Amidst the sea of faces at BYU-Idaho, Junmo Reijonen tends to stand out from the rest. A freshman studying business management, Reijonen hails from Helsinki, Finland. What makes him unique is his nationality; half Finn, half Korean.

“I’m from Finland, but I don’t look like I’m Finnish, my mom is from Korea,” Reijonen said. “I grew up in Finland in the Church, but our surroundings were not of the Church, there are only like 5,000 members of the Church in Finland.”

Growing up in Finland, there were fewer church members for Reijonen to get to know.

“The youth that I grew up with was pretty much just me, my siblings and one other person,” Reijonen said. “It was different from growing up in wards with big youth or big gatherings.”

One unique aspect about growing up in Finland is the mandatory military service. Finland requires all men at or above age 18 to serve. Prior to serving a mission, Reijonen completed the required time in the military. According to Reijonen, it helped prepare him for life.

Reijonen served in the military prior to his mission.

Reijonen served in the military prior to his mission. Photo credit: Junmo Reijonen

“We have a saying among members in Finland that the army makes a boy into a man and the mission a man into a husband,” Reijonen said. “The army made me grow a lot as a person through the challenges it had.”

Reijonen ultimately served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 2021 to 2023. He was called to serve in the California Los Angeles Mission, Korean speaking, but spent the first ten months reassigned in the Helsinki, Finland mission.

Reijonen served in the Helskini Finland mission for ten months

Reijonen served in the Helsinki, Finland mission for ten months. Photo credit: Junmo Reijonen

“In Finland, I really learned how to follow the spirit much more,” Reijonen said. “Because in Finland we didn’t have mission rules as such, it’s more like what you think and feel is right. And I really learned to just follow my own intuition and follow the spirit, really recognize the spirit.”

Reijonen eventually made it to Los Angeles in early 2022. He served mostly in Korean branches, which he says was a very different experience from the Finland mission.

“LA mission was a lot more rules focused,” Reijonen said. “We had a lot more rules and had to be careful with the rules. I think in LA I learned the importance of rules, how we have ten commandments and rules to keep us safe, and how following the rules brings us blessings.”

Reijonen made videos with him trying American food, such as In-N-Out, for the first time while in Los Angeles. Each video contained a short spiritual message.

Reijonen videoed himself trying American food, such as In-N-Out, for the first time while in Los Angeles. Each video contained a short spiritual message. Photo credit: Junmo Reijonen

While in the California Los Angeles Mission, Reijonen got to experience American culture and made a series of Facebook videos where he would try new food and share a message. According to Reijonen, both missions were very different, but he learned a lot from both.

“I think it was pretty neat that there were two completely different experiences, but then they show two sides of the same blessings,” Reijonen said.

When he was growing up in Finland, Reijonen would go to South Korea every two years for two months at a time, and he spoke Korean as well as Finnish.

“I grew up speaking Finnish…and I did grow up speaking Korean with my mother so I knew Korean as well,” Reijonen said. “And then when I came to LA, everyone that I was teaching was Korean as well. So that was also hard, hard to engage in small talk, trying to engage in conversation with people, especially since my Korean wasn’t top-notch at that point.”

Right at the end of his two-year mission, Reijonen was sent to an English ward in downtown Los Angeles, a very different area than the Korean-speaking branches. According to Reijonen, the people there were much more humble and easier to talk to.

“My last two transfers I served in an English-speaking area as well,” Reijonen said. “I think that was, in a sense, the easiest time since American people do enjoy doing small talk so it was easy in a sense to have more conversations with people.”

Reijonen said that small talk was one of the main differences he has seen between the cultures in Finland and Korea compared with America.

“In Finland, no one talks to each other,” Reijonen said. “Small talk is something that people fear. If you go to trains or public places, like everyone is quiet. But here…wherever you go, people open the door for you, they say ‘Hi,’ and ‘Good morning’ to random people, (and) engage in small talk. So I think that’s one of the biggest changes that I’ve seen.”

Reijonen got home in April 2023 and spent the past year saving money for school and preparing to get a student visa. Looking back on his mission, he says that he experienced a great deal of growth from serving.

“What I think personally is that you serve a mission for yourself as well,” Reijonen said. “There is a growth you get from your mission is not anything that you can get anywhere else. Learning to trust more in God and learning to do more stuff by yourself.”

According to Reijonen, spending over a year in Los Angeles and interacting with American culture helped him know what he wanted to do after the mission.

“On my mission, I realized that I do want to move to the States,” Reijonen said. “I think mostly because the culture that I felt here was so different from Finnish culture and Korean culture. If I (hadn’t) gone on my mission I probably would have stayed in Finland.”

With a two-year mission behind him, Reijonen is looking towards the future from his experiences at BYU-I.

“I hope to stay in the States and really try to get experiences to my kids that I didn’t have that I wish I had, like being surrounded with members of the Church, having more friends in the church,” Reijonen said.