As stated in the Harvard Business Review, self-awareness is the secret to leadership greatness.
So how can we increase our self-awareness? Could the answer be having the experience of living abroad?
The journey of self-discovery
Research from a group of academics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Rice, North Carolina and Columbia universities found that individuals who live abroad for a long period of time have a stronger sense of self. The research team found that settling down in a foreign country increases “self-concept clarity” which they define as the extent to which individuals can clearly define their beliefs about themselves overtime.
The research also revealed that “depth”- the length of time an individual lives abroad contributes more to a stronger sense of self than then “breadth”, or the number of countries an individual has lived.
The findings of this study are compatible with HSBC’s Expat Explorer survey which found that living abroad has benefits from a young age improving children’s confidence and self-sufficiency. Again, “depth” was the important factor here, revealing that the longer a family spent abroad, the greater the advantages for the children.
How does this occur?
According to this research, living abroad triggers self-discerning reflections as they struggle with the cultural and belief differences in the new location. Thus, it helps them discover which values and norms truly define them which simply reflect their upbringing.
“No longer immersed in the values and norms that they take for granted, people are frequently faced with new situations that prompt them to reflect on the dissimilar values and norms of the foreign culture. Such recurrent reflections may strengthen self-concept clarity because they make people more confident in what they actually believe and, ultimately, who they really are,” the academics noted in The shortest path to oneself leads around the world: Living abroad increases self-concept clarity study.
As well as greater self-awareness, the study found other benefits associated with spending time in a remote nation including prominent life fulfillment, decreased stress, improved performance at work, and increased clarity about career decision-making. This is significant for employers that send their staff for international assignments.