It is a universally acknowledged truth that a person who lives abroad will talk about it. A lot. You will likely hear a variety of assessments of both your home culture and the culture in which they find themselves. “The Spanish schedule just makes more sense, you know?” Or, “I can’t stand the driving culture in the U.S., it’s so wasteful.” And while it may seem like an affectation—how could a person possibly be that deeply changed by a few months or years in a different culture?—a new study shows that living abroad really does change a person.
According to a new study by a team from Rice University, Columbia, and the University of North Carolina, people who study and live abroad tend to have a better “concept of self” than those who stay home. This study confirms what ex-pats and adventurers have long known: when you leave all the comfortable trappings of your daily life, you really get to know yourself.
Researchers recruited 1,874 participants from MBA programs both in the U.S. and abroad, including individuals who had not lived abroad. Researchers found that “living abroad triggers self-discerning reflections in which people grapple with the different cultural values and norms of their home and host cultures. These reflections are helpful in discovering which values and norms define who people are and which simply reflect their cultural upbringing.”
In other words: when you’re outside of your culture (and comfort zone), you start to question societal and cultural norms, and questioning those norms helps you understand yourself better than if you had just, y’know, stayed home. Pretty straightforward but very true.
That said, the study differentiates between depth and breadth when it comes to travel. Depth (or, the length of time spent abroad) is more important than breadth (the number of countries visited). In other words: concentrating on one place will help you develop a deeper sense of self more than trying to hit as many countries as possible.
Additionally, living abroad can decrease stress, increase life satisfaction and even improve job performance (hint, hint, middle managers of the world). So take that big trip. Find yourself among the otherworldly, snow-tipped peaks of the Chilean Andes. Explore your inner-being at the An Dong Market in Ho Chi Minh City. You may end up annoying your friends who stayed home, but hey, you’ll be so full of self-confidence that it won’t matter when they roll their eyes at you. Thanks, science.