Elinore Fresh

Elinore Fresh has lived not only in Florida and Taiwan, but in Second China; in fact, she was one of the architects of that virtual island, located online in Second Life.  Unfortunately, she tells me, the lease ran out and the programming has probably reverted to primitive chaos, but while it lasted it was a place she could visit with her classes, sometimes jointly with classes at another university, to clarify business culture in the People’s Republic. This virtual China was the result of a 2007 Department of Defense grant on which Elinore worked with German professor Franz Futterknecht, Computer & Information Science & Engineering professor Paul Fishwick, and Julie Henderson. It was an exciting project for me to watch develop, and a notable instance of co-operation between what were at the time separate language departments (Germanic and Slavic and African and Asian, both subsumed in 2008 in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures).

Elinore was born in Florida, but at the age of 6 months she traveled with her mother and brother to join her father, who was stationed by the Navy in Taiwan. “Chinese was my first language”—she had a Chinese nanny, went to a Chinese school, and spoke Chinese with her brother at home, too, with English reserved for her parents.  On her seventh birthday, she returned to the United States with her family. As is usual with small children, she quickly learned that speaking Chinese was not an asset and replaced it with English, painfully learning to participate in schoolyard culture. After a couple of years in California, Elinore’s father was stationed for four years in Cairo, and she attended a school where English was the main language but Arabic and French were also spoken and taught. Returning to a small Florida town, she experienced “reverse culture shock” as one of the few students who had ambitions beyond high school graduation.

Her childhood experience did not make it easy for Elinore to “pick up” Chinese again as an adult, though it provided a powerful motivation to do so. At UF she majored in Political Science and pursued the study of French. It was only when she happened to attend a lecture about the famous Terracotta Warriors  that she considered learning Chinese again. At first she did so poorly that she withdrew from the course, but as a senior she decided to try again, and succeeded, following up with a two-month program at the Beijing Foreign Language Institute. This confirmed for her that she wanted to pursue Chinese, and Professor Chauncey Chu advised her that she should spend more time in China.

After some post-doc preparation at UF, and financial preparation working in a Chinese restaurant in Orange Park near Jacksonville, Elinore moved to Taiwan and enrolled in a university in Taipei. She found work teaching English to children, and made friends—among fellow university students and also through chance meetings with citizens. Sometimes these friendships had the quality of yuan fen, benignly inevitable, however apparently coincidental.  Elinore ended up spending two and a half years in Taipei, not only teaching but working for a government think tank. In the latter role, she was involved in several Asian cultural conferences. This stimulated her ambitions.

Elinore decided to pursue a graduate degree in Asian Studies, and she enrolled at the University of Hawaii.  She completed the MA and a translation program; when she entered the Ph.D. program in Chinese literature, she began teaching Chinese.  Subsequently, her parents’ needs brought her home to Jacksonville before she could finish her doctoral dissertation. After a period teaching Chinese and working for Jacksonville’s Sister Cities program, she was hired to teach English in Yingkou, in Liaoning province, one of Jacksonville’s sister cities Again, however, she needed to come back to Florida for her family.

At this point, UF’s Chinese program needed a one-year replacement for a professor on leave, and Elinore was in the right place at the right time.  It was 1998, and the Chinese program was growing, so Elinore’s contract as  visiting lecturer was renewed for several years and then a full-time lecturer position opened up.,She has taught all levels of undergraduate Chinese, including literature and culture courses. She participated in UF’s Business College Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER) and developed a curriculum for Business Chinese. She also  participated in the China Retail Study Tour, using her Yingkou connections to give the program more depth. 2013 will be her first summer in charge of UF’s Chinese language program in Beijing.

Elinore’s first pedagogical “mentors” were the children to whom she taught English in Taiwan: “when you start learning a language, you are a child,” mimicking others, playing games. Her training in teaching Chinese, though, came through the NFLRC in Hawaii, from Stephen Tschudi, Cynthia Ning, and others. She quickly developed a taste for communicative activities and task-based learning, to stimulate students to speak with confidence—a reaction to her own memories of shyness the first time she visited China as an adult. The key is to “learn to laugh at yourself”—she loves to tell stories of blunders she made, and how the kindness and courtesy of the Chinese makes it easy to communicate. “I teach them the way I would have liked to be taught.”

After her peripatetic childhood and ten years of commuting from Jacksonville, Elinore seems to have settled in Gainesville—she bought a house here. Taiwan is important to her because of her memories of childhood. But she comments on her wide net of friends: “it’s the people who make the place for me.”