From a simple coffee date, University sweethearts wed

A young woman described as the “Martha Stewart” of her family married her life’s love in front of more than five hundred friends and family - including Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi - last Saturday at the beautiful St. Therese Samoa Retreat. 

Laura Mitchell (nee Fepuleai) and Douglas Mitchell have spent the last seven years committed to each other, and took the final step on the weekend to call each other husband and wife. 

The newly wedded bride is from Lotopa, Alamagoto and Togafuafua, not far from Mr. Mitchell’s home in Taufusi and Vaitele. 

The two often wonder if they crossed paths as children growing up in Apia, even though they only met in Auckland as Auckland University of Technology students in 2013.

The pair finally wed seven years after their first coffee date. 

It was a thank you gesture by Mr. Mitchell to a then stranger who helped him prepare for an accounting exam. Countless coffees later, they were inseparable best friends.

But separate they did, although only over the Pacific Ocean. 

After graduating with a Bachelor of Business (both Majoring in Accounting, a decision Mrs. Mitchell credits her new husband with), the young couple had to go at it long-distance.

This year will be their first year in the same house in three years; something they say is an exciting adventure after three years of seeing each other once a year – on their birthdays, or Christmas.

“It’s another mission though to see how we’re going to live together,” Mrs. Mitchell said.

“We decided we are equals, and we both do things together because that is what marriage is – whether at home or outside.

The pair underwent marriage counselling, as they are both devout Catholics. They said it helped them explore their expectations of each other and discuss things they might not have until faced with strife.

“It’s easy to say you’ll get married, but then when you get married and you have completely different expectations […] that is where you are going to clash,” Mrs. Mitchell said.

“It really got us to open up and talk about things we never really thought of, and we learned things about each other we never really knew or talked about so I am really grateful for that.”

Mrs. Mitchell said when she first met her husband-to-be, he was fretting over the Accounting exam she had just finished. Without hesitating, she handed over the keys to his success: all the questions she had read, and all the answers she gave.

Needless to say, he aced the exam. The following years at university, Mr. Mitchell got countless hours of tutoring from his girlfriend (and some assignment ‘help’ too), who at the time was majoring in Economics.

“He used to ask me can you help me with my assignment, and I used to literally do it for him and he would get A’s!” Mrs. Mitchell said.

“One day he asked me why are you doing Economics when you are so good at Accounting. I thought about it and he convinced me to switch my major.

“I guess in high school Economics was one of my top subjects but he was that person that made me realise I don’t have to stay in that mindset where you think you know what you’re going to study. You change over time.

“Coming from Samoa I thought there is only one way to go but he opened my mind to all this other stuff.”

Their coffee date tradition has stayed for most of their relationship, and for the most part Mr. Mitchell picked up the bill – because the first time Mrs. Mitchell tried to repay the favour her card declined at the counter… twice, she admitted, laughing.

The two have started life in a one bedroom home next to Mrs. Mitchell’s parents, Jackie and Vincent Fepuleai in Lotopa. Mrs. Mitchell said she has to be near her parents because she has become the family cook, and must not live too far away.

“I am sort of the Martha Stewart of our household,” she said.

“I get it from my grandmother, we bake and we cook… my speciality is lamb curry, because that’s what everyone always wants me to make, I make it all the time for my dad’s golf buddies and my mum’s friends for their meetings.”

She is not only a cook, as she bakes too, and tries to introduce some lighter foods to the heavy Samoan repertoire. But during the day the 25-year-old is a Finance and Administration Officer in the Climate Change division of the Regional Pacific Environment Programme.

She said it is a demanding job that keeps her very busy, and helped the time spent far apart from Mr. Mitchell go quickly.

“My life is pretty busy and I am always stressed out but he is that one person that keeps me grounded so it’s nice to have him by my side. I am really grateful he made that sacrifice to be here.”

Mr. Mitchell left New Zealand to live with his new wife and is in the process of hunting for the perfect job. It won’t necessarily be in accounting, he said.

“My wife did my degree for me hhahahahahaha

Moving to Samoa is a big change for the 29-year-old, as he left the island as a teenager for schooling and this will be his first time living here since then. 

The change is made easier by the fact that the young couple’s parents have formed a tight bond and love spending time together, they said.

“That’s the best thing you can ask for,” Mrs Mitchell said.

“Our parents love each other’s company… sometimes when they meet to talk we get bored but they are chatting until three in the morning!”

Mrs. Mitchell’s mother, Jackie Fepuleai is part of the directing team at St. Therese Samoa Retreat, and helped orchestrate a seamless special day for the couple, the young newlyweds said.

“It’s such a beautiful venue: the greenery of the gardens and having the ocean right there, you couldn’t ask for much more.

“I knew our numbers would be big, but the space was really good and I basically left it all to my mum and her helpers… they really went above and beyond.”

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