Keagan Fransch moved to New Zealand in 2004 and discovered a love of acting that has led to her being awarded the prestigious Museum Art Hotel Scholarship for 2012.
Fransch, 26, is a second-year student at Toi Whakaari Drama School and was nominated by her fellow students for the award.
The scholarship, worth more than $10,000, has been funded by Museum Art Hotel owner Chris Parkin for 12 years.
It covers Fransch's tuition costs for a year and includes $500 a month for 10 months living expenses.
The final decision was made by drama school staff and Dawn Sanders from Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand.
"It hasn't quite hit me yet. When Chris announced my name there was this moment of blank," Fransch said.
"Then I thought, 'Hang on. Everyone's looking at me. I should get up there'."
Fransch was born in Harare, Zimbabwe, and arrived in New Zealand in 2004.
"I'd come from a big city and was used to a lot of people and city life. And I moved to Timaru, so that was different in that sense.
"The biggest culture shock was that there was really only my family and one other family that looked like us and it was really cold."
She attended Timaru Girls' High School, where she studied drama and performed in Antony and Cleopatra at the Aoraki Regional Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival as well in Oliver by the South Canterbury Musical Theatre in Timaru.
Fransch was one of the 46 participants in 2004 national Shakespeare schools production and one of 23 members of Young Shakespeare Company 2005, who trained and performed at Shakespeare's Globe, London.
"When I was little my mother always let me watch musicals and Shakespeare. So I have always loved the theatre," she said.
"When we moved here I found out Timaru Girls' High offered drama as a subject. Then through that I got selected for the Shakespeare group.
"Still it was never really in my mind that I could do acting as a career. You couldn't possibly be serious about being an actor when you came from Africa. It's not what you do.
"So I went to university and did psychology."
Fransch decided to audition for Toi Whakaari after five years of studying psychology.
"Two years ago I was sitting with my director for a play I was in and we were talking about how some of my mates were auditioning for Toi Whakaari. Something just clicked. It was just luck really.
"If I hadn't moved here, I definitely wouldn't be doing drama."
Mr Parkin said the scholarship was about supporting the live theatre scene in Wellington.
"Part of what we are selling here in Wellington is the vibe, which wouldn't be the same without all our live theatre," he said.
"For a relatively small city we do a lot of live theatre.
"It seemed that by making some contribution in that area, and not just directly to a theatre, I would be helping to guarantee that industry.
"I also wanted to give young, homegrown talent the opportunity to devote their time to developing their craft and ease the strain of trying to meet course costs."
In 2013, Fransch will travel Cincinnati to work with renowned director Timothy Douglas on a revival of Horton Foote's play The Trip to Bountiful.
To support her trip, visit pledgeme.co.nz/645.
- The Wellingtonian