People Who Take Time To Study Abroad Are Smarter And More Creative

by Dan Scotti

I’ve always felt I learned more in my one semester studying abroad than I did over the course of the other seven combined.

Although a lot of the lessons I learned couldn’t be found in a textbook -- or scientifically verifiable through some formula -- they contained a lifetime of relevancy.

It’s true that life starts at the end of your comfort zone, and studying abroad will reinforce this on a daily basis.

The moment you’re thrusted into a place where you might not fully speak the native language or even know you’re way around the city -- it’s as if a switch has flipped, and suddenly, you begin to feel your true instincts flare up almost like survival mode.

You don’t get tested like that at your home university. For most American students in 2015, college is a very self-sustainable place.

Your home campus will have a dining hall, one that feeds you three (or as many as you want, really) meals throughout the day. Your school’s library will likely have all the amenities necessary for academic excellence, including tutors on call for you most hours of the day.

For many of us, our parents were never all that far from us -- at least not too far to send a care package with our favorite foods from home or that replacement iPhone after our last one “somehow shattered.”

And the reason why college is designed to be so self-sufficient is because colleges don’t want the students’ focus to be on the “other stuff.”

In America, you pay X amount of dollars to attend a school, complete all of the requisites demanded by your particular major and get a diploma. That’s just the purpose of it all.

The same could hardly be said for your semester abroad. When you study abroad, the emphasis is rarely put on a specific education of any type.

I mean, I doubt many parents would endorse the concept of travelling to Barcelona to study calculus when that type of education could be just as easily obtained by completing an online course from the shelter of their own apartment.

See? That’s my point. When you choose to study abroad, you’re doing so for the experience.

In fact, for most students, their study abroad is epitomized by the time spent not studying whatsoever.

From experience, I can confirm that while I might not remember much of what I learned in my college chemistry course, I certainly still use many of the same lessons I learned while studying abroad in my everyday life.

Frankly, I think I’ve become a smarter person because of them. And, as it appears, science agrees.

According to Annie Murphy Paul of Time, “research shows that experience in other countries makes us more flexible, creative and complex thinkers.”

The rationale behind this belief revolves around the notion of adapting to new cultures. According to Paul, “the extent to which [students] adapted to and learned about new cultures -- predicted how ‘integratively complex’ their thinking became.”

In other words, by forcing yourself to acclimate to new cultures -- and embrace new ways of living -- you can promote more “integratively complex” thoughts in your mind.

The term “integratively complex” refers to the intricacy of certain ideas with regard to a more global perspective.

Paul references one study in particular: an experiment conducted by William Maddux of INSEAD, which focused on “students enrolled in an international MBA program.”

As the results showed, “the students’ multicultural engagement also predicted the number of job offers they received after the program ended,” proving that test subjects with the most multicultural experience garnered the most job success.

The benefits of abroad experience don’t stop there. Additionally, it appears that time spent in a different country can also lead to greater creativity.

While I was abroad, every day felt new. There were rarely any days when I woke up, walked like a zombie through my daily routine and went to sleep, failing to experience something new.

Being abroad kept me inspired on a daily basis. I can honestly say there was rarely a dull moment. In fact, I began writing seriously while I was studying abroad in Florence.

Whenever I’d have some down time -- in a place so different from where I was used to -- I’d get the urge to express myself and write down my experience.

When you leave your comfort zone, you’ll start to find comfort in new hobbies; for me, that was writing. Studying abroad encourages you to explore your more creative side.

Angela Leung, of Singapore Management University, believes that people with a broader palate for diverse cultures and experiences are “better able to generate creative ideas and make unexpected links among concepts,” as Paul writes.

By opening yourself up to culturally foreign things -- such as fashion, food and even sport -- you’ll inadvertently be opening yourself up to more abstract thinking, in general.

Ultimately, close-mindedness, or open-mindedness, alike, typically aren’t personality traits that are situationally dependent.

Close-minded people enclose themselves to close-minded habits. On the other hand, if you remain open to different perspectives in your own lifestyle, it’s only natural for you to begin to open your mind up to different perspectives of thought and expression.

At the end of the day, creativity is usually just the byproduct of previous inspiration. By studying abroad, it’s hard to not be inspired as soon as you look out a window.

The same can’t really be said from a lecture hall or fraternity house.