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Eli Estridge ’14

In search of incontrovertible—and useful—truths

Eli EstridgeSometimes it’s not until you’re a junior or senior that you find what resonates most deeply within you. And then off you go on new paths that lead you in directions you never imagined.

Eli Estridge ‘14 came to Transylvania from Lancaster, Ky., with a dream of discovering “something new” in mathematics.

“For the first two years of college I was in love with the idea of creating a timeless truth of basic axioms, of building a true conclusion that could be implemented in other ways—incontrovertible, and useful.”

However, after taking some time to explore philosophy and Asian studies, Estridge found something that for him was more convincing, more useful: American pragmatism. 

“The very essence of pragmatism—throughout  William James, John Dewey, and Richard Rorty—is that culture, community, and other beliefs shape our relationship with the world, how we react to and come to terms with our world.”

Prior to that discovery, Estridge hadn’t found philosophy “attractive in the personal sense. But pragmatism had practical, epistemological consequences in your everyday life.” 

So, as it stands, American pragmatism is what he’ll focus on in graduate school. But his journey has led to one more detour he wants to take before then.

His sophomore year, in a class called Further Engagements, Estridge was introduced to ancient texts, from The Odyssey to the Bhagavad Gita. The class was a life-changer.

“Asian studies showed me a new perspective of the world that was completely disparate from the western image encapsulated in Homer’s The Odyssey, which was all about the importance of Odysseus. In Zhuangzi, it’s the complete unimportance of a western sense of the self.”

Juhu magazine cover 2014Estridge began to study Chinese language and culture, taking philosophy professor Jack Furlong’s Ancient Chinese Thought and Chinese professor Qian Gao’s classes in beginning and, ultimately, advanced-level Chinese translation and culture.

In the summer of 2013 he entered an intensive Chinese language course at Middlebury College in Vermont. He rose at 5 a.m. to study; took class from 8 a.m. until noon; engaged in a 30-minute one-on-one language session; and finished his homework before 5 p.m. The rest of the evening was spent preparing for the next day of class.

On the third day of the course, he took the “language pledge,” agreeing to speak only in Chinese (or risk expulsion). His only exception was the few calls to his parents over the eight-week course. The first two, he said, were made in a state of anguish. But eventually he flourished.

Indeed, by the following October, back at Transylvania and after only a year of language study, Estridge was, in Gao’s words, “almost fluent” in the language.

He submitted an essay in Chinese, 离婚造成什么社会问题?, which was accepted by the University of Iowa’s JUHE Supplement, “an annual magazine dedicated to the publication of fine Chinese essays written by learners of Chinese as a foreign language.”

Interestingly, something quite unexpected has come about as a result of living—and enjoying—the monastic life of the scholar.

Estridge has decided to put off graduate school while he enters a Buddhist monastery in California as a volunteer. At the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, he’ll participate in the daily life and humanitarian mission, but his goal, he clarifies, is not to be a monk. As a volunteer, he plans to help in the monastery’s translation of ancient Chinese texts. “It’s very academic. I hope to come out with stronger translation skills. That will open me up to much better opportunities in graduate school.”

And the vow of silence? “That would be sort of fun for me.”

Estridge’s ultimate goal is to become a faculty member at a college like Transylvania. He has relished the small liberal arts college experience and the close relationships and friendships with faculty mentors.

His advice to students beginning their journey at Transylvania? “Get to know your professors really well, because they provide insight and opportunity for you to feel out the possibilities in their field. The academic relationship with your professors is one of the best experiences that Transylvania offers that other places can’t. It’s pretty incredible.”

Eli Estridge and Qian Gao

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