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Why Living Abroad Makes You Smarter!

By Annie André

living abroad increases creativity

Yet another thing to add to your list of reason why living abroad is a good thing: It might actually make your smarter.

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things.

Creativity, adventure and travel are three things that I am very passionate about and they all share one similar psychological characteristic. They all require you to be open to NEW EXPERIENCES.

If you are not open to new experiences than you should leave right now. I’m serious. Scoot, skedaddle. There’s nothing here for you to see. Go back to your boring routine and predictable life. On second thought, maybe you should stick around and see what you’re missing.

The Study:

People have speculated for a long time about the benefits of living abroad. Specifically, there have been claims that living abroad can increase your creativity.

Apparently, it’s no longer a theory but a proven fact with scientific data.

In a study conducted by researchers William W. Maddux (INSEAD) and Adam D. Galinsky (Northwestern University), when you live abroad, there is is a psychological change that you undergo.

It happens when you adapt to a foreign culture, learn a new language and struggle through culture shock while living abroad.

All of these things cause a shift in perspective, which opens your mind to new ideas and IGNITES CREATIVITY. 

My understanding of the benefits of living abroad.

No-one needs to tell me about the benefits of living abroad.

I’ve been traveling and living abroad since before I could walk and talk.  Even today, as i write this, i am living in another country. Only now i do it with my husband and three kids.

I do it for many reasons but mainly because i enjoy the benefits of travel and how it effects me, my thinking and I want my children to experience those benefits too.

If you have ever lived abroad or traveled for any extended period of time, than you also know the effect it can have on you.  It’s undeniable. It can be inspirational and open new doors in your mind and make you see thing in new ways.

If you haven’t lived abroad, think about your last vacation. Were you recharged when you returned home?  Did you feel more clear headed and motivated? Now multiply that by 100. That’s how it makes me feels.

Here are some examples of how my travels have positively effected different areas of my life.

  • My cooking: I have a distinct way of cooking food by fusing different nationalities cuisine together.
  • My Music: I can listen to African music, euro trash and Chinese opera. I love it all. I love the variety.
  • People: Having lived in so many places, I am open to different cultures and peoples customs. This helps me get a long with people from all walks of life.
  • Children: Seeing how different cultures raise their children has made me come up with creative solutions in raising my kids.
  • Conventional Wisdom: Seeing how different cultures live has made me question conventional wisdom. Which I think is  a good thin

Those are just some ways that living abroad has stirred in me a renewed sense of creativity and world views.  Lets take a look at how living abroad has effected other groups of people

Artists & Writers

It’s been common knowledge that living abroad can and has inspired great work from artists and writers. Have you ever heard of  Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso? Some of their most famous works were inspired by living abroad or done while living abroad.

Companies and Corporations

it’s not just artists and writers that benefit or do their best creative work after living abroad. Companies can can also benefit from hiring employees who have lived abroad or by sending people abroad to work In their foreign divisions. These individuals bring a different mind set. A more creative one that finds novel ways to problem solving resulting in an increase to a companies bottom line.

Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs also benefit from increased creativity after living abroad. This could explain why so many entrepreneurs have also lived abroad. If you have been keeping up with lifestyle design than you also know there is a a slew of solo-preneurs who take long term trips abroad and start successful online businesses, and blogs.

Corbett Bar of think traffic started working on his web based businesses(s) while living in Mexico with his wife. Adam Baker, of Man vs. Debt  travelled for a year and built a solid business around teaching people how to create a life they want to live while reducing their debt.

Finally there’s me. I’m starting my own business now while living in France.  In all my previous travels, i have always travelled to soak in a new culture. ( I should have been a cultural anthropologist or linguist). This time I’m using my time abroad to spark my creative entrepreneurial side.  The fact that you are reading these words now are an attestation to that fact.

How to reap the full benefits of increased creativity while living abroad.

Just living abroad doesn’t guarantee you increased creativity. According to William Maddux’s research, for you to receive the full benefit of increased creativity from living abroad, certain criteria have to be met.

  • Length of time: The longer that a person lives abroad, the more that person increases the likely hood that they improve their creativity.
  • Adaptation To Local Customs and Cultures: Exposure and adaptation to multicultural experiences such as different food, foreign friends, foreign music, language, customs, to name a few, is necessary to reap the benefits of living abroad.
  • Vacations Don’t Help: Merely travelling abroad on vacation does not receive the same benefits as living abroad because it doesn’t give you enough time to adapt to the new countries culture, customs and language.
  • AGE: The younger you go abroad, the more it effects and improves subsequent creativity.
  • Don’t stay in your bubble while abroad: Living abroad but only hanging out with your own countries expatriates will do nothing for your creativity. You have to mingle and adapt to the countries environment.

Points of interest:

So what happens after you live abroad? Does you creativity die or diminish? Well according to Maddux’s research, the effects of increased creativity are lasting. What’s interesting is something called priming. Just recalling your time abroad through a memory will show more subsequent creativity within the next 5 or 10 minutes when compared to someone who recalls going to the grocery store or being in their hometown.

In other words, when you reactivate the abroad experiences, it does seem to increase your creativity. Hallelujah!

Lastly and most importantly, living abroad is not the end all be all to increased creativity.  There are many ways to increase creativity. Living abroad is but one fun and interesting way to do it.

So there you have it. Scientific validation for the art and business world that going abroad might be the missing component to activating and stimulating your creative craft or entrepreneurial spirit.


