Schol­arly saga ends with PhD

Auckland City Harbour News - - News - By Lisa Sloan

When Fredrika van El­burg sat down in her first univer­sity lec­ture, she was sur­rounded by peo­ple less than half her age.

But de­spite the gap, the One­hunga res­i­dent has never once felt too old for the class­room.

Now 70, Ms van El­burg was 50 when she en­rolled in the bach­e­lor of arts de­gree at Auck­land Univer­sity and spent 10 years com­plet­ing the de­gree part-time. Not con­tent to stop there, she then fin­ished her mas­ter of arts be­fore spend­ing seven years on her PhD in English.

She was one of more than 5000 stu­dents who took part in grad­u­a­tion cer­e­monies at the Town Hall ear­lier this month.

Ms van El­burg, who was born in Hol­land, is thrilled to see her stud­ies come to­gether.

“I keep think­ing I did it, I did it, I re­ally did it,” she says.

“When I was a young­ster it was very much a priv­i­lege to go to univer­sity and it just wasn’t pos­si­ble for me then.

“I’m quite grate­ful to have had this chance in New Zealand.” Ms van El­burg em­i­grated to New Zealand in her 20s and spent much of her work­ing life in a fac­tory.

She went to univer­sity be­cause she was bored, and she’s never looked back.

Ms van El­burg is par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in po­etry and her mas­ter’s the­sis was based on the work of lit­tle­known Dutch lan­guage po­ets from the 1970s.

Her the­sis is called the Vi­jftigers and the lan­guage po­ets: A study of the po­et­ics of two ex­per­i­men­tal group­ings.

It took seven years to com­plete.

She trans­lated each poem into English, which had never been done be­fore, and took sev­eral trips back to Hol­land to look through sec­ond­hand book stores.

She says she has al­ways felt en­cour­aged to keep on study­ing.

“I was a ma­ture stu­dent when I started but never once did I get the feel­ing that stu­dents were think­ing, ‘what’s this old wo­man do­ing here?’

“I was wor­ried other peo­ple might say to me, if you were sen­si­ble you’d get a job and pay the mort­gage.

“But no one ever said what is the point of it and ev­ery­one has been so en­cour­ag­ing.”

As­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor Murray Ed­mond su­per­vised Ms van El­burg’s PhD.

He says her ac­cu­racy and at­ten­tion to de­tail helped her suc­ceed in study.

“She had the PhD the most free of er­rors I have ever seen. She can put things in or­der, put it all to­gether and she has done it very well.”

Mr Ed­mond says he hopes Ms van El­burg will look at get­ting her work pub­lished in the fu­ture.

Ms van El­burg is now work­ing one day a week at the univer­sity as­sist­ing Dr Michele Leg­gott, who has im­paired vi­sion, with tu­to­ri­als and other work.

She en­cour­ages any­one who is re­tired and look­ing for some­thing to do to try univer­sity.

“Just try do­ing one pa­per and see if you like it. Why not?” she says.

“You may not like it but you may love it.”

But she is not sure if her days of study are over yet.

“I may get with­drawal symp­toms and want to do an­other pa­per, per­haps in French or Span­ish,” she says.

“We will see.”

Photo: JA­SON OXENHAM

Made it: Seventy-year-old Fredrika van El­burg of One­hunga grad­u­ated with a PhD in English from Auck­land Univer­sity last week.

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