Short Stories From Road Scholar’s Virtual Classrooms

Author: AB Staff

Short Stories From Road Scholar’s Virtual Classrooms


Every year, we at Road Scholar hear about the extraordinary ways in which our programs have impacted our participants. Whether funny, inspirational or heartwarming, we LOVE hearing stories about YOU — the people who make Road Scholar what it is: a community of more than 100,000 unique and remarkable lifelong learners from around the country, from all walks of life, with one thing in common — a shared love for learning about the world. This past year, as we have connected with Road Scholars through our virtual programming, those connections and heartwarming stories mean even more to us. Our online adventures have hosted more than 50,000 lifelong learners since we launched our first Virtual Lectures in March. Here are just a few “short stories” about YOU, our participants from our adventures into online learning this year.

Participant Shares Her Love for Road Scholar With Local Veterans

Photography enthusiast Sonja T. was searching for a learning adventure that would help her improve her photography skills. After discovering the Snow Farm: The New England Craft Program in Western Massachusetts, she took a Road Scholar digital photography learning adventure there two years in a row. She soon became a Road Scholar enthusiast as well!

Now, more than 41 learning adventures later, Sonja looks for Road Scholar programs that feel like they would be great to photograph and share with others. A volunteer at her local VA hospital, Sonja shares her program photos and knowledge with veterans in an effort to extend the joys of lifelong learning.

“I presented programs there at least once a month on my Road Scholar travels using my photos and sharing the knowledge I received on my adventures,” says Sonja. “I was able to take 41 trips before the pandemic stopped both my Road Scholar trips and my visits to the VA. Now I’m presenting programs every week via Skype.”

While the pandemic has prevented Sonja from enjoying land adventures, she has taken advantage of enrolling in Road Scholar’s Adventures Online which offer learning adventures around the world, all from the comfort of one’s home.

“I was afraid that the online programs could not measure up to the in-person experiences, but I have been pleasantly surprised and have registered for more,” says Sonja.

As she attends online learning adventures with Road Scholar, Sonja has been able to continue to share her knowledge with the residents at the VA hospital. While she has typically taken learning adventures within the U.S., Road Scholar’s Adventures Online have allowed her to “travel” internationally and share these experiences with others.

“I am scheduled to take the Antarctica Adventures Online program. I had never had any interest in Antarctica, and certainly never wished to go there in that cold climate!” says Sonja. “But the online programs give me the opportunity to spread my wings and have experiences I never dreamed of. Each program offers a variety of experiences, not just a travelogue, but touching on the back stories of history and people. I feel these online adventures, whether they are several days long or just an hour-long webinar, are just what I need in these days of enforced isolation.”

While Sonja – and her friends at the VA – look forward to her ability to travel again, all have benefited from her experiences of learning online with Road Scholar.

“I do look forward to getting on the road again,” says Sonja. “But I am so grateful to Road Scholar for seeing the need of those who enjoy lifelong learning, and for filling that need with the online programs.” 

A Road Scholar Love Story: From Choral Performances to Online Learning

When Bill Baum and Connie Marchese (Baum) first met in 2009 on the Road Scholar learning adventure “The Mystery and Beauty of Appalachia,” it’s safe to say that “music was in the air.”

Bill had journeyed to the program from his home state of New Jersey, while Connie came from Virginia. The two soon found that they enjoyed many of the same activities — particularly anything music related — and were soon signed up to enjoy several Road Scholar choral music performance programs together. They made many mutual friends along the way as they sang and performed music with other Road Scholars.

Finally in 2013, the two decided to get married — and what better venue for their wedding than during the talent show night during a Road Scholar choral program in Abingdon, Virginia! Bill sang “I Have to Say I love You in a Song” to Connie and then introduced the Justice of the Peace for the wedding ceremony, all while their friends and fellow Road Scholars watched in delight.

“It was a complete surprise to everyone,” says Bill. “It’s definitely memorable for everyone as our anniversary falls during the program each year!”

Since then, Bill and Connie have moved to Virginia and have participated in dozens of Road Scholar programs, ranging from cycling and birding to theater and writing. When the pandemic hit and traditional learning adventures were brought to a halt, Bill and Connie soon found that Road Scholar’s online programming was a new and important avenue of learning that they could incorporate into their lives.

To date, the couple have taken part in six online multi-day programs and have learned about London theater, the art and history of ParisEnglish mystery writers, the Boston Pops, and have virtually explored Portgal and San Francisco. They plan to continue these programs even when they can resume in-person travel, and are currently signed up for online adventures in Catalonia and Antarctica.

“Each program has transported us to new sites with fun and friendship along the way,” says Connie. “We look forward to exploring new areas and making more new friends!”

Group Leader Makes the Most of Her Provence Program From Home

Though Provence, France was at the top of her wish list, Mary (Road Scholar Class of ’03) knew she might never have a chance to visit. So, she did the next best thing: in November of 2020, she signed up for Road Scholar’s Adventures Online: A Journey Through the Many Faces of Provence.

Mary had worked for ten years as a Group Leader for Road Scholar in the United States and participated in many programs throughout the years. But she wondered: “How could it be done online?” In case you’re wondering what to expect from an online Road Scholar program, here is a short story from Mary and a few tips on making the most of your experience:

The Programming

“The online program had plenty of lectures, with some photos and short videos, which the two Group Leaders had created themselves,” said Mary. “Both spoke English well. Class was from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., PST.” Each day, a friend joined Mary at her home for the program, bringing lunch and a bottle of French wine. Here’s what Mary had to say about what she learned each day:

  1. “The first day was seriously deep about the Greek and Roman roots of Provençal history.
  2. “The second day covered Medieval history.
  3. “The third day was on the artists of the region, especially Cezanne and Van Gogh, with an excellent comparison of pictures they each painted in the same locality, yet so different!
  4. And the fourth and last day explored the local markets, foods, and festivals.”

