In this article, findings from a qualitative study of a cohort of occupational therapy students in Auckland, New Zealand are presented. The study focussed on the experiences of students as they learned to work with people from different social and cultural backgrounds over a 3-year period. As well as identifying curriculum and teaching/learning processes that enhance intercultural competence development, the data that emerged from the study also highlight important issues about how occupation and independence are conceptualised across cultures. A review of the trans-disciplinary and occupational therapy literature dealing with theoretical, conceptual and educational issues relating to cross-cultural practice is followed by a presentation of narrative extracts that address the key concepts of occupation and independence. These are then discussed with reference to relevant occupational therapy literature. In conclusion, implications for future research and practice are explored focussing on a need for occupation and independence to be reconsidered as culturally relative constructions.© 2000 SAGE Publications.