson, Queen's University Belfast, UK

PAUL WILSON, PhD is a Senior Lecturer of Psychology (Education) at Queen’s University Belfast, School of Psychology. His research interests focus on investigating perceptions, expectations and experiences of higher education study, university readiness and transition and the relationships between dispositional traits (Personality, Intelligence etc.) and educational outcomes. He can be reached via email at


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How to Cite

Cena, E., Burns, S., & Wilson, P. (2021). Sense of Belonging and the Intercultural and Academic Experiences Among International Students at a University in Northern Ireland . Journal of International Students, 11(4), 812–831.



Research Articles (English)