Hongping Zhang is a 3rd year PhD Student in the Tourism Management program. Her research focus is on Educational Tourism and Youth Development.

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Nationality: China

Past Experience: Undergraduate from China, Masters from University of Illinois, worked for a non-profit

Favorite UF experience: Excited to see a hail mary in a football game of Gators vs. Tennessee in 2017 during the last 9 seconds of the game.

Favorite project: Florida Down Under and all the study abroad programs she works with.

Valuable Learning from EFTI and UF: The way professors focus on quality of research rather than quantity of publications. The supportive environment.

Favorite travel experience: A trip to Vegas and the Grand Canyon with her husband. She could experience the “crazy Vegas” and on the other side, the “nature healing, pure beauty” side of the Grand Canyon in a time she needed this refreshing moment and message.

Dream place to visit: “The space, the moon! But if we are narrowing down to the Earth, Austria”

Hobbies: She plays Violin.

EFTI person she admires: Her advisor, Dr. Heather Gibson, thanks to her idealism and support! As advisor, she gives Hongping freedom to do their research while still supporting and guiding her.

Fun Fact: “I am a die hard Friends fan”. She has watched the TV series many times, and know quotes by heart.


Socio-Cultural Adaptation Through Leisure Among Chinese International Students: An Experiential Learning Approach

Hongping Zhang, Yilun Zhou & Monika Stodolska

This study adopted experiential learning theory to examine the role of leisure in socio-cultural adaptation among international students from China. It explored how international students integrated the four steps of experiential learning: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation, into culture learning in the leisure context. Two rounds of semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with 15 first-year Chinese international students attending a large Midwestern university. The findings revealed that leisure could be an effective facilitator of socio-cultural adaptation. Experiential learning strategies such as reflective observation and abstract conceptualization (i.e., seeing beyond stereotypes) and active experimentation (i.e., taking initiative and imitating host nationals’ behavior) were used by the students in the leisure contexts to learn about the host culture. International students also encountered confusions and frustrations during the culture learning process.

Keywords: Cross-cultural adaptation, experiential learning theory, international students, leisure

More about Hongping…


As an international student herself, Hongping had to deal with the struggles and glories of moving to a new country and studying abroad. Her first international trip was to the United States when she was still an undergraduate student. She spent three months in the Yellowstone National Park while participating on the Work and Travel US program. The epiphanic moment planted a seed on her about coming back to the US as she says “I discovered I really wanted to work in tourism in the future, and I know that it is possible for me to study in the US. I handled it for three months, I can do more.” While this experience brought her to the US a few years later, it also created in her the interest in understanding and helping other international students in their own study abroad experiences.

Here at UF, while pursuing her PhD, Hongping focus her research on Educational Tourism and Youth Development. She aims to understand how students learn and develop through these programs, how they are “transformed”, the elements that contribute with these changes, and the benefits of studying abroad. Although mostly focused on students, her research is also applicable to travelers that spend long periods in the destination and also deal with the cultural adaptation pieces.

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Focusing on the question of “How learning, education and travel work together?”, Hongping describes her research findings as tools to the industry: She understands how students choose study abroad programs, their requirements and expectations. This knowledge is valuable when planning and designing better programs, as well as when marketing them to potential students.

Hongping is the teaching assistant for the program called Florida Down Under, a study abroad experience during the Summer for UF students of all majors with a focus on sustainability and interdisciplinary courses in Australia, Fiji, and New Zealand. The program gives her the opportunity of hands on experience with students in a full year cycle, from recruiting them, traveling with them, and conducting interviews after coming back to the US. Hongping focuses on understanding their reflections about the trip, including their personal development, the group dynamics, and travel and learning experiences. Florida Down Under alumni are studied by Hongping in collaboration with other student in the department, Rachel Bomser, who focuses on participants of the program in the past 15 years and how Florida Down Under influences their global citizenship and environmental attitudes. She also collaborates with other students and her advisor on the program called Semester at Sea, in which students spend one academic semester on board of a ship, taking classes and traveling around the world. While Hongping studies the learning and culture adaptation, another EFTI Student, Yu Niu, focuses on the intergenerational experiences between young and older adults on the ship.


One of the publications of the promising doctorate student, featured in this page, is titled “Socio-Cultural Adaptation Through Leisure Among Chinese International Students: An Experiential Learning Approach”. In the article Hongping uses the Experiential Learning Framework to discuss cultural learning and behavior of international students. She briefly explains four steps of the process: Observation, reflection, understanding, and joining the activity. To Hongping, the leisure time is the ideal moment for the cultural adaptation.

Hongping enjoys her time with students in the study abroad programs, and we are looking forward to her next fascinating findings in the realm of Educational Tourism, and, of course, to more Koala pictures!