Few months ago I stumbled upon a research paper that discussed the relationship between living abroad and creativity. The authors suggest that somehow living abroad may increase your creativity. Why so?

Living abroad and creativity

If you think about it, it does make sense. When we live abroad we come in contact with another culture and therefore with another way of thinking than the one we were socialized. This exposure and adaptation to a new way of thinking and behaving are likely to relax the rigidity of our brains and to increase the ability to consider different viewpoints and different ways to interpret the same reality.

When you live in a different culture you have to re-learn how to behave in a culturally-appropriate manner. For example, people in different cultures have different ways to greet each other when they meet or to shake their hands. The latter can range from a very vigorous handshake to a very light one. By going through this process of re-learning and re-socialization you realize that there are many possible ways to look at things.

Language, culture  and thought

One important aspect of living abroad is that one has the motivation and the opportunity to learn a new language. There is a well-known debate on how much language influences thought or how much is the type of culture (and then thought) that influences language. According to linguistic relativism, the language we use is the lens through which we see reality.

American anthropologist and linguist Edward Sapir claims:

The real world is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group. No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality. The world in which different societies lives are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached” (Sapir 1958).

At the contrary a classic example of how languages can be shaped by our worldview and reflect a different perception of the environment is the many different terms that inuit have for snow such as: aput (now on the ground), qana (falling snow),  piqsirpoq (drifting) snow. An aspect of inuit culture popularised by the book and movie Smilla’s sense for snow.

Learning a “difficult” language is the perfect training for your mind

In my own experience learning German is a challenge especially because to learn it you have to train your mind to think differently. For example, in some sentences, the verb goes to the end. This structure is very unfamiliar for a person that speaks English, or Spanish or French, or Italian. Ultimately, what makes German so difficult for me, it is different grammar structure relative to my mother tongue, makes also German an extremely valuable training for my mind. Indeed, as a consequence of learning this new way of organizing my thoughts, I and my subconscious will also acknowledge that I can say the same thing in several ways, that I can see the world in different ways, and this ability to see the world through different lenses is certainly linked to creativity.

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