Nowadays, it is seen that an increasing number of people are choosing to live in a foreign country. They have hopes and aspirations for better education, jobs, and quality of life. Living abroad also yields many benefits for our personal and intellectual growth. Living abroad helps us discover and shape our identities and develop a clearer sense of self.
Here, we will explore seven ways in which living abroad facilitate the development of a clearer sense of self. Read on:
1. Introduces novelty to the brain
Living abroad is a new situation and hence poses challenges to your brain. This is a beneficial change as routine life in one place can make brain functioning stagnant.
Living abroad requires you to resolve lots of things, many times on your own. This includes figuring out the roads, numbering of the streets and the modes of transportation. Moreover, you are also required to get used to the customs and rules of your new location. These changes can initially be stressful but are beneficial as they keep us more mentally alert. Moreover, they help improve cognition and reactivate reward circuits in our brains.
2. Increases creativity
Creativity is intricately linked with the stimulation of our minds. Living abroad poses many challenges to our brains which in turn improves cognitive flexibility. Speaking in neuroscience jargon, it stimulates neuroplasticity which helps in increasing creativity.
We are now able to come up with more innovative ideas and plans. Moreover, even if a person lives abroad for a limited period of time, he will still possess this acquired creativity on returning home.
3. Makes us more tolerant and empathetic
Living abroad means that you have to interact with new people everywhere, that is, in your neighborhood, at work, and in public places. These people will not just be unfamiliar in terms of identity, but also with respect to their nationality, race, and religion. You may have known about their cultures and lifestyles, but now you’ll have to closely and directly interact with them.
Your involvement with them will make you more tolerant and flexible towards foreign cultures. Moreover, it will also increase your sense of empathy, leading to your interpersonal, intellectual and social growth. It can also help you to deal with and negotiate interpersonal issues back at home in a more effective way.
4. Helps us reflect on our values and behaviors
Many people have self-discerning reflections when living abroad. The term ‘self-discerning reflections’ refers to thinking about whether parts of your identity actually represent you or are just a manifestation of your cultural upbringing.
Now, the question arises, whether such reflections only happen when one is living abroad. The answer is very simple: yes, they are more likely to. When living in your home country, you are constantly surrounded by the same culture and people in which you were brought up. You may tend to view yourself as part of society and never question your identity.
On the other hand, when living in a foreign country, you encounter novel cultural values and societal norms. You are compelled to question whether your values reflect you or the culture you were brought up in. In many cases, either your core beliefs get strengthened or discarded. This entire process leads to developing a clearer sense of self.
5. Helps foster biculturalism
Living abroad exposes you to a new culture and set of traditions. Many people will only endorse and identify one of the cultures, that is, either their own or the foreign one.
But many people will develop a bicultural identification in which they consider and combine aspects of their own culture and the foreign one. Simultaneously identifying with both cultures leads to the development of a more complex style of thinking. It enables you to view things from different perspectives and find common ground between them.
Dr. Carmit Tadmor of TAU’s Recanati School of Business was part of a team that conducted research about the effects of living abroad. He explains the benefits of bicultural identification in his study, “Over time, this information processing capability, or ‘integrative complexity,’ becomes a tool for making sense of the world and will help individuals perform better in both creative and professional domains.”
6. Makes you more independent
When you are living in a foreign country, you may not have your family with you to depend on. You’ll be required to study, work, socialize, run errands and do household chores all by yourself. This lifestyle makes you active and gives you time to uncover hidden talent and discover new potentials within yourself.
You gain confidence in your capabilities to achieve all your dreams. Moreover, you start to possess the courage and determination to venture into and conquer new zones.
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7. You discover your personal and professional interests
When living in your home country, you are exposed to the same people and situations all the time. On the other hand, when you live in a foreign country, you discover there is more to everything in life.
You have more options available, which give you space and opportunity to think about what you actually like. You will discover and explore new cultures, traditions, cuisines, histories, and lifestyles. Moreover, you will also come across new and different educational and professional fields. It is especially beneficial for those students who choose a particular major for further study only due to lack of other options back home. And the same is the case for people entering the job market.
Living abroad gives you the chance to figure out your interests and even career goals. You will gain clarity about the types of careers that match your strengths and values. This is an integral part of the process of developing a clearer sense of self, as interests form part of our identity.
Living abroad is an opportunity for self-discovery and growth for those who seize it. If you have been fortunate enough to have this chance, then make sure to make the most of it.