Experiences, Findings, Recommendations
Stable or Evolving Selves
GIVING FEEDBACK by Hans-Josef Jeanrond
In their article “How Living Abroad Helps You Develop a Clearer Sense of Self”, Hajo Adam, Otilia Obodaru, Jackson G. Lu, William Maddux, and Adam D. Galinsky examine the positive effects of living abroad. (Harvard Business Review, May 22, 2018)
They focus on “a person’s sense of self” when measuring these benefits which seems like an odd approach and beside the point. (A professional deformation?). Apparently, for them people don’t want to know the world but know themselves in the world. What a waste! How to pass over the real experience of knowing other cultures!
Even worse: “self-concept clarity, the extent to which someone’s understanding of himself or herself is clearly and confidently defined, internally consistent, and temporally stable”.
The best thing one can hope for when living abroad, especially for longer periods, is to change one’s self concept – and one’s self! – rather than keeping it stable.
If I hadn’t changed when going to Oxford, meeting my French wife there, learning French and learning to appreciate the French and the English cultures and ways of life, I would have stayed – stably – a boy from Kleinblittersdorf (albeit a bit different already by a university education). What a sad idea.
If living abroad doesn’t change you, you might have stayed at home. And change doesn’t stop after a few months, it keeps going on permanently if you stay awake and open.
The changed and changing person that you can become if you don’t try to stay your stable self, can understand others, enjoy other cultures, perhaps mediate between people from different cultures, and maybe even motivate people from one culture to open up to another.
Intercultural communication depends on this openness and understanding. Stable selves are too self-centered to be able to help people understand each other.