Preparing for International Missions

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Differences in cultures, methods of communication and even diet can throw most people around their 20s for quite the loop.

For many who grow up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a mission is an iconic part of possible futures that is as mysterious as it is intriguing. Spiritual, mental and financial preparation often begins years in advance, but the preparation necessary for missionaries who serve overseas is often more rushed, stressful and costly. However, time spent preparing for the inevitable can be worthwhile.

Michelle Morgan, a senior from Anchorage, Alaska, studying linguistics, served in the Mongolia Ulaanbaatar Mission a couple of years ago and was able to do a little research prior to her departure. She said it was difficult; the information on Mongolia available at the time of her mission was more limited than it is now. Morgan said the preparatory research kept her at pace with those who went on their mission the same time she did.

“It set me right at par,” Morgan said, “A lot of missionaries prepared in the same way.”

One way she said she prepared was adjusting her diet. Overseas missionaries, especially those in developing countries, often don’t have the luxury of a diverse diet. Morgan prepared herself by making as many recipes as she could with rice, meat, cabbage, carrots, potatoes and salt, a staple for Mongolians.

“In America, we think Mongolian barbecue is Mongolian food,” Morgan said, “and in Mongolia, that’s American food.”

Brad Bishop, a junior from Bountiful, went on his mission to the Poland Warsaw Mission. Bishop said he spent time researching as well, but when he received his call, anxiety found its way into his life.

“Some feelings crept in about not knowing the future,” he said, “Some doubt crept in.”

Bishop said this doubt was a result of the fated arrival in a society he knew nothing about. He said he used a lot of the two months he had between the reception of his call and his departure researching.

“It immediately caused me to go on the Internet and surf information about Poland,” Bishop said. “It was enough time to become acquainted with it, but not enough time to become prepared for the culture shock. … Nevertheless, it was a great surprise.”

Bishop said he was also grateful he researched the history of Poland. Poland was a major sight of World War II, and Bishop said this contributed to the usual attitude of Polish people. He said to know a culture, one must know its history.

Cultural norms vary widely, especially between those from an affluent country, such as the United States, and those in developing countries. According to the American Mathematical Society, 144 of the 193 countries in the world are categorized as developing countries.

When a prospective missionary receives his or her mission call, they also receive a letter and packet complete with lists of needed clothing, medical necessities, toiletries and, for overseas missionaries, language materials. Scott Divett, a sophomore from Rio Rancho, N.M., studying linguistics, recommended a few other things not on the lists. Divett went on his mission to the Milan Italy Mission and in preparation, got a debit card with his bank that could be used overseas without tacking on extra fees for international useage.

Many prospective missionaries don’t think about their passports prior to their call.

“I had two or three months from the time I got my mission call to the time I went into the MTC,” Divett said. “So I had to pay the extra $50-60 to expedite the passport.”

Normally, a passport takes around six months to process.

Morgan said it was a challenge figuring out if the musts included in the call packet were available in Mongolia. She recommends any missionary going overseas should do the same thing.

“The best thing I did was find out what was available in the country, compared to what was available in America,” she said.

Divett said open-mindedness is needed for preparing for the inevitable departure.

“Don’t be surprised that things are going to be very different,” Divett said. “Realize that you have to adjust to their culture. You’re not going to be able to change their culture to you.”

Morgan also said most missionaries she saw who weren’t ready for the culture shock tried to adjust the Mongolian culture to the American. She said these fared worse than others.

“Understand that you need to be open,” Morgan said, “because people are different.”

As much as one can prepare while here in the country, it is rarely as beneficial as the full immersion.

“That two-month period that I worked hard, and studied and researched, made a bigger difference when I was out there on the mission,” Bishop said. “However, there are some things that you just can’t learn until you’re out there.”

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