I don’t know of any Americans planning to move into my ward soon. If there were any, I wish they would understand a few things from the outset. (If you’re contemplating a foreign assignment in an industrial nation, some of this might apply to your situation as well.)
Learn the language. You’ll have to hold a calling whether you know the language or not, but you can be much more effective if you do know it. It’s surprising how much you can accomplish with just a smile and personal warmth, but you can accomplish even more with a smile and personal warmth and a minimal working vocabulary. If you require translation in every meeting you attend for the next five years, you will be a burden on the ward, and some people will eventually resent it. The support group members of your ward provide you, and their knowledge of local conditions, are invaluable. You will end up in their debt in more ways than you can count.
You know all those things you used to say about Utah Mormons? That’s more or less how the rest of the world sometimes feels about American Mormons. Don’t reinforce stereotypes.
The two gentlemen at each other’s throats every week in priesthood meeting are probably cousins. Be everyone’s friend.
As an American, you’ve been able to enjoy all the blessings of church membership for your entire life up to now. You’ve had access to functioning ward organizations and church programs, Mormon role models in every field, and easy access to Mormon historical sites that people in your new ward can only dream of. Now it’s time to give something back. I’ll be very irritated if you decide to take a vacation from church for the duration of your stay. Not only will you be failing to do your part, but the rest of the ward will have to invest their limited time and energy in getting you to come to church.
Perhaps you will be able to attend an English-language ward. It may come as a surprise, but even international wards are part of a regional organization known as a “stake.” Although they may not speak English, people from other wards in your “stake” will regularly invite your children and teenagers to participate in age-appropriate activities, and they may even be a bit irked if no one from your American ward attends, or if all the Americans keep to themselves the whole time.
Not all the hymns in our green hymnbook have identical counterparts in the American green hymnbook. Please don’t ever complain about this.
You know how missionaries are forbidden from engaging in political discussions? It’s a pretty good idea for you, too. Put up a mental wall between church and state. The way things work in Wichita is great for Wichita, but you are not in Kansas anymore. Different does not mean evil.
Church doctrine is the same around the world, but practices can slip a bit. If you’re tempted to point out that women shouldn’t be called as Sunday School presidents, or that the solemn procession bearing the instruments of the sacrament from the chapel is unnecessary, or that holding a Christmas social after church on Sunday would not have been approved in your previous stake, you might want to reconsider. Wait for something important before you make a fuss. (One of the more difficult things to do in a foreign language is to disagree. You can’t raise a fuss if you don’t know the language.)
Did I mention that you really need to learn the language?