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International Students in Higher Education: Extracurricular Activities and Social Interactions as Predictors of University Belonging


As the number of international students increases worldwide, it is crucial to explore what makes international students feel welcomed at university campuses. The study investigates whether higher rates of participation in extracurricular activities and higher frequencies of contact with ethnically diverse students strengthen the sense of belonging to the university. The questions are examined using the data of a German nationwide panel study of international students. The fixed effects regression results (N = 2,998) show that experiencing a change from less frequent to more frequent participation in extracurricular activities offered by the university increases the sense of belonging to the university. The effect turns non-significant when controlling for contact frequencies, academic integration, and psychological adaption. Increasing contact with German and multi-national students is crucial for developing a sense of belonging to the university. However, the contact frequencies and estimated effects vary by region of origin and instructional language. Recommendations for increasing international students’ university belonging are derived from the results.

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The data will be made available by the authors for replication purposes upon request.

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  1. For students with a foreign qualification that is not recognized as equivalent to the German university entrance qualification, preparatory courses in Germany must be completed before enrolling at a German university.

  2. Universities in Germany focus on theoretical, research-oriented content, while universities of applied sciences teach practical, labor-market-oriented content.


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We would like to thank Michael Windzio, Janna Teltemann, Julia Zimmermann, Esther Ostmeier, the editors and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier versions of this article.


The research leading to these results received funding from the Federal Ministry of Education (BMBF) under Grant Agreement No 01PX16016B.

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Correspondence to Theresa Thies.

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Thies, T., Falk, S. International Students in Higher Education: Extracurricular Activities and Social Interactions as Predictors of University Belonging. Res High Educ 64, 1143–1164 (2023).

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