This paper examines the impact of internationalisation on the professional identities of lecturers at three international universities in Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia. Higher education in Southeast Asia faces significant pressures to change because of the potential dissonance between emerging forms of global competition between higher education institutions and established conceptualisations of higher education. The authors examine how, during focus groups, lecturers negotiated contested understandings of being an international professional; in all three institutions, they conveyed a pragmatic understanding of the relationship between financially driven internationalisation agendas, their own personal belief systems and the realities of their multilingual pedagogic practices. The extent to which being international was the primary normative identity for academics differed across locales and there were different competing sources of professionalism. The authors propose a ‘cline of internationalism’, which allows us to conceptualise restrictions placed upon academics’ agency to pursue an actively international professional identity. © 2019, © 2019 British Association for International and Comparative Education.