Want to discover your true self? Live abroad
New research reveals that expats also make clearer career decisions.
Ask to take a look at somebody's bucket list, and you'll likely see an item that appears on many of them: Live abroad. The romantic notion of being an expat in a faraway land, captured beautifully on screen in "An American in Paris," is something we all dream about. It's wanderlust exemplified.
Looking for another reason to grab your passport and head to the airport? Well, there's actually a newly discovered scientific reason to travel abroad. A team of researchers from MIT, Columbia, Rice University and the University of North Carolina have just discovered that it actually leads you to have a clearer sense of yourself. Indeed, they found that 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.
Their study – called "The Shortest Path to Oneself Leads Around the World: Living Abroad Increases Self-Concept Clarity" – was just published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.
Eating meals at this picturesque restaurant by Lake Orta in Italy will certainly give you clarity about your life. (Photo: Pcruciatti / Shutterstock)
The participants in the study were made of a mixture of online panels and business school students. "Our results indicate that living abroad leads to a clearer sense of self because it prompts self-discerning reflections on whether parts of their identity truly define who they are or merely reflect their cultural upbringing," the researchers wrote.
Past studies have found that transitional experiences, such as getting divorced or losing a job, typically decrease someone's clarity about themselves. By contrast, this research examines the possibility that living abroad is a rare kind of transitional experience that actually increases what the scientists dub "self-concept clarity."
One of the major findings of the study is that people who live abroad have an increased clarity about career decision-making. So if you're not sure if you should take that new job at a startup, maybe spend a few months backpacking in the Mediterranean to gain some perspective. "Our research suggests that going far from home can lead one closer to the self, with implications for significant life decisions," the authors wrote.
Readers of From The Grapevine will recall our profile of vlogger Sarah Markowitz and how moving abroad from America to Israel helped launch her comedy career. Below, she took fans on one of her first dates in Tel Aviv ...
New Yorker Sam Shatzkin graduated high school last year and also decided to spend time living abroad in Israel before starting college. "When this year is over, I'm going to be able to go back to the U.S. and begin college with a year of maturity over everyone else," he said. Shatzkin is spending this academic year on a program called Big Idea Gap Year, which teaches participants computer skills like app development and cybersecurity. The entire spring semester is then spent interning at an Israeli tech startup. (The program is an off-shoot of a similar, tech-themed summer session.)
"By pushing myself to do these things," Shatzkin said, "it's really helping me grow as a person."
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