How To Get The Most Out Of Living Abroad
Is living abroad as sound an investment in a person’s creative and professional success as many people suggest? A new study from the Kellogg School points out that the answer is not a simple “yes” or “no”:
“The study finds that the act of simply living abroad may do nothing to enhance creativity and professional success. Rather, the rewards of foreign exposure depend on one’s ability to integrate the new culture with the old one.
‘The ability to simultaneously identify with both one’s host and home cultures and the resulting capacity for complex thinking may be a key to translating foreign experiences abroad into a tangible toolbox that bolsters one’s creative ability and professional skill to the highest level,’ the authors wrote.
A key driver of creative and professional success is ‘integrative complexity.’ This information-processing tendency is related to one’s capacity and willingness to acknowledge the legitimacy of competing perspectives on the same issue and to forge conceptual links among these perspectives. The researchers found that it was bicultural identification while living abroad that was a key determinant of whether this capacity develops.
‘The study underscores the idea that it’s not sheer exposure to other cultures that helps spur creative development, but the psychological connections one makes among multiple cultures,’ noted Adam Galinsky, the Morris and Alice Kaplan Professor of Ethics and Decision in Management at the Kellogg School.
Galinsky and his co-authors found that participants who identified with both their host culture and their home culture consistently demonstrated more fluency, flexibility and novelty on creative tasks and produced more innovations at work than did participants who identified with either the old or new culture but not both.” Read more here.
Even for people who never have the experience of living abroad have plenty of opportunities to practice “bicultural identification” and “integrative complexity”—there are plenty of varied cultures, and competing opinions and viewpoints, right here at home. In a political season when black-and-white worldviews seem to dominate, I’m heartened by this evidence that a more nuanced and flexible perspective is the more adaptive one.