Returned missionaries integrate language skills into studies and careers

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Claire Woodward, a senior studying German and history, stands by the Foreign Language Student Residence housing, where she used to work as a Language Facilitator.
Claire Woodward, a senior studying German and history, stands by the Foreign Language Student Residence housing where she used to work as a language facilitator. (Ryan Turner)

The first time Joshua Sims discovered his love for the Mongolian language was when he served his mission a few years ago.

Sims served as a translator for a Mongolian delegate at the BYU Law and Religion Symposium last year. During the summer, Sims returned to his mission country to study Mongolian phonology.

With the recent surge of returned missionaries at BYU, even more returned missionaries like Sims have found ways to integrate their mission languages into their studies and other aspects of their lives.

Joshua didn't know who took the picture.
Joshua Sims and his mission companion by a Mongolian “ger” home in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. (Joshua Sims)

Sims, a senior majoring in linguistics who served in the Mongolia Ulaanbaatar Mission, said he chose to pursue Mongolian in his studies because it fit well with his desired field.

“The whole Mongolian thing kind of fell into my lap,” Sims said. “Fluency in Mongolian is not something most people can put on their resume. Linguists who study Mongolian usually have to put in hard labor for years and years to learn. It worked out well that way.”

Sims mentioned that in the future he hopes to pursue a doctorate degree in Central Asian Studies and eventually become a professor.

Claire Woodward, a senior majoring in both German and history, had a similar experience. Woodward started learning German at a young age, but developed her skill and confidence with the language when she went on her mission to Berlin, Germany.

Eventually, Woodward became so skilled at speaking German that she taught German classes at BYU when she returned home. She also worked as a language facilitator at the Foreign Language Student Residence, a position usually reserved for native speakers. In this job she helped others improve their German skills.

Kassandra Hays
Claire Woodward poses by a part of the Berlin Wall in Berlin, Germany. (Kassandra Hays)

“Teaching German and being involved in classes has been one of the highlights of the German experience,” Woodward said. “My mom speaks German too and my dad works in Germany right now. Fate has brought me and German together.”

Pursuing German studies also influenced Woodward to learn other languages.

“I started French in the past year too just because I had such good experiences with my other cultural studies,” Woodward said. “I feel like you can get a sense of kindredness with a culture by learning the language that you might not be able to get if you don’t speak the language.”

Woodward is currently applying to graduate programs in German studies and hopes to eventually become a professor for the German language and German cultural studies.

Like Woodward, Brad Clawson, a junior majoring in civil engineering and Portuguese, felt that speaking Portuguese was a part of his identity that he didn’t want to lose.

“I’ve always just felt like if I was going to learn a language, I wanted to keep it up as best I could,” Clawson said. “I still read my scriptures in Portuguese and I still pray in Portuguese. It’s been two and a half years now since I came home, but I just do my best to keep it up.”

Clawson, who served in the Brazil Campinas and Piracicaba Missions, sees his language skill as a tool that he can use to further his professional pursuits.

Paul Tupou
Brad Clawson stands in the rain on his way back from a zone meeting while on his mission in Campinas, Brazil. (Paul Tupou)

“I’m interested in the energy industry, like oil and gas. Brazil has a lot of potential for that and they already exploit a lot of it,” Clawson said. “I’m hoping whatever I end up doing with engineering I can use Portuguese with it because Brazil is a rising economic power.”

Clawson’s fluency in Portuguese helped him get a high paying scholarship and gain employment.

“It’s given me greater perspective and understanding,” Clawson said. “It’s also given me a nice break. It’s nice to not have just engineering classes.”

All of the returned missionaries interviewed mentioned they felt that keeping up with their mission languages gave them a greater sense of community and appreciation for other cultures.

Sims expressed this appreciation as he reminisced about an experience he had becoming acquainted with a Tibetan Buddhist monk who spoke only Mongolian.

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Joshua Sims stands with a Tibetan monk named Myagmarsuren at the Gandantegchinlen Monastery in Mongolia during his research trip last summer. (Joshua Sims)

“I had a very much more involved experience at a monastery just visiting them that I wouldn’t have had otherwise had I only been able to speak English and had to rely on a translator,” Sims said. “I would feel like I had a bit less of an experience in Mongolia if everyone I knew I knew through a translator as opposed to the way I know them speaking in their native language.”

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