Whether they live far away or nearby, social distancing is keeping so many of us from our friends and family these days. But what if there was a fun and engaging activity that you could do with your loved ones that would keep you connected AND learning together at a safe distance — all online, using Zoom?

Virginia Huntington from Ames, Iowa enrolled in Road Scholar’s Adventures Online: The Art & History of Paris with her adult daughter and her sister-in-law, both of whom live across the country. Read on to find out how the experience brought them together during these times of isolation.

Road Scholar: You participated in Road Scholar’s online Paris program with your husband, your daughter and your sister-in-law — how did that all come together?

Ginny: I had already been thinking it would be nice to go on a trip with our daughter so we could have some focused time with just her. We visit her often, but with the children around, we don’t always have a lot of time to really talk to her.

As for my sister-in-law: every time we go to California, we drive. And halfway, we stop to see Stu’s sister in New Mexico. Her whole living room is decorated with Eiffel towers. So then we thought: “Margo would like this, too!” So we signed them both up and paid for them.

My daughter, Wyn, studied abroad in Europe and had been to Paris and enjoyed having a chance to go back, albeit virtually. Her life is so busy, it would be very difficult for her to take the time to go there. And my sister-in-law has mobility issues and could never have kept up with a walking group. It was just perfect for all of us.

Road Scholar: Did you find the experience was different or better because you did it together?

Ginny: We all enjoyed being able to see each other on the screen for hours at a time and to be able to experience things together. And then we had something to keep talking about afterwards. For all of us it was a way to immerse our brains in something else other than the pandemic.

Road Scholar: Had you been to Paris before? How did this Adventure Online compare to visiting in person?

Ginny: My husband and I were in the Peace Corps, so we’ve traveled a lot. When we went to Paris, I planned the whole trip myself. I felt a lot of tension in trying to figure out what to do and where to go. It wasn’t exactly relaxing. This online program was an opportunity to go back to Paris, not to have to pack, not to have to worry about what adapters you need for your phone and to just have extra time in the museums. The museum aspects were what really attracted me. I was looking forward to more opportunities to really learn about Paris and a more relaxed time, and I that’s exactly what I got.

Road Scholar: What was a highlight of the program?

Ginny: We all really liked the Group Leader and Instructor, Nettah. He was friendly, personable and very knowledgeable (but not overbearing in his knowledge). Everything you asked, he could amplify it and give you something interesting to think about. It was really rewarding to have the Q&A sessions with him.

He did the field trips, but he didn’t just stand at the front of the Louvre, he walked down the street as he taught. One of the big things in Paris is walking down the street. You just stumble over history at every corner. So just to have him walk down the street — it was amazing to see how empty the streets were compared to when we were there in person.

Road Scholar: How did the online experience compare to an in-person Road Scholar program?

Ginny: I thought it was delightful! It was diluted, but you weren’t as tired. The field trips were the closest we could come to feeling like you were there.

Road Scholar: Did you feel like you were really able to “get away” on an adventure without leaving home?

Ginny: It really did feel that way! We told people in advance: “Sorry, I can’t do anything that week. I’ll be in Paris!” I started cooking French things. One of the authors listed on the reading list had also written a cook book, so I took that out of the library and tried three different recipes. You could start class and have your own glass of wine. I was determined to get my money’s worth and to really enjoy it.

Road Scholar: Were you hesitant at all to enroll in an online program?

Ginny: I realized I wasn’t spending my money on anything else, so I thought it over, and said to myself, ‘If I don’t sign up for it, I’m going to sit here that week thinking, ‘Oh, I could be learning about Paris right now!’”

The Road Scholar people that I talked to when I signed up for this were very helpful, friendly and willing to spend as much time as I needed answering all my questions. I just felt that I had all the help I needed.

Road Scholar: How did this compare to other online learning you’ve done? Did you feel comfortable with the Zoom technology?

Ginny: We have Zoom everything now. I sew, and there are all kinds of things online to learn about quilting. My book group meets via Zoom, we have local meetings all on Zoom. Our local lifelong learning institute now has virtual classes, and we have done programs with them. But Road Scholar had more time for questions and discussion. It was built in as part of the program. My daughter said she really felt like she was part of a group. It was nice to be able to see everybody each day.

I’m 77, and I don’t feel very computer literate. But you just have to try it, and if it doesn’t work, you can ask somebody for help.

Road Scholar: If/when you go to Paris in the future, do you think this program will have enhanced that experience?

Ginny: Because of my Peace Corps training, I believe very strongly that you have to prepare yourself to go to somebody else’s country to understand their history and be polite. When I travel internationally, I take out books and learn a few phrases. When you’re preparing for a trip, everything you learn enhances your experience when you’re there. You can’t just count on your Group Leader, you have to go halfway. You have to get yourself ready. A lot of things pass you by if you haven’t learned about things before you go. If or when we ever go back to Paris, the experience will certainly be richer because of this online adventure.

Learn more about Road Scholar’s Adventures Online at www.roadscholar.org/online.

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