What separates a leader from a boss? While the latter is able to keep things ticking over – dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s – it’s only a leader who is able to inspire others; to follow their vision and invest in turning it into a reality. So where do budding entrepreneurs learn these skills? According to many entrepreneurs, while an MBA will give you the requisite knowledge to succeed in business, it’s traveling that will impart the experience and skills to see it through.
When done right, travel can be an important rite of passage – building maturity, independence and opening horizons. A number of studies have backed up this assertion, demonstrating that traveling the world and living abroad can improve a wide array of soft skills germane to business success.
At university, a great deal of us will have the opportunity to spend a year studying abroad at a partner institution. In Europe, this is called the ERASMUS program – aimed at fostering greater cultural integration and exchange of knowledge between EU nations – while in the U.S., it’s known as the junior year abroad. A 10-year study of 3,400 university students who’d spent an exchange year abroad found it spurred significant personal growth, instilling feelings of improved self-confidence, wisdom and maturity. What’s more, the students also reported that their time abroad had enabled them to handle uncertainty – a vital trait for entrepreneurs during those turbulent first months after starting an enterprise – and had resulting in them developing a more sophisticated way of looking at the world.
It is arguably this latter benefit that is most important for entrepreneurs. As Immanuel Kant said, it only makes sense to travel in other cultures if you’ve already made sense of your own, but doing the former will help you notice the shortcomings of your own culture. That might mean recognizing outmoded business practices or opportunities you wouldn’t have otherwise considered. It is as if we can’t see what can be improved about our own culture until we see what’s great about it (and vice versa), which we learn from traveling in other countries. As the contemporary philosopher Susan Neiman asserts, “If you do not travel you are likely to suppose your own cultural assumptions to make up human reality – for you can only recognize what those assumptions are if you have in a place that runs on different ones. Travel is as important for learning about yourself and your own culture as it is for understanding others.”
To find out how traveling can improve your own entrepreneurial skill-set, read the full infographic featured below.
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Dwyer, M.M. and Peters, C.K. (1999). The benefits of study abroad. iesabroad.org
Hendricks, D. (2015). Entrepreneurs believe traveling makes them more successful. forbes.com
Kant, I. (2006). Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, trans. Robert B. Louden (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Klein, D. et al. (2013). Age of language learning shapes brain structure: A cortical thickness study of bilingual and monolingual individuals.Brain and Language, 131.
Medal, A. (2015). How traveling empowers you to succeed as an entrepreneur. entrepreneur.com
Morris, G. (2015). Traveling the world made me a better entrepreneur. hbr.org
Santayana, G. (1995). ‘The Philosophy of Travel’, in The Birth of Reason and Other Essays. New York: Columbia University Press.