How adapting to business life abroad improves your mental game

By David Hammond
Starting out in a new culture is an adventure.

And like most adventures, it often includes a few challenges. Like social cues, values, and expectations different from your own.

According to a 2012 study *, making an effort to accept a new culture, while still identifying with your home culture, can boost your mental creativity and improve the likelihood of your future business success.

When immersed in a new culture people cope by managing their own cultural identity in one of four ways:
•    Separation
•    Assimilation
•    Marginalization
•    Integration

Separation and assimilation
Separation and assimilation both involve choosing one culture over the other.

People who separate identify with their home culture and psychologically dismiss the legitimacy of the new culture.

People who assimilate identify with the new culture and psychologically abandon their cultural heritage.

Separating and assimilating enable you to escape the psychological discomfort of coping with cultural duality. But, you also miss out on a development opportunity.

Marginalized expats don't identify strongly with either the culture of their home country or their new country.

In this context, "marginalized" doesn't refer to alienated souls with low self-esteem. Many culturally marginalized expats possess strong constitutions.

Instead of ascribing to any cultural dictates, they consciously pick and choose from each culture at will.

As a group, marginalized expats do the mental work of dealing with life between two cultures. And in the process, develop a greater potential for creativity and business success than those who psychologically separate or assimilate.

People who integrate identify with their culture of origin and, at the same time, accept the new culture.

Of the four coping strategies described in this post, integration results in the greatest mental gains.

By working through the differences you develop “integrative complexity,” which is the ability to accept the legitimacy of multiple points of view and to form connections between them.

As you develop this more elaborate thinking process, it carries over into your social perceptions, attitudes, and decision-making ability. It produces measurable improvements in creativity and contributes to real-life business success.

So, if you want to get the most from your time abroad, embrace your new culture while maintaining your identification with your culture of origin. View the cultural conflict as an interesting and worthwhile puzzle.

*The study: Getting the Most Out of Living Abroad: Biculturalism and Integrative Complexity as Key Drivers of Creative  and Professional Success. By Carmit T. Tadmor, Adam D. Galinsky, and William W. Maddux. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

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