For Nelson Thunot, a recent BYU-Hawaii graduate from Tahiti, two of life’s major decisions were made in Laie.
Here he discovered that his talents lay in graphic design, not in shirt-and-tie business as he had supposed, and here he met his wife, Rahei, the only girl who left him tongue-tied when he worked at the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Nelson says he is indebted to the IWORK program and those who support it: “To donors I say, ‘You saved my life because the time spent here was critical for me.’”
Life Comes into Focus
For Nelson life started to take focus during his service in the Australia Brisbane Mission where, among other things, he learned English to go along with his knowledge of the Tahitian and French languages. His service as a missionary planted ambitions in his mind to make something of himself, something more than the casual, undirected life he’d lived growing up.
“My mission was the best thing,” he says. “I learned how to be more open with people because I’m really reserved. My mission blessed my family. I prayed every day for them. When I got home my brother was fully active in the Church. My sister also returned to activity and her husband was baptized.”
After his mission Nelson came to BYU-Hawaii. “I started as a business major,” he says, “but it wasn’t what I wanted to do - it was what I thought I should do. After the second semester, I wondered how I was going to endure this. Then I heard about the graphic design program. I was kind of scared to change majors because I didn’t know what to expect.”
But after the first classes, “I just loved it,” he says. “I love creating things. I love art. I kept a pretty decent grade point average because I love what I’m doing.”
One particular class, however, struck fear in him. “I was dreading the ceramics class. I didn’t want to take it,” he says. “But I took the class and loved it. I spent late hours many evenings in the art room. My wife would call and say, ‘It’s 11 p.m. - come home already.’”
Nelson found his design classes were not easy, but he persisted through difficult coursework, he says, because “I love creating. God is a creator. So we have creativity in us.”
Finding His Better Half
Nelson’s most important decision was made in the Tahitian village at the Polynesian Cultural Center. He met his wife, Rahei, here even though they come from the same island in Tahiti and lived only 30 miles from each other.
“I was fine talking with all the other workers,” Nelson says. “But with Rahei, when I wanted to say something I didn’t know how to start a conversation.” He eventually figured out how to talk with Rahei and the two were married.
“I don’t know if I’m the best husband for her, but she is definitely the best wife for me,” he says. “She is more logical. She says things that make me think twice, and then I realize that she is right.”
Rahei joined the Church at BYU–Hawaii. As one who loves to dance, when she was younger she longed to attend BYU–Hawaii and work at the Polynesian Cultural Center. But her parents denied permission. Instead she went to France to study. A year later when she learned that a younger sister would be attending BYU–Hawaii, she promptly packed her bags and headed to Laie.
At first she was overwhelmed with the culture and the school. Not a member of the Church, she felt like an outsider who was unable to fit in. Feeling frustrated, she was about to return home when she was befriended by a student. He helped her understand the culture and feel better about the experience. She began taking religion classes, then lessons from the missionaries. She was unconvinced at first, wondering how anyone could believe. But in time the example of the missionaries and religion teachers softened her heart. A conference address by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf solidified her desire to be baptized.
“Sometimes I think she’s stronger than I am in the gospel,” Nelson says. Rahe graduated in entrepreneurship and peace building and helped implement the iLead program in the PCC.
“Thank You” Isn’t Enough
“If I had never come here,” says Nelson upon reflection, “I don’t know where I’d be now. Thanks to donors I was able to study here. I don’t think there are words to thank them enough.”