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From Curacao to Hawaii

An international student from Curacao shares his experiences at home and his adjustment to studying at BYUH

A man sits on the side of the road and poses for the camera
Algernon Martis, a freshman from Curacao, has been adjusting to life at BYUH.
Photo by Joseph Ariono

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Raised in a multicultural country and open-minded family, Algernon Martis, a freshman majoring in business management from Curacao, said he did not have a hard time adjusting to the new environment at BYU–Hawaii because growing up, he learned to speak different languages and he was introduced to various sports like baseball, football and kickboxing.

Martis said he is the youngest of three siblings, born in a typical Latter-day Saint family and grew up in the eastern part of Curacao called Santa Rosa. According to Martis, Curacao is an island located in the southern Caribbean Sea, and it has a unique blend of culture, history and natural beauty.

“Because of the environment I am in, both home and church, it helped me to enjoy life with my family and other immediate relatives around the island,” he said. Aside from having a close family where they travel, eat together, play music and dance, he said his inspiration in life came from his mom. “Growing up and seeing my mom working hard and dealing with life became my influence in my life to continue and keep learning,” he said.

"My mom is a midwife. What inspires me about her is that she is the kindest and most caring person I've ever met," he continued. "Also, she's the type of person who doesn't give up, and the way she strives to be better and make a difference makes me admire her."

Origin and history

“Although Curacao is a gem in the Southern Caribbean, it also holds a complex history of slavery and colonization. As far as I can remember, because of its location and arid conditions surrounding the island, it became the center for the slave trade,” Martis said. He said growing up in Curacao and learning its history made him sympathize with the island's first inhabitants and life.

Besides its history and adapting culture over time, he said the carnival is one of the most joyous and significant events on the island. “I know that whenever we say carnival, people often think of roller coasters, ferris wheels and more. However, on our island, our carnival is composed of colorful street parades, music, dances and artistic expression done by local people and to those who embrace the culture,” he said. According to Martis, the annual event is held the first month of every year.

Martis said whenever they celebrate, they engage themselves with traditional and modern music. He noted that music shaped who they are now. He said their traditional music came from Africa, Europe and Arawak, a group of indigenous people in the Caribbean traditions. He said the two genres are Tambu and Tumba. He added, “Combined rhythm also known as Ritmo Kombina is a combination of different music played during the carnival period and is part of our modern music. Besides that, the other two genres coming from different influences are Zouk and Reggae and Dancehall.”

A man stands with his arms crossed in front of the mural at the David O. McKay Building
Martis shares his language and culture with fellow students on BYUH's campus.
Photo by Joseph Ariono

Culture and language

Martis said his island’s cuisine has diverse food people enjoy from day to day that reflects its multicultural history. He said among all the food choices on the island, he misses his grandmother’s stewed plantain the most. “The stewed plantain is composed of plantain, which is banana, either pork or beef, pumpkin and combined with any other ingredients according to taste,” he said.

Moreover, he said it was not a struggle for him to transition to the type of food in Hawaii. “Ever since I got here, I did not have a hard time transitioning from the famous food here, growing up on a multicultural island made it easier for me to be more open to what other countries can offer.

“In my island, our native language is called Papiamentu, which is a combination of different influences like Dutch, Spanish, French and more into one,” Martis said. He said the influences of other countries with their native language made it easier for him to learn Dutch, Spanish and English around the island and in school. He said his fluency with these languages made it easier for him to understand and learn other languages like German and Portuguese.

Attending BYUH

Martis said the educational system back home is different from here. “While we are free to choose our classes here, back home we cannot select classes we want. This was a big adjustment for me when I got here. I feel like it became easier for me to know what I want as a career in the future because of so many classes to take from. Although there are prerequisite classes that need to be taken, there are hosts of classes that are essential for my career,” he said.

A freshman majoring in business management from Argentina, Joel Prado, said the diverse freshman batch of Winter 2023 made it possible for him to know people from different countries. “I met Algernon in a bus shuttle from the airport going to Laie. Knowing that I struggle to speak in English at first, I asked him where he is from. The moment I heard he said he speaks Spanish, it became easier for me to communicate with him and later on become friends,” he said.

Prado said their first encounter with each other became a stepping stone for them to know more people from different cultures around campus.

The educational system in Curacao was patterned by the Netherlands' educational system, said Martis. “Coming here and experiencing a new educational system was a struggle at first. Little by little I got the hang of it because of new friends and mentors around campus helping me out,” he said.

Isaac Guzman, a sophomore from Ecuador majoring in business management, said he met Martis through a friend at school after a devotional. “He was with an acquaintance of mine, and I found out that he is from Curacao. Over time he came hanging out with us because of the language that we speak and our love for football.”

Guzman encouraged future students to expand their group of friends while studying at BYUH and take steps to learn about other countries. “Expect a lot more people from different countries, get to know them and through common interests, make friends,” he added.