Making the Most of the Experience

Before this program, Mary searched the local library and bookstores for information, just as if she was actually going to Provence in person. (“But, for this trip, there was no airfare or hotel expenses to budget for!” she said.) From the local library, she checked out and watched videos about France and the French countryside. After the program, she continued reading about and examining more slowly the paintings of the Impressionists. Other books on the markets and cooking expanded her interest in local foods.

“Gastronomy is an important issue in Provence, so as part of my education, I visited a Provençal bakery near my home,” said Mary. The fruit tarts, Napoleons and macarons may not have been quite as good as in France, but they allowed her to more fully immerse all of her senses. She even got to see an Oregon truffle, about the size of a large marble, which cost $7.50.

Mary had a wonderful week learning about Provence with Road Scholar, and we were so impressed by the extra creativity she put in to really immerse herself in all things Provence for the week.

Participant Peggy “Reunites” With Group Leader on Virtual Program

Peggy has been on seven Road Scholar programs since 2017, but the Group Leader she met on her 2019 program in Argentina, Dario Jaremczuk, was one of her favorites. “He knew a lot about his subject matter, and he was very energetic and helpful,” recalled Peggy. “I called him the energizer bunny. He was always doing things for people and watching and jumping to help at the first moment of need.”

So, when Peggy saw that Dario would be leading Adventures Online: The Best of Buenos Aires in December 2020, she jumped at the chance to “reunite” with him virtually. “He’s one of the best leaders I ever had,” said Peggy. “We didn’t get to spend a lot of time in Buenos Aires on our program, so I was just interested in learning more. And I knew he would be a great leader.”

Peggy was a college professor, and, for the last 16 years of her career, she worked for a program that spanned multiple time zones. “We were pioneers in using video conferencing to teach courses,” she says, “but Road Scholar’s technology was much more impressive and so easy to use!” She said that she’s done other courses online, but most of those have been almost entirely in a lecture format. “This was really the first ‘travel’ kind of thing that I have done online,” she said.

For Peggy, the online experience allowed her to see more of a place than she might have by visiting in person. “I got to see more of the city through the virtual field trips. When you’re actually walking, it takes a lot longer to get from one place to another, so you don’t see as many things in a week as you do with Road Scholar’s Adventures Online.” “Road Scholar has always been about discovery, learning things and exploring, and this program really did that for me,” said Peggy. “For me, it was worth every penny. And I want to support Road Scholar.” Peggy has already signed up for a Peru program in March, so she can learn about a place that she wouldn’t likely be able to visit in real person. “I don’t think I could take the altitude, so I’m excited to be able to experience it in another way,” she said. Peggy is also signed up for a South Africa in-person program in November!

Four Friends From Tuscaloosa Stay Connected With Road Scholar

Before the pandemic hit the United States, Tuscaloosa friends Carol, Kathy, Susan and Anne saw each other weekly, sometimes more. “Any time we could talk anybody into going to lunch or a movie,” said Kathy. After discovering they all shared a love for Road Scholar as solo travelers, they began traveling together in different pairs, or followed in each other’s tracks, from Campobello Island to Malta and all around Italy. Carol, who has been retired for six years, holds the title for most Road Scholar programs: 25 so far.

But, starting in March of 2020, these four friends who lived just miles from each other had to find another way to connect and learn about the world together from the safety of their own homes. So, they began taking lifelong learning classes, including Road Scholar’s Virtual Lectures. “The Virtual Lectures were phenomenal,” said Kathy.

“That was at the end of the summer when we thought we were all going to lose our minds,” joked Carol. “It was so hot here in the South, so we couldn’t leave the house. We all needed the contact with other people.”

Then Carol spotted a multi-day Adventure Online she was interested in: Adventures Online: A Journey Through the Many Faces of Provence. “We had this kind of convention that if somebody wants to do something, like go to a movie or a concert, they’ll just send out an email to the group and say, ‘Who wants to go?’ So I just sent out an email,” said Carol.

Carol, Susan and Anne had been to Provence before, so they were excited to “revisit” what they had learned there. “I’m a real Francophile, so I’ll find any excuse to ‘go to’ France,” said Susan. Kathy had not been to Provence yet, so was excited to get her first taste of this beautiful and charming region of France. And they were all excited to “reunite” and experience a Road Scholar program together again, safely, from home. “Having been on a Road Scholar Trip to Provence, there was a lot of new information, ” said Carol. “And that means now I’d really like to go back again.”

Back in 2014, Carol met two new friends on a Road Scholar program from Maryland, and the three of them have participated in Road Scholar programs together each year since. “We had to cancel our Portugal trip back in the early summer,” said Carol, “but we didn’t want to break our record.” So she invited them to join her and her Tuscaloosa friends on the Provence program as well. “They got to meet Susan and Kathy and Anne whom they hear me talk about all the time. It was nice for them to be able to put faces with names,” shared Carol.

Now, the women have all been on various Adventures Online and enjoyed every one. “Each of the programs has been structured differently,” said Carol. “But I have enjoyed all three of mine. It was a good value for the money — that’s a big part of it. Absolutely. I was really impressed with how quickly they had pulled together such an effective experience.”

Find the schedule for their Provence adventure here!