The air was hot and heavy and had the slight smell of burning trash. That was what hit Robert Hill, a 24-year-old BYU student from Gilbert, Arizona, as he stepped off the plane in Paraguay in June. It had been three years since he had smelled the musty air and burning trash he had once breathed in the Paraguay Asuncion North Mission. It was a dream come true.
For many returned missionaries, traveling back to the places they served is a major bucket-list item. Those who plan to make it back hope to gain a deeper knowledge and experience with the culture and people they spent two years with. Their experience is often just what they expect: insightful and fun.
“Gosh, it was like pure euphoria for the first four or five days. I just couldn’t stop grinning. We went out, and we were talking to these people, interviewing them for the documentary that we were shooting, and there was a couple of kids on the street and we started talking to the kids … and having fun. It was the funnest thing I can ever remember doing,” Hill said.
According to Nick Blosil, a 24-year-old business management student from Orem who served in the France Toulouse Mission, being a tourist shed new light on the people and culture. Blosil gained a greater appreciation for France and its people when doing things he couldn’t do as a missionary, such as staying with people, seeing the night life and even talking to people about things other than religion.
“That totally changes your experience too because not everyone is interested in talking about religion. You can connect with everyone on some level, so it was kind of cool to see the other sides of French people,” Blosil said. “As a missionary, you just see a cross-section. It’s like a slice of bread. You don’t see the loaf.”
Kyle Fisher, 23, a geology major who served in the Peru Piura Mission, agreed that being a tourist revealed cultural aspects he didn’t see as a missionary.
“When you’re a missionary, you don’t get too close to people. You don’t stay longer than you need to … and you’re trying to stay on a schedule. When I was with my family, it was more like hanging out with the people and so you actually got to see the culture more than you would as a missionary,” Fisher said.
For some it is easy to travel to their mission; for others, it is quite an investment. Some pay out of pocket for the experience. For Hill, it probably would have costed around $2,000 just for the round-trip plane tickets. Fortunately, there was another way to go back.
Hill’s trip back to Paraguay became a reality when he was able to work on a Laycock/Ballard Center Creative Project team to make a documentary on the success of the program “Fundacion Paraguaya,” a social enterprise helping get people out of poverty and unemployment. Not only was it a great cause, but its base of operations just happens to be in Asuncion, Paraguay.
“I always wanted to go back and wished I could but never really expected to be able to just because it was so expensive. I never expected that I could actually go back until I came across this awesome little opportunity with the Laycock Center,” Hill said.
Not surprisingly, a lot of people feel the change in pace when being a tourist as compared to being a missionary. Fisher had the opportunity to travel the areas in his mission with his parents.
“The big difference was that I really only associated with people I knew after that. When I was proselyting, I was trying to meet new people every ten minutes. When I left proselyting, it was more like being on vacation. It was more like visiting friends in another city,” Fisher said.
Sometimes the feel of being a tourist instead of a missionary has its downsides. In some cases, missionaries don’t connect well with aspects of the culture as a tourist, or they are even concerned for their well-being. Fisher felt concern for the safety of his family as they came to pick him up from his mission.
“One thing that became more apparent when my parents came was the dangers in a developing country. When I was with my native companion, I had no fear even though I’d been robbed a couple times. When my parents were there … a lot of those areas happened to be where I served, so I was a little bit scared of that,” Fisher said.
For Hill, the downside of the trip was less dangerous.
“I didn’t get to see as many people as I would’ve hoped,” Hill said.
The risks and expense seem to be worth it for those who go back to the places they were called to serve in. Whether they recommended going back right after the mission or years later, RMs who have gone just say go.
“You’ll love the country and culture even more, and you’ll just see another side of the place that you didn’t before, and it’ll just make your feeling towards your mission that much better,” Blosil said. “If you go back to your mission, don’t expect it to be the same experience. Be open for a new adventure.”