From a social cultural learning perspective, the study explored the social formations for interactions of Danish students during a short-term international mobility study programme in China, using multiple qualitative data sources. Although a variety of patterns of strategies, practices and discourses were identified, the findings suggest that the students socialised most with co-nationals and little with local Chinese. Although their internal socialisations created some opportunities to learn from each other and learn about Chinese culture, they were mainly found to be constraints to learning due to limited interaction with locals and stereotyping the local ‘others’, risking misunderstandings. The outcomes of the study identify a gap between the ideal of the mobility study programme’s formal objectives and the practice of its implementation, which challenges prevailing political initiatives to increase internationalisation through student mobility. Also questioned is the effectiveness of sociocultural learning design in the short-term mobility context.