Island life may be much different than what you are used to. Adjusting to local traditions and customs will make your stay much easier. The island is home to wonderful people from many cultures. Greeting someone with "Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening is customary before stating what you need or why you are there. Often the way people receive you will be much different if you greet them first.
Most people speak English on both the Dutch and French sides of the island but knowing a few French phrases will go a long way when on the French side. Having a basic understanding of "grocery terms" will also help when shopping, you can save some money buying European products so knowing different ingredients in Dutch and French may be helpful. Most street signs on the Dutch side are in English but most signs are in French on the French side. It's a small island so don't worry about getting lost!
Getting Around the Island
Driving on the island is a little different than you might be used to back home. Roads are narrow and crowded and it isn't unusual for people to stop in the middle of the road to chat and say hello to one another as they go opposite directions. There is only one traffic light on the island and it only is used during high season. Most major intersections are roundabouts so being versed in how those work is a must when driving. There are few stop signs and common sense is paramount when getting around. Being courteous by letting people turn in front of you or pedestrians to cross is the norm and honking twice as thanks to a driver that has let you pass. There is a lot of traffic on the island, especially during high season. Prepare for short trips to take longer than expected due to traffic, a bridge opening or a herd of goats on the road!
Things may happen slower here than you are used to. Power goes out and people stop what they are doing and go to a cafe for a cold drink and some conversation. A repairman may say he will see you at 10 and not show up until 11. A lot of places will be closed on major public holidays. The best way to adjust is to adapt, slow down and have patience. We are in paradise and letting go of our fast paced way of life might be good! It can be frustrating but if you can't change it, enjoy it!
Telephone, Internet, and Cable
Access to the internet can be touch and go on the island, but most students find it easier to have in their homes so they don't have to come to campus for internet access. Some students and their families have international plans through their American or Canadian carriers but the island does offer cellular service. Some have had their international plans set up on one phone and an "island phone" with a local number to place calls on the island. Both cellular companies on the Dutch side have prepaid plans where you load minutes on your phone at stores throughout the island. Typically, $50 can last you about 3 months with making local calls and occasionally using the 3G internet service while out without access to wifi. The Internet works better from different companies in different areas so ask on the Facebook page once you know where you will be living.
Telem offers various speeds of internet as well as cellular service. They also provide DSL Internet access which is much more reliable than the standard service they offer.
Caribserve offers wireless internet service
Chippie offers local cellular service. Their representatives come to campus the first week of each semester and hands out free sim cards with $11 pre-loaded on it.
St. Maarten Cable is the only cable provider for the Dutch side. They offer a variety of American and European stations with different priced packages.