Boring Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you use them to buy something, I may earn a small commission (which helps me buy more croissants) at no additional cost to you. Merci for your support.

  1. Having lived overseas for many years, I found my Creativity increased by leaps and bounds due to a few reasons. One, living in a foreign country where you may not speak the language, or speak it very well, basically forces you to turn inward. This inward view can help to bring out a greater creativity in oneself. Also, I found myself reading more which improved my own writing abilities.

  2. Very interesting views of living abroad
    I left the UK some 23 years ago and travel has broadened my horizons with regards to creativity and becomming a more humble person
    Travel and hopefully living abroad introduces people to new cultures,customs and way of life
    A ll theses points help to inject a new cr eative flare in many people
    You get to see a different aspect to many things in life and around

  3. This is really interesting stuff. I always thought that living abroad would help with creativity, but I didn’t know that there was a study about it. I know many businesses send executives overseas to gain valuable experience before they come home. It’s seen as part of the process for moving upwards in the company.

    Personally speaking, I was heavily advised by one teacher to live abroad since the skills I’d gain would really help in the classroom. In fact, I sent the paperwork off to live abroad just about a week ago. I still don’t know where I’ll be yet since it depends on where they can place me. But I’m really excited about it.

  4. yes – i think so important we don’t live in our bubble when abroad. when i lived in Paris, i adopted the scorn of the parisians on tourists, and quite rightly they should – for why go to Paris on a trip if you were to eat McDonalds and drink Coke? still baffled to this day!
    Noch Noch

    1. Noch Noch,
      I’ve often wondered about this myself. I think it must have to be due to fear of the new and unknown or not knowing what to expect. I wish i could ask them WHY? so i could know for sure. But quite frankly, why does France even have a Mcdonalds at all? They now have subways too. There are several around Marseille which we avoid like the plague. SIGH!!

  5. I shouldn’t tell you about my latest discovery, the ‘staycation’ then?

    Only kidding – it’s a great post & I love learning about new cultures more than anything – that’s why it’s so much more than travel (as you say)

    your kids are going to be so worldly wise even before they’re through their teens…

    1. Alan,
      At this rate, it feels like they will never be worldly or wise. I think it doesn’t kick in until they are adults and long gone. But i do hope that they stay open minded and accepting of other cultures and people. I’ve met some young people who talk very poorly of other cutltures yet have never been or met someone outside of their little bubble.

  6. It makes a lot of sense that living/traveling abroad stokes our creativity. We are faced with exciting, new challenges and this helps us to feel more alive.
    Just one more reason to work toward my goal of spending an extended period of time abroad! Thanks for the great info, Annie!

    1. Sarah,
      I think you will gain so much from living abroad. You are already so talented and creative, the doors will swing wide open and im sure you will reach new heights.

      Where are you looking to live when you do decide to move aboad?

  7. Always nice to see there are tangible benefits to this life other than pure freedom.

    Do you know if there is an opposite effect when returning from abroad?

    Nicely done!

    1. Hi John,
      It is possible to get reverse culture shock. Sometimes when you travel and live abroad it gives you a new perceptive on life. Sounds corny but it’s true. When you return back to your home country, things that once interested you, you may find uninteresting and boring. For instance, hearing people rattle on about petty things that you once found interesting may drive you crazy.

      Over all though, there are more benefits. One of them being a renewed appreciation for tings you took for granted.

  8. Annie, I LOVE this post. It just further confirms the fact that all of us should get out of our bubble to live a richer life.

    If gang members could get out and visit SE Asia, would they feel the world was bigger than their little turf they squabble over? Absolutely!

    If musicians wanted to reinvent themselves, might they find a new angle by exposing themselves to the music of a different culture? Guaranteed.

    I have been moving all my life(son of an Air Force active duty member). I know for a fact that my creativity and imagination comes from never staying in one place for more than 3-4 years.

    Thanks so much for an insightful post!

    1. Marvin,
      Looks like you and i have something in common. After my dad immigrated to the u.s. he joined the Air force and lived in Thailand for over a decade. Luckily for me because i am a product of his obsession to travel.

      I wonder what my life would be like if i didn’t know about the idea of travel. I shutter to think about it. BRRRRR.

  9. Hey Annie, I think you have enough creativity to go around. You certainly don’t need any of mine!

    Thanks for the links. Have a great weekend!

  10. Hey Annie, Do you mind letting me know where you got the Tweet share box from? I would like one

    Thanks.

  11. Hey Annie, a great read as usual. I got the box of tacks question right :-)

    I almost nearly stayed in Spain this year. I kind of wish I had. I love meeting new people and cultures. I have spent time in different location in the world, but not for huge lengths of time. The most amount is 1 month in Thailand :-(

    Great stuff Annie thank you.

    1. Hey Dan,
      People can get that spark of creativity from anywhere. Living abroad isn’t the only way you can spark that. you obviously have it in spades but maybe living abroad might be that extra little push you need to make a breakthrough.

      And it’s no surprise you got the box of tacks question right. I saw your mind map video and it seems you don’t have any problems with creativity AT ALL. got some to spare?

  12. Being on the road always is an eye-opener. It will really be fun to go around the world and learn many stuff. combining the many world cultures will help you to have a creative mind. As you rightly stated, sticking to the same routine day in and day out can be the most boring way to live.

    1. You are so right Martin. Sticking to the same routine is a bit monotonous and it really doesn’t help expand your creativity. I don’t think you have that problem though. YOu seem to have loads of creativity.

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