Objectives This study aimed to qualitatively analyze the experiences and perceptions of students at a nursing college in Japan who studied abroad in Asia and North America, thereby identifying the full range of benefits of study abroad programs for Japanese nursing students. Methods We conducted a qualitative analysis of the reflection papers and free-response questionnaire items completed by 50 Japanese undergraduate nursing students who participated in 9 study abroad programs in Asia and North America. Content analysis of the data proceeded from typological and deductive to data-driven and inductive, recursively and collaboratively. Results The results reveal perceived benefits in the areas of English language proficiency and motivation; knowledge of nursing practices, healthcare systems, and global health; cultural awareness and sensitivity; and various types of identity development (second-language motivation and identity, national/ethnic identity, professional identity, identity as a global citizen, and personal growth). It was also shown that students’ perceptions of what they learned or gained varied according to the specific characteristics of each study abroad program. Conclusions Study abroad experiences are often critical turning points that enhance nursing students’ identity formation in the context of multiple and overlapping communities of practice. They also enhance core elements of the educational mission of a nursing college, particularly relating to liberal arts and internationalization. These findings can inform the development of assessment tools to be used in conjunction with study abroad programs at nursing colleges.