Editor’s note: Herald Journal reporter Matilyn Mortensen recently finished her degree at Utah State University. One of the last programs she is participating in as an undergraduate is a study abroad in Vietnam as part of the program “Raising Voices: Global Storytelling.” Following is an update from her trip.

One of my favorite parts of this trip to Vietnam is the team of three to four native translators we are working with. Each one has been so kind and helpful as we teach, work on our personal projects and sightsee.

Since the translators are so close in age to me, becoming friends has been especially easy.

When I met our translator Loan last week, I learned her hometown was a short bus ride away from Nam Dinh, one of the places we were going later in the week. I asked if I could visit, and she quickly said yes. She began telling me all the things we could do, like visiting the Catholic churches in the area and eating with her family.

After our group arrived in Nam Dihn on Saturday, a few of us caught the bus with Loan to her hometown. We road it to a quiet street in the town that is next to where Loan is from.

As I walked down the street with the women I had come with, I felt more comfortable than I had anywhere else in Vietnam. It was early evening and not many people were outside. A cool breeze was blowing, and compared to the big city we had left, it felt calm.

The closer we got to Loan’s home, the more excited she became. Watching her joy made me excited too. Of all the things that differences in culture and language can make hard to understand, the desire to go home is not one of them.

Before we went to Loan’s town, she told us that most of the people who lived there were Catholic, so there were lots of churches. Despite this information, I was surprised by what we found.

In the space of an hour, we walked around and saw five beautiful Catholic churches and a convent. Each one was built in a different style, and Loan told us there was one main building people attended each Sunday and the other ones were for special holy days.

For the past five or six years, I’ve loved taking pictures of churches when I travel. I recently started painting some of these pictures so I can remember the places I found so beautiful. While in Loan’s hometown, I took lots of photos so I could add them to my collection.

I love visiting places of worship, no matter what the religion, because there is something very beautiful about the sacred places people build to touch the divine. It’s a feeling I can relate to, and being in these places brings me peace. I think this is the reason why Loan’s town is my favorite place I have been to in Vietnam.

After we visited the churches, we ate with Loan’s family. Loan is the only one of them who can speak English, so the student I was with relied on her and the other Vietnamese translators we were with to communicate. Despite the language barriers, we spent most of our meal smiling and laughing.

When I come home to the United States next week, there are lots of things I won’t miss. Like being hot and sweaty and working to avoid mosquitoes. I’ll be excited to see my family and eat familiar foods. But, I know I will miss the experience of working through differences in culture and language and building friendships across different countries and borders.