Living Abroad And Finding Purpose In Life

Last year I explored interesting research examining ‘citizens of the world’.  This growing cohort are comfortable living and working around the world and have been typified by a raft of new services that have emerged to support ‘digital nomads’.  

A recent study by Rice University, Columbia University and the University of North Carolina highlights the benefits of such a globe trotting lifestyle.  The study found that a spell living abroad increases something the researchers call ‘self-concept clarity’, which in layman’s term is our understanding and comfort with ourselves.

The study found that living abroad encourages us to reflect on the norms and values of both their home and host nation.  This period of reflection help people to better understand and define the values that reflect who they are.

“In a world where living-abroad experiences are increasingly common and technological advances make cross-cultural travel and communication ever easier, it is critical that research keeps pace with these developments and seeks to understand how they affect people,” they explain.  “Our studies demonstrate that living abroad affects the fundamental structure of the self-concept by enhancing its clarity. 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.”

Finding yourself

The study attempted to provide a more nuanced exposition of living abroad than previous works, focusing on the impact depth (ie the length of time spent abroad) of our experiences rather than the breadth (the number of countries lived in).  This depth proved crucial, as the longer people lived abroad, the more self-discerning their reflections became, which in turn helped to bolster their understanding of themselves and the life they wanted.

The authors believe that their findings have very practical implications for multi-national organizations as well as for us as individuals.  It’s fairly well known that other significant life experiences, such as divorce or redundancy, that force us to transition from one state to another prompt periods of reflection, but the research suggests that living abroad can prompt the same kind of thoughts.

This introspection can provide a range of benefits, from enhanced life satisfaction to lower stress levels and better productivity.  What’s more, it also gives people a greater idea as to their true purpose in life, and subsequently what careers they can pursue to best obtain that lifestyle.

Trotting the globe

The Nordic country of Estonia are aiming to try and support this kind of nomadic lifestyle via a new visa created for such globe trotting workers.

The Digital Nomad Visa will allow people to travel and work in Estonia for up to 365 days.  This would also provide them with access to the Schengen Area, which consists of 26 European states that have abolished passport controls.  Those with the visa can travel to any of these other states for up to 90 days.

The development has already been through an advisory stage and is now being developed into a formal proposal for legislature.  The process defines a digital nomad as an individual who can work independently of location, with the majority of their work conducted online.

“Migration policy has to take into account the fact that in today’s globalised world, people are more mobile, often combining work and travel. Estonia is at the forefront of e-solutions and our e-Residency programme has already become very popular among digital nomads, allowing them location-independent access to Estonian e-services. It is therefore not surprising that the digital nomad community has suggested  creating a special visa to facilitate the entry of digital nomads to Estonia. With the help of Jobbatical, the Ministry of Interior is currently gathering input from the digital nomad community to analyse the possibility of creating a “Digital Nomad Visa,” says Killu Vantsi, Legal Migration Adviser at the Estonian Ministry of the Interior.

At a time when many nations appear to be shutting down borders, and therefore the opportunities for people to tap into the benefits outlined by the study at the start of this post, their actions are very much welcomed.

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