International student migration remains an under-researched field in migration studies, and this is especially true of return migration. This paper analyses students from Slovakia who have studied in the UK, both on degree courses and language/vocational courses, and have subsequently returned to their country of origin. It analyses their motivations, their acquisition of human capital in the UK, and the extent to which they have been able to realise individual welfare gains after returning to Slovakia. Their evaluations of their experiences are highly positive, with substantial numbers also reporting improvements in their jobs and incomes, even following relatively short stays abroad. The study emphasises the importance of the specific competences acquired by the students, rather than broad skill categories, or qualifications. It highlights the value attached to language competence, in particular, but also to learning, attitudinal and interpersonal competences, as well as networking. The paper concludes that there is a need to pay more attention to individual social biographies when understanding the relationship between migration and learning. At the same time, it also stresses structural parameters to individual agency, including the specific economic conditions in a transition economy, and the market value of competence in English as a world language. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.