This paper explores the adaptation patterns of international chinese and vietnamese students in relation to academic writing practices in a higher education context. The study utilises a trans-disciplinary framework for interpreting students’ and lecturers’ practices within institutional structures. This framework has been developed by infusing a modified version of lillis’ heuristic for exploring students’ meaning making with positioning theory. A prominent finding of the study indicates the emergence of three main forms of adaptation, committed adaptation, face-value adaptation and hybrid adaptation, that the students employed to gain access to their disciplinary practices. The findings of the study give insights into ways that a dialogical pedagogic model for mutual adaptation can be developed between international students and academics. The aim is to enhance the education of international students in this increasingly internationalised environment. 2011 Educational review.