At some time in life almost everyone yearns to travel to a faraway country and meet people of another culture, another language, and another way of life.
For the following Latter-day Saint youths this dream became a reality when they spent several months studying in Europe. Here is a report on what this experience meant to them:
Lee Vanhille, 23, from Palo Alto, California: “The impression I had of Spain before I left home was the standard one—flamenco dancers and castanets—but that is a very small part of Spain. There are wide, open flatlands, mountains, beaches, castles, cathedrals—everything, including bagpipes in the north.
“I enjoyed the young people in Spain better than those anywhere else we traveled. I found them very open and willing to talk. They were nice, clean-cut kids.
“I really enjoyed the experience of studying Spanish literature and then seeing what I was reading about. It’s like seeing poetry come to life.”
Jana Christensen, 19, from Alpine, Utah: “I was in southern Spain and it was very hot, but the beaches were beautiful. And, oh, the Mediterranean! Spain is such a beautiful country!
“The people were the most loving I’ve ever met in my whole life. For instance, I was waiting for the bus one night, in a pouring rain, and I didn’t have a coat on. It was miserable! An older lady was standing at the bus stop, and we began conversing in Spanish. When the bus came, we talked all the way to my stop. To get up and leave her was the hardest thing to do. It was just as if I had known her forever. I said, ‘Adiós. Buena suerta.’ (Goodbye. Good luck.) She reached up, hugged me, and kissed me on both cheeks. After I got off the bus and glanced back, she was still waving good-bye.
“One thing that amazed me about Spanish girls was that whenever they’d be in the mood to do something exciting, they’d go upstairs in the dorms and turn on the record player full blast—that great Spanish music—and they’d get up and dance. They would give it everything they had, really dancing up a storm. They’d do flamenco; they’d clap; they’d sing. Pretty soon I’d go join them, and then we’d all be singing. It was so much fun. I left a lot of copies of the Libro de Mormon around for them when I left.
“The Saints there are great! It was really strengthening to hear the Spanish people bear their testimonies at their branch.
“For me this was a trip of firsts. It was my first time on an airplane, first time on a train, first time in a taxi, first time out of the country, first time in a subway—everything was a first. I appreciated learning more about other people. I am a lot more accepting and tolerant of others than I was. I feel more love for others.”
Tamera Nielsen, 20, from Salt Lake City: “Austria is one of the most beautiful countries in all the world. It fills your heart to go there. The youth of the Church there are very dedicated to the Lord—some of the most dedicated people I’ve ever met. The Austrian people have such enthusiasm for the gospel!
“The country is very green, and the Austrian Alps are really inspiring. The people often take what they call a spaziergang, a kind of nature-appreciation walk.
“Austrian young people like to go to movies. A date is really different in Austria; the young couple meet someplace downtown instead of the boy calling for the girl at her home. I’ve learned a lot about people and about tolerance, and I’ve learned that the Church is truly worldwide.”
Stephen Driggs, 22, from Phoenix, Arizona: “I went on a mission to Germany, so I had a good language background.
“I stayed in Salzburg, where we have an active branch. For an Austrian branch, it has a lot of young people. It’s a very young and growing branch, very enthusiastic.
“The country is terrific! Austria has great culture—things like operas, concerts, and an overwhelming sense of history. It’s a fantastic place to study history because of the things you can see, the buildings you can visit, and the monuments—people and places that were influential in making history.
“While there, I stayed in a private home. Family life is more formal than in the United States. The relationship between parent and child is quite formal. Dinner is always at a particular time, and they usually have cake and coffee in the afternoon. The family are always together for dinner. They served me a lot of coffee substitutes.”
Mark Stoddard, 22, from Auburn, California: “My main intent in traveling was to help myself improve in the French language. I went to Grenoble.
“My father’s in the U.S. Air Force, so I’ve lived in Germany for three years, in England for three years, and a little while in Taiwan and Australia, but I found Grenoble to be an interesting city, bigger than I thought it would be. I thought it would be a small village but it’s not. There are mountains completely encircling it, and it’s situated right in the middle of the whole valley. There are apartments after apartments—thousands of apartments.
“I found that the French people behaved much differently toward me than they had when I visited there before. Now I was learning the language. When you won’t try to speak their language, they won’t spend much time with you. If you make an attempt, they are extremely hospitable. I went into a patisserie one day—that’s a place where they sell beautiful, delicious pastries. They bent over backwards trying to help me with the language, just because I was trying.
“In my travels I have found that when you find other members of the Church, it doesn’t matter whether you are French, Italian, German, Australian, or whatever, there is no difference except that we speak different languages. I kept thinking of Ephesians, where it says that the reason we have the Church is to bring us to a unity of the faith. The French people are great. I really grew to appreciate them.”
Judy Harrison, 21, from Ogden, Utah: “I went to Grenoble because I’m a French major and I wanted to learn the language. My family and I lived in Japan from 1960 to 1962.
“Lots of people have said that the French really don’t have a distinct culture. As I traveled through Europe, I would see the Austrians with their dirndls, the Germans with their dirndls and lodens, and the Spaniards with their ponchos—they all seemed to have a definite symbol for their country. It took me quite a while to find the symbol of the French. There just aren’t any people like the French. They are small, dark, slender, excitable—a truly unusual people. Anyway, I finally decided it was the French personality that was France’s symbol.
“Meeting the people and showing them friendship brings them alive. I found that out well when one lady in Marseilles took time to help me. I was buying santons (dolls used in nativity scenes), and she took time to set out all of her dolls, taking them from the window, lining them up, and explaining the history behind each one of them. I was really impressed.
“I attended the comife de patronage (school for foreign students). The teacher was a dynamic French woman, Madame Bonneville. I loved to watch her talk; she used her hands so expressively.
“Before I went to France, I wasn’t up on current affairs. I went to school and to church and enjoyed life the way it was, and I didn’t know what was happening in other countries. But I soon found out that in France you can’t do that. You’ve got to face problems and find out what’s happening and see what you can do. I’ve suddenly been confronted with many problems that I have always ignored before. It’s changed my whole outlook on life.
“I’ve learned something else. Americans tend to be a little overconfident and to go around speaking English all the time, expecting others to understand them. But most Europeans speak two or three languages. How many of us can do that?”