What to expect from a virtual program with Road Scholar

Last week, I went to Portugal. I met locals, explored gorgeous buildings and even learned how to barbecue sardines. I was safe, and I didn’t need to wear a mask! How was this possible? Through Road Scholar’s Adventures Online programming!

I had been skeptical of virtual educational travel programs, but I was sure that, if anyone could do it well, it would be Road Scholar. Back when we were able to explore the world in person, my wife and I entrusted our experiences of India, Botswana, South Africa, Croatia, the Galapagos and Machu Picchu to the Road Scholar faculty. I also entrusted my very personal pilgrimage to the history of civil rights in Alabama to caring, articulate and outstanding experts vetted by the Road Scholar staff.

Jane and I are adventurers — we rarely stay in the same place more than a few months at a time. When people ask where we live, we tell them we live “where our stuff is” because we think of ourselves as citizens of the world. It's been particularly challenging to not travel through most of 2020. So, when the Road Scholar team made an elegant pivot from live programs to virtual ones, I decided to give it a try.

Right off, I noticed that I was able to see and study the faces of my fellow participants on zoom in a way I would never do in person. I liked looking at them while they spoke, feeling like I was getting to know them by their expressions. The group leaders were enthusiastic and it was clear they were excited to be with us, even if it was in a virtual room.

When we learned about each other, I was amazed at how many participants had been to Portugal with Road Scholar but wanted to revisit. There were also those whose programs were rescheduled to a later date, and this virtual program gave them a taste and a preparation for the real thing in 2022. For Jane and I, we had intended to be in Portugal this past spring, and, after attending this program, we are sure we will get there as soon as it’s possible.

In addition to the traditional maps and learning about the Portuguese leaders, people, culture and history, we were able to see a lot “first hand.” The Group Leaders would present a slide deck and, in it, embed surprise videos of people leading live explorations of different areas. Sometimes you could almost smell the market place that was bustling with sound and color!

We walked along a medieval wall, traversed bridges and strolled along the riverbank. We even had the opportunity to meet local students, hear live music and ask questions of professors in a live format. (We could ask questions using the chat function, or we could raise our hand and use our voices.) There were interesting questions about the history and influences of other cultures, and there were challenging questions about the current state of the economy. It was fascinating to talk with people from such a new democracy (1976)! All questions were welcomed and answered with intelligence and heart.

We interacted with multiple generations — from little ones, to students, to people at the peak of their careers and some seniors. The personal look into one family’s home was one of our favorite aspects, along with meeting the amazing Fado musicians.

Jane and I attended as a couple, and there were several couples joining us. Most of the participants were on their own and were very engaged with the content and each other. It was fun to scan the chat to see folks interacting with each other, learning who lived nearby or had once lived in the same place. Those who had been to Portugal would often add details in the chat to supplement what the lecturer or Group Leader was sharing. One brought her handbag made of cork (a big Portuguese product) to the camera to share!

Jane and I are currently in St. Petersburg, Florida, and we were joined on this program by folks from Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Maine, Arizona, California, Illinois — just to name a few.

If you are interested in learning the history of a country that went from a monarchy, to a republic, to a dictatorship to a democracy in the span of a just over a 100 years, you’ll love learning about Portugal. Join Road Scholar for this online learning adventure and meet its people who embody a complex and rich legacy of tragic, destructive, beautiful and creative contributions to the world.

About the Author

 Christie Hardwick is founder and curator of Inspiration Gatherings, an executive coach and an ordained minister. Christie is an American Leadership Forum Senior Fellow and faculty member. For five years, she served on the Women’s Leadership Board at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

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