Another benefit to traveling abroad!
As if we needed more reasons why we should travel or study abroad-Now we have one more….and it isn’t what you think!
We all know the benefits of traveling-
- Gain new perspective on the world.
- Increase language skills.
- Test your interests.
- Meet people from different places and make connections.
- Break out of your shell.
- Enjoy life like never before.
But now there is one HUGE benefit that we can attribute to living abroad. Creativity! Yes, traveling and living abroad helps the brain with creativity. So let’s get to the bottom of this. An interesting book called IMAGINE by Jonah Lehrer talks about how our brain works in terms of creativity. Here are some highlights:
- Traveling cultivates an outside perspective. Often, we are physically near the source of our problem. This means that our thoughts are “constricted” because they are “bound by a more limited set of associations” and so this inhibits the imagination. So this is where travel comes in. It helps you escape from the place where you spend most of your time. Those ideas that your mind had previously suppressed now are able to be awakened!
- And what is more interesting, is that the longer you are away from home, the stronger the effect. One study showed that “students who lived abroad for an extended period were significantly more likely to solve a difficult creativity problem than students who had never lived outside their birth country”.
So really-how does traveling change us? Well first of all, experiencing another culture provides open-mindedness to the traveler and in this way, he/she has an easier time realizing that “a single thing can have multiple meanings”. An example given is the simple act of leaving food on one’s plate. In China, leaving food on a plate is often seen as a compliment, a signal that the host has provided more than enough food. But, in the US, the same act can be seen as an insult. These cultural contrasts mean that seasoned travelers are open to ambiguity, more willing to realize that there are different ways of interpreting the world. Because they have “felt like outsiders before, immersed in foreign places, they’ve learned to examine alternative possibilities”.
In other words, increased creativity, according to the book, appears to be a side effect of experiencing difference. When traveling, you need to change cultures, societal norms, “feel the disorienting diversity of human traditions. The same details that make foreign travel so confusing-Do I tip the waiter? Where is this train taking me?-turn out to have a lasting impact, making us more creative because we’re less insular. We’re reminded of all that we don’t know, which is nearly everything; we’re surprised by the constant stream of surprises”.
So when you are struggling to figure out which side to kiss on, or if you should even kiss, or what the cashier is saying to you, or how the heck to read the train schedule, know that all of your struggles are helping your brain!
And as the book says, “when you get back home, home is still the same. But something in our minds has been changed, and that changes everything”.