Piedmont High School senior Elizabeth Fetterolf likes to have a well-packed summer, so spending six weeks as an intern in Kenya and an additional two weeks at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Summer Seminar was pretty typical. But one can't help admire this well-spoken young woman who lives her passions and speaks with enthusiasm in describing what she experienced.
Fetterolf was able to get an intern position in Kakamega, Kenya, through her mother, Jennifer Nixon, who works for Village Enterprise, an organization that helps people begin small businesses.
"I've wanted to go to Africa since I was really little and every summer I've been trying to find a way that it would happen," Fetterolf said.
With a Kenyan intern, Fetterolf worked on an agricultural project to determine the most profitable crops.
"We would work everyday at an agricultural research institute, interview professionals and use their library," she said. "We put together a spreadsheet showing the best practices for growing crops, their risk and profitability."
Time spent living with a co-worker and his family in a rural village in a traditional manner and later with a roommate in Kakamega left lasting impressions of the people and their culture. Fetterolf saw a giving culture, one very much focused on the community. She also felt the strength women were expected to show as they balanced housework, tending large numbers of children and working full-time.
"This is changing as women go to college, but I was both impressed and horrified by that," she said.
In Kenya, Fetterolf's goal of doing something independent was more than fulfilled, as she experienced living on her own with a roommate and the responsibilities that entailed.
"We needed hot water, power and kerosene, and we rarely had all three at the same time," she said. "We'd hope for two, but sometimes it was one, sometimes zero."
Home from Kenya, three days later Fetterolf left for Oregon, to fulfill another passion and dream, her love of theater.
"I love seeing every type of theater -- musicals, Shakespeare, experimental," she said. "I've attended the Cal Shakespeare camp for the last five years."
As one of 65 high school juniors selected to take part in a summer institute at Southern Oregon College, sponsored by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Fetterolf participated in professionally led workshops, forums and scene plays in which she learned about stage managing, costume and set design, production and managerial aspects such as fundraising and development.
"I literally did everything. We had a different schedule everyday and it was jam-packed from 8 a.m. to midnight. I loved that," she said.
Again, her experiences were rich and memorable, from the plays she saw and relationships she built to the compassionate, wonderful teachers.
"It was really neat to see actors in a play one night and see them walking around Ashland (in Oregon) the next day and say 'hi' to them," Fetterolf said.
The Piedmont High School senior plans to put her theater lessons into play this year when she directs "The Shape of Things" by Neil Labute at school. She's thinking ahead to college, where she'll put acting on the back burner, possibly work behind the scenes and consider a major in psychology, education or English.
Hoping to attend college on the East Coast, she's ready for a new environment, somewhere outside her comfort zone. If this summer is any example, that might be hard to find for this adaptable 17-year old.
"I learned that it's much easier to adjust than you think. I'm proud I was able to live without water and power in Kenya and live with spiders the size of saucers between my sheets," she said. "It was all a cool experience, it was awesome."