For Destrie Ranon, next Saturday's Hawaiian Night basketball games will be her first exposure with that SMSU tradition.
"I've heard a lot about it," said Ranon, a freshman secondary education major from Honolulu, Hawaii.
Ranon's journey from Moanalua High School in Honolulu to Southwest Minnesota State and Marshall is an interesting one.
"I knew I wanted to come over to the mainland," she said, recounting her tale. "My home life wasn't that great, and I wanted to get away."
Ranon said her school had a number of initiatives to help students find a college after graduation.
"I did some research online, looking for places that are affordable," she said. "Minnesota popped up, along with some colleges in California and Oregon. That's how I first heard about (SMSU)."
"Everyone always asks me that, how I ended up here," she said with a laugh. "I'm always up for something new, I'm not one to stick around one place that long. I like adventure."
Culture shock? "A bit, yes," said Ranon. "Everything is different. The surroundings are different. I came with my mom and her boyfriend and drove down here last August from Minneapolis. Everything was green."
She's seen that green turn to various shades of fall brown and is going through her first winter. The severe change in seasons is new to her, having come from a tropical paradise.
"The first couple of months were rough," she said. "It took some getting used to, meeting new people and stuff. I have friends in the Midwest, but the closest is five hours, at Ashford University in Clinton, Iowa. It's not like I can catch a bus or anything."
Food has been a big change, too.
"It was hard to adjust," she said. "Here they eat a lot of potatoes. The (Residential Restaurant) does a good job of including different things, but back home, the tastes are so different. I don't know how to explain it. I do miss cooking. I try and cook (native dishes) here and share them, but no one likes them."
One of those dishes is an island staple, she said.
"Spam and rice wrapped in seaweed. Not a lot of people here like seaweed,"?she said.
Her grades have improved dramatically since arriving.
"I was at 3.8 last semester. I've never done that well in school. I was always a 'C' and 'D' student, to be honest. I had a lot of friends who kept me distracted. I don't have a lot of friends here yet, so I've been able to concentrate on my studies more,"?she said.
She's taking 19 credits this semester and working for ARAMARK, the campus food service provider.
The oldest of five children, she's the first in her family to attend college. And while the adjustment has been trying at times, she is, generally, enjoying her college experience at SMSU.
As for Hawaiian Night, it's likely she'll be the only native Hawaiian at the 5 and 7 p.m. doubleheader against Winona State.
"Hawaiian is an ethnicity," she said. "You have to be a Hawaiian in blood to be Hawaiian. A lot of people think that if you live in Hawaii, you're a Hawaiian. That's not true. We have a word for foreigners, 'haole,' which technically means foreigner. We use it more to describe white people. If someone calls you that, it's not necessarily a good thing. It's not always used as a negative, sometimes it's used to describe skin color."
The reality of life in the Midwest has met her perceptions.
"When I was online looking at SMSU, it looked like a decent-sized school, that you could interact with your professors. That's happened here. All of the professors are really helpful I think," she said. She especially likes Dr. Richard Herder, assistant professor of speech communication. "He's from Minnesota and taught in Florida and is now back up here. He's good with knowing about diversity and getting us all together."
Her newfound success in the classroom has a lot to do with geography, she admits.
"My friends in high school didn't drink or do drugs,"?she said. "We're good kids, but we didn't find school important. We'd mess around in class, and near the end, skip class and go to the beach. I was a big beach bum and enjoyed outdoor activities.
"I don't regret any of it. I learned from it, and it created memories."
She purchased a Hawaiian shirt over the holiday break and said she'll pick one of her 'trucker' hats she wears on the beach.
"I have one with a hula girl, one that says 'beach bum' and one that says 'I'm not late, I'm on Hawaiian time,'" she said.