Hailee Robinson is hooked on diversity.
It happened this way: She was selected as a recipient of a United World Colleges (Cayman Islands) scholarship and her world hasn’t been the same since. It has expanded exponentially, as has her appreciation for the colleges’ ideals of international peace and understanding.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I graduated Cayman Prep. Now I look for diversity as I’m applying to colleges,” says Hailee. “I think that’s the most valuable thing for me – being in that kind of an environment, travelling more and immersing myself in different cultures.”
Hailee has completed her first year of the two-year International Baccalaureate programme at the colleges’ United States campus in Montezuma, New Mexico, not far from Santa Fe, and will return in the fall with “country mate” Zachary Jones, scholarship recipient from Cayman Brac.
“It’s changed her,” says mom Charmaine McGowan, who is every bit as enthusiastic about the programme as Hailee. “She was always outgoing; now she knows a lot about international affairs.
“It’s opened a lot of doors for her – colleges give advanced standing to these students.”
Hailee was among 22 applicants for the scholarship from the local foundation. Of that number, 12 were interviewed, six made the finals and three were selected.
“Every year we go to all the different schools and encourage students to apply,” says Orchid Morrison, chair of the local board and a past scholarship recipient herself. “We’re looking for well-rounded students, the best students.”
The rigorous process involves a student essay, teacher references, personal interviews and finally, debating local and international topics with other finalists.
Funds for the scholarships are raised locally and this year received a significant boost with the establishment of the Dr. [Philip] Pedley Memorial Award in honour of the former chair of the colleges’ local board who passed away in May 2010. With start-up money from attorney and former board director Colin Shaw and matching funds from alumnus Linburgh Martin, the fund was further boosted by a significant donation from the Aall Foundation charitable trust. As of March, the fund had more than US$45,000 to help expand the number of scholarships.
“As a parent, that’s why I got involved [as a fundraiser],” says Charmaine. “It’s an amazing gift. I want to extend the opportunity to more students. If they had had only enough money for two students, then my daughter wouldn’t have been able to go.”
Most recently, a casino-style fundraiser was held on 23 July, providing “good fun for a great cause.” The Foundation aims to have three more fundraisers later this year.
The concept behind the United World Colleges was developed by German educator Kurt Hahn during the tensions of the Cold War. “His idea was that if you got people from various backgrounds, cultures and religions together, the world would be a better place, and in so doing would foster world peace,” says Morrison. “After these students gain that experience and find common ground, that eradicates prejudices and they return [to Cayman] and are able to promote those ideals.”
Now in its 27th year, the local foundation has helped numerous students broaden their horizons. Among them is Morrison.
“The beauty of this school,” she says, “is it already develops – as you can see with Hailee – and fosters these ideals [of international peace and understanding] in young individuals and brings those ideals back to Cayman.”
Recalling her own experience from attending United World Colleges’ campus in Canada some years ago, Morrison says it was very similar to Hailee’s. “We had International Days, I learned Ukrainian dance, and I knew students whose parents were affected during the Gulf War. And when war broke out in Uganda, I knew a princess from there … Now if you see something on TV, I wonder how this person or that person is affected by it.”
Hailee, too, appreciates the sense of being tied in to international events.
“I felt so much more connected to the world,” after attending the programme, Hailee says. “I could put a face to events.”
Hailee says she has also learned a greater appreciation for the Caribbean region, noting that “though we’re all different, we really created a family [on campus]. They were there to take care of me.”
The programme also gives voice to people from the Caribbean and breaks down stereotypes that others may have, she says.
Beyond the region, Hailee has seen cultures come together in a microcosm that in a larger setting would not happen.
“I know people who are roommates who are Palestinian and Israeli,” she says. “Regardless of our backgrounds, we embrace all the differences we have.
“In my own region, we’re all so different but we have so many similarities; there are so many different sides and points of view.”
The learning extends well beyond the classroom, Hailee notes. By participating in activities with students off-campus and through community service, she is giving back and learning about other cultures and traditions. She was also chosen for Student Council and for the Phenomenal Woman programme to mentor younger women in the small New Mexico community.
Finally, now that she has broadened her experiences beyond this tiny island and travelled a couple thousand miles away, Hailee says she has never felt more patriotic.
The way she sums it up pretty much says it all:
“It’s different when you are living in another culture.”