Wednesday, May 20, 2009

New Report Confirms the Benefits of Living Abroad

Many of the students in the graduate program have either lived abroad sometime in their lives, are currently living abroad, or are hoping to live abroad at some point.

For many years the scientific community has pondered whether there is a link between an individual living abroad and increased personal creativity. Now it appears that an answer is in hand: According to a recent study, there is indeed a certifiable link between people who live abroad and their level of creativity.

In many ways, this is no real surprise. But on the other hand, it confirms that living abroad for a period of time has demonstrable benefits. And to be sure, nearly all who work in and study about environmental and natural resources are well aware of the international dimensions of the issues we face. The environment, as we well know, does not abide by any jurisdictional boundaries. The same applies with natural resources.

"Cultural Borders and Mental Barriers: The Relationship Between Living Abroad and Creativity" is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2009, Vol. 96, No. 5, pp. 1047-1061.

"Creativity, which is typically defined as the process of bringing into being something that is both novel and useful, is one of the most intriguing psychological phenomena," authors William W. Maddux of Insead in Paris and Adam D. Galinsky of Northwestern University write. "Although it is said that travel broadens the mind...we found a robust relationship between living in and adapting to foreign countries and creativity."

The researchers concluded, "This research provides a critical first step toward understanding how foreign living experiences are associated with creativity, with both experiences abroad and creativity being particularly significant as the world becomes more globally oriented and interconnected."

So how does this apply to all of us? In a very significant way I would suggest. If our core interest was say residential property development in Arizona, then that is what we would need to know about. But the concepts of "the environment" and "natural resources" and "energy" are so broad as to encompass every continent and all of the earth's oceans and bodies of water.

Consequently, the more someone is able to think creatively the more likely the chances that many of today's less-than-satisfactory approaches to the environment, natural resources, and energy can be developed for tomorrow's benefit. That's not to suggest, of course, that someone who has not lived elsewhere is not capable of being creative, but only that the experience of living somewhere other than one's "home territory" can pay future dividends.

One last point, however: As The Economist ("Ex Pats At Work," May 14, 2009), in its review of the study, put it: "Merely traveling abroad, however, [is] not enough. You have to live there. Packing your beach towel and suntan lotion will not, by itself, make you Hemingway."

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