I cant say it helped me grow in terms of conceptual reasoning skills but it definitely breathed brand new life into my computing knowledge.
I am late to the party myself, I first ran into Linux about 2001 at the University of Florida in the astrophysics lab I worked at. The lab was making parts for the LIGO project which I was really happy to be a part of. They were using a version of SuSe (german lab manager :/) at the command line to calculate prorogation of laser modes through different lenses, etc.
I wasn't that into it.
About a year later a roommate of mine installed Mandrake on our hub computer to route the home network and since I was in-between computers at the time I used that terminal as my main computer. Thats when I started really getting into Linux.
About two years after that (after finishing school and having the time I wanted to commit to learning it) I tried my first install and as a glutton for punishment but thinking that Gentoo was the most suited distro for my liking (which it is) I picked up Gentoo 2004.0. I couldnt figure out that install for about four months. When I finally learned gentoo which really taught me a lot about computing and Linux in general I was hooked and I have been an avid Gentoo user since. This is really how Linux expanded my understanding of computing to the next level.
And no I am not Asian. And yes, I think Gentoo is the most underrated and underappreciated distro out there.
Since then I have tried about every distro but I also come home to Gentoo (altho my netbook these days has ubuntu on it for simplicity sake).