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I’ve always thought that the 18th century writer and critic Samuel Johnson was a man of fairly solid opinions. This was a guy who suggested to his Scottish pal James Boswell that they only speak in Latin to each other while travelling through Europe, so that the French wouldn’t have any advantage over them. And if that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is.

But when it comes to Johnson’s famous advice to Boswell—“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford"—I have to object.

As of 2006, almost one in every 10 (about 5.5 million) UK citizens was living abroad permanently, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research in London, UK. The Union ministry of home affairs estimated in 2012 that there were nearly 22 million Indians working overseas.

I’m not talking about a holiday. Drifting around museums and markets taking artful pictures on Instagram is therapeutic. But this isn’t about therapy. The experience of working abroad gives you two precious things: an awareness of your own ignorance and a healthy dose of terror.

I moved from London to Delhi to work for this newspaper at the beginning of 2010. It’s been less an “Eat, Pray, Love" experience than an “Eat, Work, Sleep" one, and has been much more interesting for that. While, in theory, I replaced one home-to-office routine with another, the challenge was performing that routine in an environment about which I was totally ignorant, without the accumulated social shorthand on which we all rely.

Four years ago I knew practically nothing about India. I’d never travelled here, or anywhere in Asia. I was not a fan of cricket or Bollywood. I was pretty sure, but not certain, that Sonia Gandhi was no relation to Mohandas Gandhi. It seemed tautologous to me when newspapers talked about the Congress government.

This was all part of the attraction. In my first few months, I spent an incredible amount of time on Google trying to catch up. In April 2010, when the “Right to Education" Bill came into action, a conversation in an editorial meeting might have gone like this:

“So… what does this mean for UPA II? It’s about 22 crore children it’s going to affect? There’s some event at Jantar Mantar; we need a bite from Sheila. Cordelia can you do that? You know she’s Delhi CM? It’s right by CP."

I would nod—rather sagely, I hoped—and return to my desk where I would Google the following: “UPA 2", “Right to education", “Jantar", “Mantar", “Delhi CM", “Crores", and half an hour later I would have a pretty solid idea of what the day would hold.

The process of constantly learning new things is exhilarating and exhausting, in much the same way that it is profoundly tiring to sit for a day in a room full of people who are all speaking a language that you don’t understand. But it’s good for you too. The brain, while seemingly supine, is constantly alerting itself to sounds it recognizes and struggling to make sense of them, like a cellphone trying to attach itself to an elusive network.

An unpublished study from Columbia University, US, suggests that ignorance might have unintuitive advantages. Providing people with less information enables them to judge more precisely what they do and don’t know, which in turn enhances long-term memory, according to the authors.

Behavioural scientists have also written papers asking whether living or working abroad might make people more creative and professionally successful. The answer, according to another study done in 2012 for the Kellogg School of Management, US, is a resounding yes—provided the emigrant makes a real attempt to integrate on arrival (in other words, as long as you don’t adopt Johnson’s attitude of belligerent mistrust). You need just enough novelty to disorientate you, but perhaps not so much that you have to resort to speaking Latin.

FIELD SEARCH

Ø If you work for a large company, with offices overseas or around the country, an internal move is an obvious choice. Even moving cities within India (from the north to the south, say, or vice versa) offers you a radically different living environment. On the other hand, with international postings, visas are probably your biggest hurdle. While job opportunities are available all over the world, getting a company to sponsor your visa can be tricky, and often it will first have to prove that there are no superior candidates from your destination country.

While there are around 52 countries where Indian nationals either don’t require visas to visit (many of them are in South America) or can get them easily on arrival, that doesn’t help much if you want to earn money. Organizations like Teach for All, which have offices all over the world, actively search for employees from a wide range of cultural backgrounds. You can find out more about working with them here. Alternatively, www.tefl.com has job opportunities for English- language teachers all over the world.

For prospective students, the British Council launched 370 new scholarships under their GREAT programme this month.

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