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The aim of this research was to describe an international student exchange programme as a context of learning intercultural competence in nursing. Twelve Finnish nursing students who had participated in an exchange programme in the United Kingdom participated. The data consisted of group interviews, learning documents, background questionnaires and research diary notes, and the method of inductive content analysis was used. Study abroad as a process of learning intercultural competence consisted of three ethno-categories: transition from one culture to another, adjustment to the difference and gaining intercultural sensitivity. The exchange programme as a context of learning intercultural competence was characterized by a problematic orientation phase, a study abroad phase that involved stressful but rewarding adjustment to the intercultural differences and an inadequate re-entry debriefing phase. In order for the international experience of nursing students to have an impact on their understanding of diversity, they need assistance in each phase of the programme. Particularly, the students need intercultural tutoring and mentoring to venture into encounters with local people, including direct client contacts, during their study abroad.