Kellie McGee may not be a name you are familiar with, yet.
The star Caymanian student recently returned from Swaziland, where she was attending the Waterford Kamhlaba United World College for the past two years.
The school, one of 12 United World Colleges scattered around the globe, brings an international array of talented students aged 16 to 18 together for a challenging university preparatory program.
‘There were 75 different nationalities in my year – I have a place to stay no matter where I go in the world; that was definitely a bonus,’ says Kellie.
‘We all supported each other throughout the programme. That was a big part of the experience as well. The International Baccalaureate curriculum was extremely rigorous, just very, very tough,’ she says.
‘Basically, the academics were on a completely different level than what I had been used to.’
Realizing a dream she has aspired to since second grade and that required a lot of hard work and commitment to achieve, the former St. Ignatius student was able to attend the school thanks to the Cayman Islands United World Colleges Foundation.
As the first Caymanian student to enrol at the Swaziland campus, Kellie admits she was a bit nervous about going.
‘Even though I’d travelled a lot, I’d never been away from home by myself before,’ she says.
‘I chose Africa because I wanted to experience something new and it definitely was a huge culture shock when I got there.’
But that soon changed, and she would never take back her decision to go.
‘The experience opened my eyes to the problems in the world, and at the same time, how fortunate I am. It helped me to become a lot stronger and to reach my goals,’ she says.
Those goals include admission to the two-year pre-med biomedical sciences programme at Edinburgh University, one of the UK’s top 10 schools.
The decision to study medicine was solidified after her life-changing experience working with orphans at the government hospital in Swaziland’s capital, Mbabane.
‘In a country with the highest AIDS rate per capita, a lot of those kids were AIDS orphans or children abandoned by their parents who couldn’t cope and my work involved spending time with them, holding them, changing diapers, things to help these children however possible,’ she says.
Swaziland’s poverty and lack of financial resources means most local doctors shun the hospital’s poor working conditions and low wages. As a result, most of the medical staff is volunteers.
Kellie hopes that she too can volunteer at Mbabane hospital during her medical training as a way to give back to the community.
But once she’s done her studies she plans to come back to Cayman.
‘The doors that were opened for me through the UWC program are amazing,’ she says.
‘An education is something you can never take away from someone, it the best investment money can buy. If you’re Caymanian, there are so many amazing opportunities for you here and I am planning on taking advantage of that. There is no question this experience will help me make a difference here in Cayman.’