Good news for globe-trotters: Living abroad can help you make smarter career decisions

People stand on the Esplanade du Trocadero near the Eiffel tower in Paris.
Ludovic Marin | AFP | Getty Images

Living in a foreign country doesn't just give you the opportunity to learn about different cultures, it can also boost your self-awareness and improve your career.

That's according to a recent study released by the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

A team of researchers conducted six studies involving 1,874 subjects and found that living abroad increases what they call "self-concept clarity." This is defined as the extent to which a person is able to clearly and confidently define their beliefs. It has been associated with a slew of benefits, including mental well-being, better stress management and enhanced job performance, the researchers write in Harvard Business Review.

In one of the studies, participants were asked to indicate how strongly they agreed with statements like, "In general, I have a clear sense of who I am and what I am," and, "It is often hard for me to make up my mind about things because I don't really know what I want."

Those who had lived abroad, the research found, reported a clearer sense of self than those who had not.

In another study, participants who had lived abroad were randomly assigned to two groups. Half were asked to reflect on the experience of living abroad while the remaining group was asked to reflect on the experience of living in their home country. The study found that subjects who reflected on living abroad reported higher self-concept clarity than those who reflected on living at home.

This family is making money while traveling the world — here's how they do it
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Living abroad also forces people to grapple with different cultural values and norms. Repeatedly having to do this allows people to determine which values and norms truly define who they are, the researches explain.

Finally, the study found that the length of time lived abroad had a far greater impact than the number of foreign countries lived in. The longer people lived abroad, the more likely they were to develop a better understanding of themselves.

As organizations become increasingly global, these findings have practical implications in the workplace. When it comes to finding talent, for example, recruiters highly value job candidates who have international experience because they appear more confident, outgoing and knowledgeable about global affairs, according to the Financial Times.

Further, living abroad better prepares you to make challenging career decisions, according to the researchers.

"It stands to reason," they write, "that having a clear sense of self elucidates which types of career options best match one's strengths and fulfill one's values, thereby enabling people to be clearer and more confident about their career decisions."

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