Finding ourselves is a life-long journey. But there is something that can accelerate this: Studying in a foreign country.
New research shows that those who had lived abroad gained a clearer sense of self as the experience prompted “self-discerning reflections” about their identity. In addition, researchers also found that it is the length of time lived abroad than the number of foreign countries lived in that “enhances self-concept clarity”.
Finally, they found that living abroad also resulted in increased “career decision-making clarity”.
Studying students from dozens of different countries, they found that international students with experience living abroad reported being clearer about where their future career is headed. This is said to be helped by their increased self-concept clarity.
“The fact that we found consistent support for our hypotheses across different subject populations…mixed methods…and complementary methods of self-concept clarity…highlights the robustness of living abroad on self-concept clarity”, the researchers write. “The present research is the first to show that living abroad can change structural aspects of the self-concept.”
The paper, published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, is the first to empirically investigate the effects of living abroad on “self-concept clarity”. Led by Hajo Adam at Rice University, the team conducted six studies, where a total of 1,874 people were recruited online and among MBA students.
According to Vice, respondents had to complete a 12-item self-concept clarity scale where they state whether they agree or disagree with statements such as: “In general, I have a clear sense of who I am and what I am” and “I seldom experience conflict between the different aspects of my personality.”
The results show that those with experience living abroad indicated they had more self-discerning reflections than those who had not. And with this, greater self-concept clarity.
Another study the researchers conducted also found that it is the depth of experience living abroad – ie. the number of years – that matters, instead of the breadth – ie. the number of countries lived in.