Most individuals consider academic and professional positions abroad with a will-o’-the-wisp that once they live in a foreign country the experience will automatically broaden their view of the world. But according to new Tel Aviv University research, not all international experiences are created equal.
The study conducted underlined that living abroad does help to hone creative abilities but not all individuals who have lived abroad derive an equal benefit from such experiences. As previously presumed, the simple act of living abroad was not enough to bolster creative and professional success.
The potential benefits of extended international travel depend on the ability to simultaneously identify with both home and host cultures, which the researchers call “biculturalism.” Identifying with two cultures simultaneously fosters a more complex thinking style that views things from multiple perspectives and forges conceptual links among them.
The best outcomes, as researchers suggest, are reliant on adapting to the old and new cultures to augment both creative and professional domains.
The researchers conducted three experiments to determine the impact of biculturalism when living abroad. MBA students from European and American business schools were asked to complete a series of tasks, including a standard creativity task. All of the study participants had lived abroad for a period of time. The studies found that those who identified with both their host culture and their home culture consistently demonstrated more fluency, flexibility, novelty and innovation.
Finally, the third experiment extended the idea, exploring whether the biculturals’ advantages also gave them an advantage in the workplace. In this study, 100 Israelis living and working mainly in California’s Silicon Valley were interviewed. The researchers found that Israelis who identified with both their home and host cultures enjoyed higher promotion rates and more positive reputations among their colleagues. Across all three studies, the researchers found that bicultural individuals ranked higher on integrative complexity tests than the other participants, and this drove their success.
It is clear that becoming a true bicultural is not easy, but the good news is, it holds the key to translating foreign experiences abroad into a tangible toolbox that bolsters one’s creative ability and professional skill to the highest level to enjoy the ‘best of both worlds.’