This article investigates the transitioning process of international Chinese undergraduate students studying in Russia. The paper offers new insights into changes in the expectations and experiences of Chinese students at various stages of their joint educational studies in China and Russia. Drawing on a qualitative study of 20 Chinese undergraduates studying in Russia, the findings of the study indicate that before studying in Russia, most of Chinese students had low expectations about their study programme. However, once they were in Russia, students’ perception of the value of their international education experiences changes through varied opportunities for self-reflexivity in an unfamiliar cultural environment. The study also offers an example of methodological approach useful for researching international students’ experiences, particularly within but not limited to context of Sino-Foreign university partnerships.