How Living Abroad Helps You Develop a Clearer Sense of Self

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This is an interesting paper. And if you’re reading this then that almost certainly means you’re in ‘apparel’ which means you have likely traveled A LOT.

Speaking for myself, travel changed my life. I thought I’d never leave Ohio until I spent 3 months in college studying in Mexico City. Then I was stationed in Spain twice, once for 4 years followed by 1 1/2 commanding a remote station in rural Castilla. Today I’ve chalked up 48 countries. Many of you have me beat.

As Paul Theroux once wrote, “you never come back the same person you were when you left”. I also love the phrase, “if your life is a book and you don’t travel, you never get past page 1”.

How Living Abroad Helps You Develop a Clearer Sense of Self
HBR: May 22, 2018

In today’s increasingly globalized world, more and more people are choosing to live, work and study abroad—and this trend appears to be a good thing: social science studies have shown that international experiences can enhance creativity, reduce intergroup bias, and promote career success.

To better understand the psychological effects of living abroad, we set out to examine whether and how international experiences can transform a person’s sense of self. Specifically, we focused on “self-concept clarity,” the extent to which someone’s understanding of himself or herself is “clearly and confidently defined, internally consistent, and temporally stable”. Self-concept clarity has been linked to a host of benefits, such as psychological well-being, the ability to cope with stress, and job performance, but research on how it can be cultivated is very limited.

Most studies have found that transitional experiences, such as job changes or romantic breakups, typically decrease self-concept clarity. However, all five of us have lived abroad at some point in our lives, and we all felt that we gained a clearer sense of who we are as a result. So we wondered whether living abroad is a unique kind of transitional experience that may actually increase self-concept clarity. Read More

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