This qualitative study investigated the impact of online education on the learning and peer interaction experiences of students from eight universities in Hong Kong over the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. It employed an expansive and spatial notion of translanguaging to explore the process by which students drew on the affordance of virtual communication environments to communicate, study and develop new identities. The findings suggested (1) the students strategically mobilised manifold multimodal resources to constitute their communicative repertoires that facilitated smooth intercultural communication and academic success; (2) such communicative competence centralized the mediating effect of digital semiotic systems and thus might empower the students with disadvantaged language skills; and (3) through translanguaging acts the students developed a virtually translocal identity with an expanded experience of internationalisation of higher education whereby the increasingly interwoven physical and virtual spaces bring extended social networks, learning resources, and career opportunities. The implications of the findings were discussed. Copyright © 2022 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.