Being the only missionary from your culture makes the mission harder, but having a cheerful attitude helps to embrace the people and relate to converts, said BYU-Hawaii students who were the only missionaries from their country.
Chi-Yu Au, a sophomore studying biology, said he was the only one from Hong Kong serving in the New Zealand Hamilton Mission. He described feeling sad because he did not have anyone to relate to when it came to adjusting to the differences in culture.
Au added, “I learned English prior my mission, but the terms and the accent in New Zealand are very different. I could only understand 30 percent of what people said.”
He said he wished he “could’ve gone on another mission” or “there would be more Asians missionaries to come later on.”
By overcoming the challenges of adjusting to cultural differences, Au said he was able to utilize his personal experience to help his investigators. “I feel I can relate to those who have to change their lifestyle because of the church standards.”
Ai Nakatsuka also felt being from a different culture was an advantage. A senior from Japan studying music, she served in the Colorado Denver South Mission. “Since I was an international missionary, I felt like I could do anything without any cultural barrier. Sometimes, Americans might hesitate to ask certain questions, but being a foreigner, I can pretty much ask about anything.”
Kei Nakatsuka, Ai’s husband and a senior from Japan study exercise and sports science, served in the Florida Orlando Mission. As the only one from Japan, he said, “It’s hard to speak English all the time. I was frustrated that nobody understood Japanese there.”
He added, “One of my companions threw away all my Japanese study materials, which helped me to believe in myself and pushed me to learn English faster. And I copied everything my trainer did, even how he eats, how he drinks, how he walks, and how he talks.”
Kei also said he was asked “stereotypical questions” like: “‘Do you guys eat dogs and cats?’ or, ‘Do you eat sushi every day?’”
For Au, when people asked if he spoke English or could understand what they were saying, he said he was not offended but felt they were concerned for him. “I would just say, ‘I’m trying my best to learn, thank you.’”
Su Ke Zou, a senior from China studying political science, said he felt excited about being the first Chinese missionary in the Philippines Naga Mission, but he found it difficult to learn Tagalog for the first time.
By being cheerful, Zou said he was able to embrace the Filipino culture. “I was the only foreigner, but I didn’t feel like I was different from everyone else. By just being myself and happy, the relationship would build up naturally.”
Kei Nakatsuka said having a jovial personality allowed for better relationships with fellow missionaries. “By trying to have fun and joke around with other missionaries, I got along with them a lot more.”
Ai Nakatsuka said, “I tried to smile a lot even though I couldn’t communicate very well. And I asked a lot of questions about the culture and the language.”
Zou expressed, “Learning a new language is really hard, but I learned that I can do hard things with the help of Heavenly Father.”
Au said the best way to adjust to the culture was to “just do it” and “look for the enjoyable things in a foreign culture.”