floresesmeraldaVacation led Flores from Honduras to Lowcountry

Esmeralda Flores,

One on the happiest days of Esmeralda Flores’ life was the day she was sworn in as an American citizen.
“The man who swore us in said, ‘Remember to love this country as much as it loves you. Know that this flag will always protect you,’ “ said Flores, still visibly moved by that moment.

However, that doesn’t mean Flores doesn’t still have a huge place in her heart for her home country of Honduras. In fact, there is a small Honduran flag on the front window sill of her business, Esmeralda's Massage Therapy & Pilates Center on New Orleans Road on Hilton Head Island.

“I’m proud to be from Honduras,” she said. “It’s a country that is rich, but its people are poor.”


antunes-johnAmerican dream came true for Distinctive founder

John Antunes,

John Antunes arrived at JFK airport in New York City in the winter of 1966 when he was 16 years old. He had never seen snow, didn’t have a jacket and didn’t speak English.

He was coming to join his father, who had arrived in New York a few years earlier, to earn enough money to pay for a farm in a small village north of Lisbon, Portugal.

In New York, Antunes and his father worked construction, living in Jamaica, Queens, with other Portuguese immigrants. He enrolled in school but left after a week, determined to learn English quickly and frustrated that the school’s program was not intensive enough.

ulimelcBistro owners bring international flare to local cuisine

Claude Melchiorri,

Uli Melchiorri,

The South Carolina Lowcountry is renowned for its world-class golf courses, sparkling sand beaches and thriving arts scene, but one of the lesser-known factors that make the region – and Hilton Head Island in particular – such a great place to live and visit is the cultural diversity of the population.

A little more than 15 percent of Hilton Head residents were born in foreign countries – a rather large percentage, considering that foreign-born residents make up just 4.8 million of the state's overall population, according to the United States Census Bureau. Hailing from countries such as Germany, England, Ireland, Italy and Poland, Hilton Head's immigrant residents are part of what give the island its wonderful international flare.

Claude and Uli Melchiorri, owners of Claude and Uli's Signature Bistro, located in Moss Creek Village just before the bridges to Hilton Head, are two such immigrants who are lending their distinctive style and spirit to the Lowcountry melting pot.

marekbelkaBelka brothers immigrated to find opportunities, more time for family

Marek, Gregor Belka,

Originally from Poland, brothers Marek and Gregor Belka lend their distinctive international flare to Hilton Head Island's cultural melting pot.

The Belkas are in good company; a little more than 15 percent of Hilton Head Island's residents were born in other countries, according to the United States Census Bureau.

For younger brother, Gregor, who moved to Hilton Head Island in 1989, new opportunities – and a desire to escape a communist regime – were key factors in his decision to move to the United States.

narendraFiji native helping improve children’s education through NOC

Narendra Sharma,

When Narendra P. Sharma left his native Fiji Islands in 1964 to come to America, he was embarking on the first of three distinctive phases of his adult life: higher education.

His first stop was Hawaii, where he began his college career as part of the East-West program that was started under President Kennedy and carried forward by President Johnson, and is similar to the Fulbright scholarships program.

Hawaii was also where he met his wife, Martha.

The second phase of his life was a 32-year career with the World Bank in the Washington D.C. office of the organization.

ingridlowGerman-born woman makes new life in New World

Ingrid Low,

Ingrid Low has been selling real estate on Hilton Head Island for 35 years.

“Selling is very natural to me, and that’s why I ended up in real estate,” says Low, who sold heavy industrial equipment in the textile industry in New York before settling in South Carolina in 1979. “I love selling and talking to people.”

Though she’s spent three decades helping people find their dream homes, Low knows intimately how it feels to lose one. The German-born Low was younger than 10 when her family had to leave everything behind and scramble toward safety during World War II.

susanochnerFond memories brought world traveler back to Hilton Head

Susan Ochsner

“Where are you from?

It’s a question that Susan Ochsner loves answering because she gets to tell her story of how seeing the world led her back to Hilton Head Island.

“I was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, but I’m 100 percent Swiss,” said Ochsner, owner of Premium Properties of Hilton Head. “My parents are from Lucerne and Chur. But all of my early memories are from this island.”

Her parents retired to the island in 1971 after an extensive search for the right East Coast home. Her father, an executive with Sherwin-Williams, had many of the Ohio-based company’s execs telling him of the beauty of Hilton Head. After spending three months looking from the Florida panhandle to the Outer Banks, Ochsner got her first taste of the island.

ogradybroBrothers born in U.K. feel Hilton Head is the best place in the world

Tristan & Kieran O’Grady,
United Kingdom

If you’re looking for a poster child for the notion that America is the land of opportunity, and Hilton Head Island offers more fertile soil than most for the growth of the American Dream, you could do far worse than Tristan O’Grady.

Born in the U.K. and raised in the extremely British-sounding Buckinghamshire, O’Grady spent his formative years traveling from place to place. His father, a resort developer, kept his family constantly on the move, and before he was rown the younger O’Grady had called England, Australia and South Africa home.



Like Midwesterners or East Coasters, most of those new arrivals vacationed here and then thought of a plan to ensure they would never have to leave: They moved here.

While less than 5 percent of South Carolina residents were born in another country, 15 percent, or nearly 6,000 of our 39,400 Hilton Head Island residents were foreign born, according to the 2010 Census. Within that group, 70 percent were born in Latin America, about 19 percent were born in Europe and 10 percent in either Canada or Asia.


James Coleman has made a living out of creating some of the most famous magical places children have seen:  The underwater world of “The Little Mermaid.” The darkly intriguing backdrop of “Beauty and the Beast.” The rural woodlands of “The Fox and the Hound.”

But the former Disney landscape artist says nothing prepared him for the fantasy land that is the Lowcountry.