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