How to adjust to a new culture when serving a mission in a foreign country

In November 1994, I arrived in Honduras where I was to serve my mission. Here are a few things that helped me to adjust to a different culture:

Respect the beliefs and traditions of the people. While some traditions may seem more than just "different," most likely they are as special to them as our traditions are to us.- Try to learn about the history of the country. Not only does this help you learn more, but also you will gain a respect for the people as you learn about their history. It will also show them that you really are sincere and respectful of their beliefs.

Eat the food. The mission president may restrict where and what a missionary can eat. If mission rules permit, eat the food of the country you are in. It is part of the mission experience, and most likely you will enjoy some of their foods as much as Mom's cooking. Personally, it's mango season in Honduras, and I love mangos!

Learn the national anthem. One of the most memorable experiences for me was to be able to sing the national anthem of Honduras with my gospel brothers and sisters on their Independence Day. I found they are just as patriotic as we are, and I enjoyed singing their national anthem as much as I enjoy singing "The Star Spangled Banner."

I found that when you make a sincere effort to adjust to a new culture, you will be much happier in your mission. - Peter Lee-Carl, Junction, Mo.

What we did:

Gospel plan

A year and a half ago, I received a mission call to the Uruguay Montevideo Mission. I left knowing little about the country and even less about its culture. I found that as I learned and understood more about the plan Heavenly Father has prepared for all His children, the gap grew shorter between me and the Uruguayan people. A better understanding of our purpose as missionaries will break down cultural barriers. - Elder Brett Rush, Uruguay Montevideo Mission

Be loving

Realize whatever you say or do will reflect on you, your family, friends, and also the members of the Church and investigators who will be there long after you've gone.

Be patient. Avoid criticizing life-styles, customs and languages that are new to you.

Be loving. A missionary is a servant, not a master or a judge.

Be slow to take offense and quick to apologize. - Sheila R. Woodard, Idaho Falls, Idaho

Be aware

To adapt well to a new culture, one must be aware that all people are children of our Heavenly Father, but each group has developed special language and procedures to carry out everyday affairs. Pledge to yourself to love each individual you meet and to learn as quickly as possible the idioms and manners of your host culture.

Work diligently to avoid suffering from culture shock. Culture shock can be as simple as your saying, "We don't do it that way back home," to more serious emotional disturbances that can ruin a mission. It can be minimized by proper language and cultural preparation before a mission, maintaining a Christlike attitude, constant prayer and constant study,both of the culture and of the gospel.

The best tool that any sojourner in a foreign culture can have is a good sense of humor. - Lon Pearson, Kearney, Neb.

Show respect

Look at a foreign mission as an opportunity to learn about another culture. Be open-minded; shed the idea that "my way is best."

Purchase a book that will give some insight into the country and its history and culture.

Show respect by refraining from doing something that is considered rude that was acceptable in your own country.

Engage locals in conversation about things you have observed and questions you may have. - Elder Don and Sister Gloria Pratt, Seoul Korea Temple Mission

Don't compare

Don't compare the culture of your new country to another. Pay close attention to the culture classes at the Missionary Training Center and put that information to use.

The food will be different, but be as kind and thoughtful as you would want someone to be at your own table. - Dee and Norreta Allred, Las Vegas, Nev.

Be prepared to adjust

First, have a knowledge of the culture and be prepared to adjust. When I received my call to the Kenya Nairobi Mission, I bought a book about Kenya and tried to learn as much as I could about the people.

Second, expect the unexpected. My first area was Jinga, Uganda, a neighboring country to Kenya. I have now served 18 months, all of it in Uganda! I'm in an English-speaking mission, but learning the local language is a wonderful way to get close to the people and win their love.

Third, always remember you are a guest. Show respect and appreciation for the people and their culture. Teach the gospel, not the culture of your homeland. - Elder Shea T. Smoot, Kenya Nairobi Mission

Understand the people

Strive to understand the people. Many of their actions stem from their culture and when understood can help you adjust. On several occasions, some of the teachers in our Primary did not show up to teach their classes on Sunday. Then one day I found out that the same thing happened in the public school, and the children were just sent home for the day if a teacher didn't show up. It was the accepted procedure in the local culture where telephone communication was sometimes non-existent. - Louise Schmidt, Salt Lake City, Utah

Wonderful adventure

We received our call to Germany. We went to the library, checked out German books and videos. We got language cassettes and compact discs, as well as music cassettes and compact discs. We ate German food with friends at a German restaurant and visited with German friends. Our attitude was that this would be a wonderful adventure in which we would learn to love the people, the culture and the country. We are in Frankfurt, Germany, now. We do love the people, country and culture. - Elder William and Sister Barbara Erickson, Germany Frankfurt Mission

Learn the language

Try to learn the language as rapidly as possible. Don't be afraid of making mistakes. Members and non-members will help you out when you get stuck. The important thing is that they feel your spirit and testimony. - Helen Mitchell, Meadow Vista, Calif.

How to checklist

1 Pray for help; be loving, realize all are God's children.

2 Learn about country's history; show interest in people.

3 Be respectful of beliefs, culture; don't compare, criticize.

4 Learn the language; don't be afraid of mistakes, be patient.


Aug. 2 "How to change or eliminate negative aspects of your personality."

Aug. 9 "How to develop a healthy dating relationship."

Aug. 16 "How to prepare a child, youth for transition from elementary to middle school, or middle school to high school."

Aug. 23 "How to prepare yards, gardens for winter."

Aug. 30 "How to withstand temptation."

Sept. 6 "How to control your temper as a parent."

Also interested in letters on these topics: "How to help young people show respect for authority in school," "How to be emotionally self-reliant," "How to place people above tasks."

Had any good experiences or practical success in any of the above subjects? Share them with our readers in about 100-150 words. Write the "How-to" editor, Church News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, Utah 84110, send fax to (801) 237-2524 or use internet E-mail: Please include a name and phone number. Contributions may be edited or excerpted and will not be returned. Due to limited space, some contributions may not be used; those used should not be regarded as official Church doctrine or policy. Material must be received at least 12 days before publication date.

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