“The German philosopher Hermann von Keyserling wrote in the epigraph to his 1919 book The Travel Diary of a Philosopher, ‘The shortest path to oneself leads around the world.’ Almost 100 years later, our research provides empirical evidence in support of this idea.” What exactly the social scientists from Rice University, Columbia University and the University of North Carolina who penned the above sentence arrived at is illuminating — especially to our global audience. Up until now, most research on foreign experiences has tended to focus on whether someone researched lived abroad or not. This study, however, focused on the durations of those stays and the effects they had on our clarity of self.
In short, depth of time spent in a place — rather than the number of places visited —enhances our sense of self. Why? Well, the strangeness of a foreign environment encourages us to reflect more. As those reflections accumulate, we get greater clarity in making decisions about important things, like our careers. That makes the expat life one of the only transitional experiences — others are getting divorced or losing a job — that increases that sense of self. The insight is important to companies that are increasingly hiring talent from abroad. But it’s also important for individuals themselves. For proof, just scroll up to the top and read Sue Cowie’s profile again.