Living Abroad Might Be The Key To Self-Discovery, Study Finds

If you've always dreamed of living abroad, even for a short time, now might be the perfect time to turn that fantasy into a reality. Why? Because according to a new study, living abroad can help you gain a clearer sense of self — and if you ask me, going on a journey of self-discovery is a great excuse to take an extended vacation from your drab day-to-day life and try your luck in a totally new place.

"When you're out of your comfort zone, away from the friends, environment and family that you know you are essentially starting from scratch," Jenn DeWall, Career & Life Coach, tells Bustle. "The things that used to give you confidence, i.e. being the supportive friend, being the best at work, are no longer there to give you confidence. Living abroad requires that you discover and meet new people and build and evolve your sense of self to respond to the new challenges and situations of living abroad."

To more closely examine the effects that living abroad can have on people, social scientists at Rice University, Columbia University, and the University of North Carolina recruited participants (some of whom had not lived abroad before) from online panels, as well as U.S. and international MBA programs, then had them complete surveys on living abroad. The researchers discovered that living abroad triggers "self-discerning reflections": being immersed in a new culture forces you to examine the cultural differences between your host and home countries — and in turn, those reflections help you to get a clearer sense of who you are and what you value.

But what exactly does it mean to have self-clarity? "A clear sense of self means understanding your own values, what's important to you and what your mission/purpose is in life," DeWall says. "It also means you understand what you don't want in life. When we have a clear sense of self we are able to better make decisions that align with our (not someone else's) happiness."

Why It's Important To Have A Clear Sense Of Self

Hannah Burton/Bustle

Getting to know yourself is a long journey and — spoiler alert — it never really ends. But there are ways to enhance the process of self-discovery, and pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone and doing things that challenge you (like living abroad) is one of the best ways to quickly learn more about yourself. But why is it so important to have a clear sense of self in the first place?

"It's important to have a sense of clarity about who we are because it directly correlates with our happiness and confidence," DeWall says. "When we know who we are we can make decisions that make us happy. The more decisions that make us happy the more confident we become. When we don't know who we are we become victims to feeling stuck or start comparing ourselves to others and judging ourselves which creates unhappiness and a lack of confidence."

Simply put, the better we know ourselves, the happier we'll be able to make ourselves — and who doesn't want to be even happier and more confident?!

How Can You Gain A Sense Of Clarity *Without* Going Abroad?

Before you rush to book a week-long stay in a foreign city, though, you might want to press pause: in the study, researchers also found that when it comes to enhancing your sense of self, depth — aka the length of time spent abroad —mattered more than breadth — aka the number of countries lived in. So if spending an *extended* period of time abroad isn't an option for you, what can you do to work on getting to know yourself and gaining a sense of clarity?

"Start by doing personal development exercises," DeWall says. "Try a values exercise or write down a mission statement. If that's not your thing try something new without your friends, challenge your comfort zone. My favorite quote is 'comfort should scare you.' Which essentially means if you're too comfortable it's time to start growing again and challenging yourself. Challenge yourself to grow, read different books, try new hobbies, do something that scares you."

Ultimately, while taking time to live abroad and explore a new culture can definitely help you grow as a person, traveling isn't the only way to get to know yourself. As long as you're always looking for ways to learn, grow, and challenge yourself, you'll be on the fast track to knowing exactly who you are and what you want — and then all that's left is to go out and get it.