Traveling overseas will give you a lifetime worth of invaluable experiences, both on a personal and professional level. But a new study by Rice University, Columbia University, and the University of South Carolina further underscores the importance of exposure to different lifestyles, cultures, and ways of thinking.
The researchers ultimately found that living abroad increases "self-concept clarity," which they define as the "extent to which individuals' beliefs about themselves are clearly and confidently defined and consistent and stable over time." More specifically, the length of time living abroad, as opposed to the number of foreign countries lived in, was a better indicator of clear and confident self-concept. "The longer people live abroad, the more self-discerning reflections they accumulate, and, as a result, the more likely they are to develop a better understanding of themselves and have increased clarity about career decision-making," explained the study's authors.
To arrive at this conclusion, the scientists conducted a total of six separate studies surveying 1874 participants from online panels and American and international MBA programs, including people who had and hadn't experienced living abroad. All participants then completed surveys on living abroad and provided their thoughts. According to the findings, the transformation essentially takes place as expats "grapple with the different cultural values and norms of their home and host cultures." In other words, it allows them to gain a clearer understanding of which norms and values define who people are and which are simply a reflection of where they grew up.
"Our studies demonstrate that living abroad affects the fundamental structure of the self-concept by enhancing its clarity," explain the researchers. "The German philosopher Hermann von Keyserling wrote in the epigraph to his 1919 book The Travel Diary of a Philosopher, 'The shortest path to oneself leads around the world.' Almost 100 years later, our research provides empirical evidence in support of this idea."
Head over to the study report for more information.