Bustling between the library and classes during the last few weeks of school, junior arts management major Erin Welds reflects on her unique childhood and how it brought her to the College.
One would describe Welds as easy-going and carefree, a byproduct, no doubt, of her upbringing in the Cayman Islands. Situated next to Cuba and Jamaica, the Cayman Islands are a combination of Hispanic and Caribbean cultures. Welds spent much of her childhood outdoors exploring the island and meeting travelers as they passed through. She was scuba-certified by age 13 and developed a deep appreciation for the land and sea. Each year she would help release baby turtles into the ocean in the hopes of seeing more of them underwater on her dives.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up anywhere else,” she says. “It’s kind of sheltered and cut off from everything, but at the same time all of the different people from different places exposed me to different cultures and communities.”
The Cayman Islands follows the British school system, so Welds finished her high school education at 15. However, she knew she wanted to go to College in the United States. So when her grandfather, a government contractor, relocated to St. Simons Island, Georgia, she decided to go with him and attend high school for two more years in America. An only child, Welds packed her things and left her childhood home and her mother behind.
“It was a culture shock never having left the Island for more than a week or two,” she recalls. “It was hard at first but I adjusted. I’m definitely glad I did it at a young age because it prepared me more for real life.”
During this time, Welds lived with her grandparents who were very supportive. Maintaining a strong relationship with her mom was important to her, too, so they often visited one another to ease the transition. She attended a small private high school for two years before coming to the College in 2015.
“I didn’t know anyone when I came to the College, which I liked because it was another fresh start,” she says. “I’ve always been excited to go to college and I knew coming in that there were so many interesting people in Charleston.”
Welds chose the College of Charleston for its diversity, history and opportunity – all things she continues to take advantage of.
“I like to take studio art classes and volunteer. I go to yoga and meditation classes a few times a week. Mostly I like to explore the city, get outdoors, and hang out with friends. I’m always trying something new so my life is kind of a mess right now,” she laughs, “but in a good way.”
Post graduation, Welds hopes to return to her home and teach middle school art for a while before possibly attending graduate school in Europe. She has triple citizenship because the Cayman Islands are a colony of the British West Indies, making her a citizen of Great Britain, the Cayman Islands, and the United States.
“My art teachers did a lot for me,” she reflects. “They were really encouraging, and the arts were strangely developed for a place like the Cayman Islands, which is so secluded. We have so many cultural arts and food festivals.”
Long term, Welds hopes to work for a non-profit arts organization focused on youth education. Her love for her home is palpable as she talks about returning for good. Until then, Welds cherishes her ability to visit and catch up with friends and family.
“I’m headed back for a few weeks this summer. I’m really excited,” she says, smiling.
As the academic year comes to a close Welds can hardly wait to return to the Cayman Islands and relish in the feeling of the sun and the sand, the feeling of home.
Lauren Vega is a junior from Huntington, West Virginia, studying arts management and international studies in the Honors College at the College of Charleston. She is also a National Merit Scholar, a scholar in the International Studies Program, and a 200-hour registered yoga teacher.