Internationalisation of the curriculum (IoC) is on the agenda of many higher education (HE) institutions worldwide. Typically seen as associated with a top-down strategy, IoC often meets resistance from university teachers, many of whom struggle to understand its relevance to teaching practice. This phenomenographic study investigates university teachers’ conceptions of IoC. Five conceptions ranging in sophistication have been identified. The least sophisticated focuses on making the curriculum content internationally relevant, whereas the most sophisticated centres around developing self-awareness, awareness of others, and a change in mindset in students. The latter is realised by embracing reflexivity and criticality and, more importantly, utilising societal and political issues as learning opportunities for identity development. Situated in the Hong Kong context, the findings not only suggest the need for teachers to shift their focus from curriculum content to value-based development but also for educators to reflect on their role in helping students to reconcile their identity in relation to their counterparts regionally and globally. Copyright © Springer Nature B.V.