Five BYU-Hawaii female students made their regular visit to Sam’s Club on a Saturday morning. “No one would ever think that all of us are best friends. Look at us,” said one of them.
The women are an ethnically diverse group with Asian, Polynesian, and European heritages. Another added, “I can’t believe we’ve been friends for so long.” She then jokingly said, “They should write a story on us in Ke Alaka'i!”
Seniors Brooke Lam Yuen, Ellie Isobe, Bedi Racule, Melissa Mamea, and Jeanette Tiana Simram all began their BYUH journeys as freshman in 2012. Since then, four have served missions, two have gotten married, and all of them have reached their senior year.
Before Yuen met her group of friends, she recounted lying on her bed talking to her mom and telling her she was doing nothing. Her mom told her she wasn’t going to find any friends doing nothing.
“There was no sympathy there, but I thought, ‘You’re right mom,’” said Yuen, a Caucasian exercise science major from Colorado. She said after that, she ended up at the New Student Orientation where she met several of the women who would connect her to the friends she calls family today.
Yuen said, “It’s friends like this that make me confident that we will stay friends after graduation.”
The girls’ advice to incoming freshman is to go out and make friends, especially friends from other countries.
“There’s diversity here,” said Mamea. “Take advantage of that because you’ll never find a place like this anywhere else in the world. It’s my last semester, so now I think about how you can’t take the blessings for granted. “
Each of the women talked about how attending school activities and inviting other people helped them to meet each other.
“We were open to being friends with anybody because we were all kind of alone,” said Isobe. Simram, a Micronesian hospitality and tourism major from Kiribati, said firmly, “Go to dances. You will meet your best friends.”
Racule explained she and Simram were at a dance during their freshman year. Even though they didn’t know each other, they had mutual friends and were dancing in the same group.
Racule admitted to judging Simram a little, but then they met and Simram complemented her earrings. They started talking and when they found out both their fathers were from Pohnpei, she said they started screaming.
“After that, we were inseparable. Anytime we went anywhere we would ask each other, ‘You want to come?’”
Isobe added, “The big thing is we invited each other to a lot of things. We would invite each other to all the activities on campus.”
Racule continued, “I think you just have to invite people. You have to be a friend and you can’t have a prejudgment about them because you never know. The person you never thought could be your friend ends up being your [best] friend.”
If students are having a difficult time making friends, the women suggested they should get to know their roommates better. They also said it’s important for freshman to put themselves in situations to meet new people.
“People wouldn’t look at the four of us and think, ‘Those guys are probably best friends,’ because I wouldn’t view that from the outside,” said Yuen. “We’re all so different. We had no common interest.”
Mamea, a Samoan social work major from Kalihi, corrected her. “We all love food.” The women laughed and agreed.
Food was originally what brought them together. They would eat together at the Club Dining Services, but it was their off-campus visits to Chevron for snacks where they really began to bond as a group.
“Food was the common ground here,” said Mamea. “Our messenger group is still called the ‘Chevron Squad’ because that was our place, our safe haven.”
While food is what initially brought them together and still is important to their friendship, they said the gospel of Jesus Christ is what holds them together.
“Starting before our missions and marriages, seeing each other grow in the gospel, [and] seeing each other have these experiences has kept us together,” said Yuen.
While Yuen and Mamea had been planning on serving missions before they came to BYUH, Isobe and Simram both said the group influenced them to serve missions.
“I wasn’t thinking about a mission,” said Simram.
Isobe, a Chinese-Japanese Utah resident with an interdisciplinary studies major, added, “It helped having people to talk to about [missions]–to talk about our plans. Yuen talked about how she was leaving after the first semester, but I thought, ‘That sounds like a good idea.’”
They said while the four were serving missions, Racule, the youngest, got married.
“All of them left on missions and so I was the only one because I’m the youngest. I made new friends,” said Racule, a Marshallese HTM major from Honolulu.
Mamea said she also believes their monthly family home evenings helped keep them so close. “I felt like we needed something to hold us together and so we’ve been doing FHEs the first week of every month to kind of dedicate [time] to catch up.” She said a member of the group is responsible for the lesson held each month in Racule’s TVA apartment.
“We just have a lot of fun together,” Mamea added. “FHE gives us the opportunity to really hear each other’s testimonies and really connect. There have been some FHEs where we find out one of us is going through something and then you realize, ‘I’m going through that too,’ and then we talk about it. It helps keep us going.”
Yuen said, “Seeing growth in each other and your friends you had before your mission can be awkward, but for us, seeing that growth in each other has been good. We’ll comment on how they’ve grown or they’ve changed so much. It’s something we like seeing in each other.”
A big change for them, they said, has been the addition of husbands for Racule and Yuen.
“My husband loves them,” said Racule. “They all compete to be his favorite. Whenever we have FHE, my husband would be like, ‘Okay, I’ll go do my own thing.’ It’s a girls night out.”
Simram said, “[Racule] had a studio apartment, so we would be on the bed all talking and he would come in and sleep on the couch.”
Racule continued, “Finally he said, ‘We need to move into a two room so you can have friends over [and] I can sleep.’”
Yuen said even though she was just married in June, her husband loves the group. “If I say I’m going out with the girls he says, ‘Cool. Have fun.’”
While the group all agreed the gospel has kept them bonded, they said they had experiences outside of church and testimony meetings that strengthened their friendships.
“For me it was really my safe haven with them because I could be anyone I wanted to be.” said Simram. “I could be silly, mad, sad, and then they would still accept me in the group.” She paused and laughed, “I hope they accept me.”
The group of friends said a lot of their memories consisted of the bonding time they had spent at Chevron.
“I don’t know what it was about Chevron, but we would always bring a speaker and play some kind of music. We would blast it there,” said Mamea.
Simram added, “There was a wall that used to be there that said ‘McDonald’s Coming Soon,’ and then we would stand on that wall and dance.” Mamea quipped, “When she says ‘we’ she means ‘she.’”
The friends said one night they were hanging out by the wall and a couple of their Tongan friends were on the wall dancing. The others were singing and playing their music when a police vehicle pulled up.
“There was a noise complaint and the cops showed up,” said Littleton. “I don’t think they expected it to be a group of girls.”
They said they remembered how stern the officer was with them, telling them people were trying to sleep.
Another time, the group was walking to Chevron to grab a snack and the Polynesian friends started to have a conversation about their parents’ different child discipline tactics.
“We were walking and talking about how we get disciplined in Polynesian families,” said Mamea. The women talked about their moms using belts or pulling hair. Then they asked Yuen how her parents punished her. Mamea continued, “She said, ‘I got time out.’ We were cracking up so hard, and I thought, ‘Man, we are so different.’”
Yuen laughed and responded, “I was the only white kid in the group.”
Racule remembered one of the first things they all did together was a birthday party for Simram. She said her and Mamea were prepping in their hale apartment.
“We were wrapping the presents in folder paper and did these little bows. It was so quirky and so funny,” said Racule. “Then Mel said, ‘I think our friendship just leveled up.’ That’s when I realized this girl is weird. She looks so tough on the outside, but then when you get to know her, she’s so funny.
“We’ve all been through a lot together. Even just one-on-one we’ve been through a lot together.”
Mamea will graduate Dec. 15, while the other girls will graduate in April 2018.