The Whites were called to serve in the Italy, Milan mission from April 2005 to October 2006 as an office couple in the mission home in Opera, Italy. The call was a surprise, Carolyn said, since neither of them had any knowledge about the country besides just the basics.
But what the couple was called to do wasn't as much of a surprise. While Gene served as the mission secretary, Carolyn served as the financial secretary, which was a job not too much different from what she had done before their mission, although it was different enough to be challenging. She had recently retired from the Veterans Affairs financial office, but taking care of the finances in a foreign country was not what she expected.
"The finances were not what I was used to," Carolyn said.
She was in charge of paying for all the missionaries' apartments in the mission. This involved 75 to 80 apartments in a large area.
The mission boundaries were from south of Cesena in Italy, north to the Locarno, Switzerland area. The boundaries on the east went up to the France border and the Ligurian Sea, and on the west by the Adriatic Sea, Slovenia and Austria.
Covering such a large area was a challenge with all the missionary apartments, especially since the Whites were in charge of inspecting all the apartments.
"We had to keep track of all the missionaries," Carolyn said. "We would inspect all their apartments and pay for their apartments. Every three months the church would pay out about $165,000 to pay for all the apartments."
Gene added they did have some assistance, as each ward had a member who helped maintain the apartments.
In addition to keeping track of the apartments, Carolyn also dealt with the Italian phone company in regards to the missionaries' phones and cell phones.
"That was a challenge at times," she said. "The language was a barrier for us, but we were able to make it work out."
Working as the mission secretary, Gene handled all the transfers and incoming and outgoing missionaries. Transfers occurred every six weeks, he said.
In Italy, not only do foreigners have to possess a passport and visa, but they have to have a special permit to stay in the country, Gene said. These permits are obtained at the questura, which is the Italian police headquarters.
Obtaining these permits was not exactly a simple thing to do, he added.
"Each missionary's paperwork would take between four to five hours of sitting in the questura," he said.
On top of having to complete the paperwork for every incoming missionary, Gene would also have to take care of renewing the paperwork every year, for every missionary.
Gene also worked closely with the ufficio postale -- the post office. Although he did not have extensive formal training in Italian, there was one lady at the post office who could help him.
Although sometimes they dealt with people who were against the LDS church, for the most part the Whites found that Italians loved Americans.
Gene said there was a lot of political propaganda going at while they were in Italy.
"We were there when the Italians were being pressured to pull their troops out of Iraq," he said.
But still, despite their differences, the Whites said they weren't mistreated.
Gene and Carolyn said the largest culture shock they experienced upon arriving in Italy was the language.
"The language was my biggest concern," Carolyn said. "I wasn't sure if I could learn a new language."
They took a crash course in Italian while at the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Carolyn said, and were able to get a little bit of background information from Brigham Young University also while at the MTC.
She added their arrival in Italy was interesting, as the dynamics of the country were not what they were familiar with.
"There is congestion everywhere," Carolyn said. "There are 58 million people living together in a place the size of Arizona."
The housing in Italy was also different from what they were used to in Tooele.
"Everyone lives in apartment high rises," she said.
Gene said there are several duplexes, but no single yards. He added a lot of the apartments are passed down through generations.
Apartments are not furnished, Carolyn said, and there are very small elevators in the apartment buildings. These elevators are built to carry people up six to eight floors, but are not large enough to transfer furniture up to those top floors.
They use big extension pickups to get furniture up to those apartments, Gene said.
"They put the furniture on platform trucks and then lift the furniture up to the balcony and stick the furniture through the door," Carolyn said.
Another difference in living arrangements was the on-demand water heaters, Gene said, which everybody used.
The water heater sat by the sink and you only turned it on when you needed it, in order to not waste energy by trying to heat it all day.
Each block in Italy had little specialty shops that sold items like bread, meat and sweets, Carolyn said. If you needed something, you just went to the little shops and picked up what you needed.
Although the Whites served in the mission home, they were able to travel around and see the sights within the mission boundaries. These trips took place on the weekends and evenings, Carolyn said.
Her favorite places to see were the castles, with one of her favorites being near Lago di Garda, or Garda Lake, which sits at the foot of the Alps.
"This castle is as old as Christ," Carolyn said. "It was fascinating to see what they were like."
They also toured a lot of art museums, including the Leonardo da Vinci museum.
"It was amazing and unbelievable," Gene said. "We were able to see The Last Supper."
Carolyn added while it was very old and very faded, it was still magnificent.
Another place they enjoyed visiting was Genoa, Italy, where Christopher Columbus was born, Carolyn said.
"It was amazing to see all these places," she said. "It was all so beautiful."
Gene said they had questions of whether they would be able to stand each another 24 hours a day and if their family would be OK without them, but their mission ended up being a great experience.
"With patience, we were able to grow together," Gene said. "And our family was taken care of without us here."