CTN recently started working with a new group of Russian-speaking residents at San Francisco’s Eastern Parks Apartments. Although the group has been attending Home Connect classes from home, we recently gathered all the learners for a photo shoot. It was wonderful to see a virtual community come together in person, and we are hopeful that we can return to in-person instruction in the coming months.
The majority of these learners immigrated to the U.S. around 30 years ago — hailing from Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Odesa, Ukraine. Before joining the Home Connect program, they had little experience using technology. Most of them were new to any form of touch-screen technology and have never used a smartphone. Those who had access to the internet had been limited to using YouTube to watch programs and news in Russian.
Today, the learners are using their tablets in all sorts of ways. For many, the priority has been finding ways to connect with friends and family around the world, mainly via Skype and Facebook. Others have started using email to send and receive pictures from family members. I also introduced a couple of them to Duolingo to work on improving their English. All of the learners are over the age of 85, and their willingness to explore the new technology is impressive.
I found this group very rewarding to teach and hope that we can return to offering in-person support in their computer lab once things reopen fully. A few of these learners have completed their initial Home Connect training sessions and have begun to work with their digital coach Illya. As a native of Ukraine, Illya is able to relate to the learners within the cultural context. “It’s truly great that I can use my language,” he reflects. “You need to get to a point where you’re talking as friends rather than strangers. And what better way to do this when you know their language and know their culture?”
Since these learners are very much beginners, they will need continued support in navigating the internet. We are hopeful that more Russian-speaking volunteers will join the team to ensure the success of these eager and dedicated older adults. If you or someone you know speaks Russian, check out our volunteer page to get started!