Interviews & Editorials / Expatriates and Creativity

Expatriates and Creativity

Expatriates and Creativity

9 February 2010 Interviews & Editorials 13

What do Pablo Picasso, Rudyard Kipling, Paul Gauguin, Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Beckett and other artistas muy famosos in all genre of the arts have in common with us living, working and playing in the Yucatan?

As expats we are all well aware of the many attributes it takes to live in Merida, our adopted foreign home. Just to name a few: curiosity, a sense of adventure, compassion for others (and ourselves at frustrating times!), flexibility, the love of new languages (Spanish and Maya here)---but there is another attribute we may not be as well aware of, nor take credit for: Creativity!

Yes! It is no longer purely anecdotal: two psychologists have proven that there is a definite link between creativity in artists and writers and living in a foreign country.

William Maddux of INSEAD, a business school in Fountainebleau, France, and Adam Galinsky of the Kellogg School of Management in Chicago, Illinois, reported on their study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. One hundred and fifty-five Americans and fifty-five foreign business students studying in the United States


were given a test by the psychologists to measure creativity. Given only some matches, a candle and a box of thumbtacks they were asked to attach the candle to a cardboard wall so that no wax would drip on the floor when the candle was lit. (Of course all you creative people knew the solution: use the box as a candle holder and attach it to the wall with the thumbtacks.) The results were that 60% of the students who were either living abroad or who had spent some time doing so, solved the problem, whereas only 42% of those who had not lived abroad did.

Then 72 of the Americans and 36 foreigners had their creative negotiating skills examined in a subsequent study. Students were paired off, one playing the role of the seller of a gas station, who then needed to find a job, and the other the role of the buyer who would then need to hire personnel to run their business. The two were likely to reach a stalemate as the buyer had been told he could not afford what the seller had been told was his lowest price. However, when both negotiators had lived abroad, 70% reached a deal in which the seller was offered a position in management at the gas station in return for a lower selling price. When neither of these negotiators had lived abroad, none of the pairs was able to reach a deal!

To make sure they had not merely discovered that creative people are simply more likely to choose to live overseas, the doctors identified and measured personality traits like openness to new experiences, which is known to be predictive of creativity. Even after using specific controls to filter, the statistical connection between living abroad and creativity endured, signifying that it is something specific to living in a foreign place that fosters creativity.

It is not enough to travel to foreign lands: packing your sunscreen and Speedo for Barcelona does not a Picasso make! It is the actual day-to-day living that makes the difference, as we well know! So grab your pencils and paints and passports, you aspiring artists and writers---move to another country, become an expatriate and let the creative adventure begin!


INSEAD School in France

Wikipedia on Creativity


  • Le V. Bailey 13 years ago

    This is an excellent article! It clarified many things for me. Specifically, it helped clarify for me those significant periods while in Merida when i'm happiest and "what i was doing" - clearly "being creative"! This was a very important Lesson Learned for me. Now i have new goals to pursue .. :)

  • Nan Logan 13 years ago

    Perhaps it is because, as expats, we have to be creative in finding items we want which are not available in our adopted countries. This may spread to artistic creativity.

  • ML 13 years ago

    Great article! I'm starting a drawing class tomorrow and hope it adds to my creativity. Merida has lots of ways to develop creativity in new areas of life. That's one of the reasons I love living here.

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