Tuesday, July 23, 2013

greetings from the mtc

It's almost week 8, mina san! So excited. We get our travel plans THIS THURSDAY, can you believe it? I'll be in Japan before too long. Japan. I've gotten some emails from missionaries who were here before us who've been out there for a little while now, and everything they say just makes me want to go even more. Minus the parts about the extreme humidity and earthquakes. I realized that I've never been in an earthquake before... scary. Sister Dunn keeps telling me they're no big deal at all... I guess that's a Californian's attitude.

Thank you for your letters! The one from the CTR 6 class was so cute. Complete with crayon drawings and everything. I love hearing from Ben too - I noticed all the envelopes are addressed in Mom's handwriting, haha. Thoughtful of you to send those with him. Elyse also gave me an envelope of printed emails that she'd gotten from home when I ran into her last week, so I got to read some of Porter and Victor's emails. Crazy that they're coming home so soon! It was also cool to real Tori's emails, to see her perspective on the same experiences I'm going through. Her letters are much more spiritual than mine.

Hmmm, where to start. We had our Bastille day picnic last week, and I'm sorry but I forgot my camera! I'm the worst at remembering to take pictures. Luckily some other girls in my district are the designated documentors, and when we all come home in two years they'll all go online for everyone to see. And their cameras are nicer than mine anyways. Still, I'll try to make a conscious effort to take more. Anyways, the picnic was really fun and the food very delicious. It was a bit of a struggle to get through La Marseillaise - it might have been caught on video, actually. Hopefully that never surfaces. After the picnic and other things, Sister Dunn and I went to go pick up a new Sister from Tahiti who joined our branch this week. International missionaries come earlier than the rest. Her name is Sister Mataoa and she's very sweet. Her English isn't very strong - she actually understands more Japanese than English - so I spoke to her in French the whole time. It was nice to be able to use that skillset for something. Although, now whenever I try to speak French, Japanese comes out. So frustrating. I still understand everything just fine, but speaking is a struggle. How do those Europeans who speak five languages do it? Everything is so mixed up in my head.

On Wednesday, the rest of the Kohai came in. We got two new districts of 12 missionaries each that joined our branch. In the morning, I hosted new missionaries again. Like last week, it mostly consisted of waiting my turn instead of actually walking the newbies around, so I only got to host two girls. One was going to Brazil, the other Pittsburg. It's so cool getting to meet other missionaries going to different places and learning their stories! The girl going to Pittsburg is the only active member of the church in her family, and she said it's hard to make them understand why she wants to go. I'm always amazed by the courage of so many people here - people who left a lot more behind than I did, with much less support from home. I think of Sister Mataoa being taught Japanese in a language that she barely understands and feel guilty about complaining about how hard my language study has been. Everyone has a different story of how they ended up here, and they're all such great examples.

Thursday night, Sister Dunn and I joined the Zone Leaders and the rest of the branch presidency to give the big orientation meeting to all the new Kohai. Mostly the branch presidency members talked, but for the last 45 minutes or so we and the ZLs gave a short presentation on rules and the importance of getting along with your companion. It turns out there was an boy in the other district who was also from Tahiti, so we had a French translator there sitting with the two Tahitians. It was a huge relief for me, because earlier in the week our branch president had asked ME if I could translate. I said I would, but translating other people's words at the same time they're saying them is really hard. I did end up helping later though, when we gave all the Kohai a few minutes to get to know their companion and ask questions. I was with the Tahitian elder and his companion, and the love and enthusiasm between them warmed my heart. The language barrier makes communication really hard for both part-Tahitian companionships, but their companions have been so loving and supportive. I continue to be so impressed by how hard others have to work. During the new Kohai meeting, each new missionary stood up to introduce themselves for a couple of minutes and say why they wanted to serve a mission. I think I cried both times the French-speaking missionaries shared their stories. This place turns you into a huge baby.One of the most beautiful things about the MTC is seeing how the gospel is the same all around the world, and how we all share such important beliefs even though we were raised in different cultures. 

Thursday was also Sister Dunn's 21st birthday, so we celebrated in classic MTC style by stuffing our faces with all the junk food we have stored in our rooms. We also found a bunch of glowsticks in the free bins, so that was a good time. Speaking of junk food, Sister Dunn and I made a great discovery a while ago. There's a teacher's-lounge type area near some picnic tables where we go for personal study time, and there's a microwave in there! What does this mean? It means we've been eating popcorn while we read ever since. Through the free bins and packages from home, we've managed to stockpile a pretty big stash of microwave popcorn packets. Mmmm. Oh yeah, and I've gained three pounds since I came here.

On Saturday we went to the TRC again, but this time we were supposed to teach a 40-minute lesson instead of 20 minutes. It was a little daunting, especially because we were supposed to focus on getting to know the person through small talk and questions - two of my weaknesses. When I have to talk about anything that doesn't use religious vocabulary my mind usually draws a blank. But it ended up being awesome! The man we taught is from Hawaii, and he served his mission in Sapporo a while ago. He was super nice, and when we ran out of things to say he just asked if we had any questions about Japan. So he talked a lot about cultural things he learned on his mission, and taught us how to politely refuse food (could come in handy). I hope I'll make time to volunteer at TRC sometimes when I come back - everyone there is so, so nice.

Pioneer day on the 24th is coming up, so hopefully we'll get to do something fun for that. Apparently it's a huge deal in Utah, with even more fireworks and celebration than July 4th. All of our devotionals and lessons last Sunday were about the faith and determination of the pioneers - again, hearing those stories just makes me feel guilty. I guess waking up early for seminary wasn't as bad as losing my feet to frostbite or eating wood chips because I had no other food. Although I still have trials! A bird peed on my head while we were walking around the temple grounds, looking at flowers. Ewwwewwew I hate birds so much. It made me think of that one time we were in Williamsburg a long time ago and a bird came and dropped a bomb on Marilyn's khaki pants. I've been kind of scared ever since, and getting bird pee on me was definitely the low point of the week. I guess that means I don't have too much to complain about.

Japanese fail of the week: I was practicing using the Katakana alphabet, used for non-Japanese words like names, by writing my Senseis' names on the chalkboard. I guess I misspelled one of them and accidentally wrote a dirty word instead? He won't tell me what it was, so it must have been bad. Oops. Besides that, though, Japanese is going well. Of course I still feel so behind, but so does everyone else. We took a grammar test on the computers last week, and I was extremely ashamed of my 58% score until I found out that everyone else got around the same. My Sensei told me that my language skills are improving very quickly - "much faster than average"  was what he said. That was comforting.

OK, I managed to get a few pictures in this email. Most of them are dumb. The glowsticks ones are from Sister Dunn's birthday (don't look too closely at anyone's face), and there's one of me with popcorn. Again, limited selection.
Hope everyone's doing well! Ai shite imasu.

Shimai Dunn, Shimai MacArthur and two other Shimai roommates

Shimai Dunn 21st Birthday (with scavanged glow sticks)

Anna unfortunately discovers the microwave to make popcorn

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