by Victoria Lynden
This summer, Alliance Abroad will send thousands of students from the U.S. and other countries to work in Australia. And when they return, simply by virtue of having lived abroad, they’ll be more creative, more innovative, better able to devise solutions to problems than they would have been otherwise. Or, for that matter, than their fellow classmates who stayed home, according to a lot of recent academic research. With a global economy driven by innovation, they’ll be primed for career success.
Professor Adam Galinsky and William Maddux of the Kellogg School of Management conducted creativity tests on people who had lived abroad vs. those who hadn’t. Their research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, showed ones who lived abroad were better problem solvers and demonstrated more creative insight than the other students. The researchers theorized that’s partly because they had to adapt to a different culture. In fact, when asked to share stories of their time abroad, at the same time students who hadn’t traveled recounted stories of some other learning experience in a new place, the travelers were far more creative after the exercise…as evidenced, apparently, by their ability to draw cooler space aliens. But that’s not the point. The point might be that when students were asked to negotiate a solution between a buyer and seller with incompatible price points, the ones who had lived abroad were better able to negotiate a solution that worked. And if there’s anything that helps with career success, it’s being able to negotiate.
Students who have lived abroad are far better prepared for a global, multi-cultural business world. I’ll grant you that Australians speak English, which makes the transition easier for native English speakers. But their culture and way of communicating is different. For example, Americans tend to share how hard they worked to get something done in order to gain appreciation. Australians are more likely to de-emphasize the work they did, to gain appreciation by showing how easy it was for them to accomplish it. These and other differences force students to stop and think consciously about the way they operate with people of other cultures, rather than just accepting that the American way is the “right” way.
Living abroad fosters a sense of independence and adaptability, and prepares students to take on challenges they might not otherwise have approached. According to the Graduate Management Admission Test site, employers look for candidates with international experience for that very reason.
Finally, I’ve talked to hundreds of these students when they’ve returned from a summer in Australia. Their lives were transformed. They had made new friends and discovered things about themselves and their capabilities and passions they might never have discovered in the comfort of their own culture and geography.
I can’t wait to hear the stories from this summer of living abroad.