BACKGROUND : Study abroad generates positive learning outcomes for students. However, experiences of learning, and processes of learning during unaccompanied-by-faculty nursing study abroad are unclear. This research therefore investigated student nurse experiences of learning during a study abroad journey in order to explore the phenomenon of learning and the processes of learning throughout this journey. METHODS : An interpretivist hermeneutic phenomenological methodology was applied, and twenty student nurses, from the UK and Europe, participated; two individual semi-structured interviews were conducted per participant (post-return and follow-up). CONCLUSIONS : The 'Phenomenological Hermeneutical Method' of data analysis was employed and revealed the phenomenon of learning comprised four themes: 'experiencing a different reality'; 'active sense-making'; 'being with others' and 'being changed and transformed'. When considered together, these themes identify that study abroad was experienced as the liminal space in which learning occurred. Students experienced liminality in this space and the process of learning was triggered by disjuncture. Students took responsibility for learning and undertook active sense-making activities to gain insight. Students struggled to make sense of troublesome experiences, and remained in a stuck place until resolution of troublesome-ness enabled students to cross a threshold into understanding. Learning was also influenced by others. Students experienced change and transformation as a result of the learning that had occurred, and a postliminal state was attained when troublesome-ness was resolved and students had re-integrated into their usual reality. These findings offer insight into student learning during unaccompanied study abroad journeys, and further development of nurse education and research is recommended.