How The World Cup Made These Chicago Seniors And Brazilian Students Internet Buddies

How The World Cup Made These Chicago Seniors And Brazilian Students Internet Buddies

CHICAGO -- Ruth Bamford is excited about the U.S. soccer team's recent World Cup victory in Brazil, so much so that the 86-year-old has team USA's remaining Group G challengers memorized: "Portugal's next!"

Bamford and her fellow residents at the Windsor Park Retirement Community in suburban Chicago have an ulterior motive for staying on top of tournament: Friends bond over common interests, and the Windsor Park seniors' newest friends just happen to be a group of young (and likely soccer-obsessed) Brazilian students.

"I think we have to watch the games," Bamford joked while talking to The Huffington Post via Skype on Wednesday.

Despite the more than 5,000 miles and several generations separating them, 15 Windsor Park seniors and a school full Brazilian English language students, mostly teenagers, have already made heartwarming connections.

The chats are part of a pilot program from CNA Speaking Exchange in Sao Paulo. The students log on twice a week to chat with their new friends at Windsor Park who help the students with their words by coaching them on conversational speaking and syntax. The free-form video chats are recorded by the school's proprietary software records for an instructor to evaluate later.

Bamford said the conversations are surprising and fun, touching on everything from food and family to favorite hobbies and daily activities.

“To enter anyone’s life and be able to encourage and help them in steps of personal growth or in language -- the discovery of meeting somebody brand new who is willing to start a conversation -- that’s part of our creative arts that we have in our lives,” Bamford said.

Karen Larson, the executive director of Covenant Retirement Communities, which counts Windsor Park among its nationwide facilities, said patience, curiosity and love of mutual enrichment make seniors an "incredible resource" that's too often overlooked.

"Every school should be tapping seniors to help with reading and tutoring and things like that," Larson told HuffPost. “The old stereotype of seniors sitting in rocking chairs waiting to die couldn’t be further from the truth -- they want to learn and they want to grow.”

Both CNA and Windsor Park have attracted significant interest since launching the pilot program in April; Larson has fielded queries from around the world, including a recent email from a TV station in Japan.

Thanks to their web savviness, the seniors are also aware of the interest -- and the resulting press. Bamford took exception to an otherwise positive post on Gawker that described the group as "lonely Chicago seniors."

"They got that wrong," Bamford said. "It’s not that we don’t have things to — we have exciting things to do.”

“Everyone here really enjoys talking to the younger people," said 87-year-old Bernie Kling. "It makes us feel young. It rejuvenates us.”

Larson said the school and the retirement community were linked with the help of a Brazil-based videographer connected to the school who had a grandmother at Windsor Park.

“I thought it was a great idea and I thought it residents would really like it,” said Larson, who describes the senior residents as "very tech-savvy."

True to form, Kling had hopped on Skype as if it were second nature and began chatting away about her experience.

“[The students] are really exciting and they’re so enthusiastic about it," she said of the bi-weekly video chats. "I love how they talk about their personal life. They always have really good questions.”

"When we first got into the program, it was kind of a mystery to see how well we’d fit in," Bamford said. "That initial step was fun to do because we had no idea what we were in for.”

Bamford said she appreciates the risks the students take, despite the shyness some of them have at speaking to strangers in a foreign tongue.

"I want to be like that myself, always willing to take a risk without knowing what the outcome will be,” Bamford said.

Larson noted that since many of the residents are world travelers on account of their missionary backgrounds, curiosity is just second nature to them.

"They ask great questions," Larson said of the seniors. "They’re laughing, they learn that they have things in common."

Given the positive response to the program, Larson said the retirement community will be looking at how to scale the program over the next two months. Though laptops and wi-fi are easy to come by for Windsor Park, Larson said expansion will depend largely on the school's computer and connectivity resources in Brazil.

“Who knows where this could go?" Larson said. "We’re just starting.”

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