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Turning the Experience of Living Abroad into Professional Success

Living abroad and being exposed to a new culture can boost creativity, enhance work productivity, and make one’s career flourish. But it doesn’t happen to everybody, as many people fail to achieve prosperity in a new country. A new study explains why. As it seems, what is needed to make the most out of living and working abroad is to have a “bicultural” perspective – the ability to retain a psychological connection to both native and host country.

After moving to a foreign land, it is necessary to adapt to the new environment. Some people don’t feel comfortable with the change and they remain identified only with their home culture, while rejecting the new one. Others react in the opposite way - they relinquish their cultural heritage and identify only with the new culture.  Then there are people who are skillful in integration and they manage to simultaneously maintain both the old and the new cultural identity. These people seem to benefit the most from living abroad.

According to a 2012 study, bicultural perspective breeds creative and professional success because it encourages people to think in integratively complex ways.  By dealing with conflicts of dual-identity, people learn to integrate multiple perspectives and understand relations between them. In turn, this sophisticated thinking helps them achieve more at work.

Research team from the Recanati Business School started off by studying 78 students of 21 different nationalities, all of whom were living abroad. They found out that students with a bicultural perspective (in comparison to those who rejected either their home or host culture) performed better on a creative task - finding new uses for bricks. They were also more innovative in real life, in terms of getting more ideas and starting up more businesses.  

In the second study, researchers studied 100 professionals who were living abroad for more than 9 years. Results showed that biculturals experienced more promotions and were more appreciated professionally than people who didn’t integrate both cultures. Importantly, in both studies, people with a bicultural perspective showed much more sophisticated and integrated thinking.

Implication of the Study

If you are thinking of moving abroad so as to boost your creativity, or if you are already living abroad and you want to achieve more, this study offers a good lesson. Simply, the solution is to integrate the part of yourself that is identified with your native country and the other part that wants to associate with the new environment.  The process of integration may seem hard, but if you manage it successfully you will be able to enjoy the benefits of complex and integrative thinking. This will be your key to success in a new country. 


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