University of Warwick: UK students and French senior citizens beat loneliness in lockdown together

Modern languages students at the University of Warwick are chatting online with French senior citizens, to improve their language skills, increase self-confidence, and prevent lockdown loneliness
Warwick is currently the only UK University to a partner with the French ‘ShareAmi’ scheme
“I have been able to create some life-long friendships” – Isabel, 2nd year BA student
“An amazing chance to improve my French while at the same time helping someone who might be lonely during this tough time” – Elliot, 3rd year BA student
Students at the UK’s University of Warwick are spending their lockdown chatting online with elderly people in France, bridging intergenerational and international divides in a time marked by isolation.ShareAmi logo

Around fifty French language students from Warwick’s School of Modern Languages and Cultures (SMLC) are currently taking part in the programme ‘ShareAmi’, launched by the French non-profit Oldyssey.

Each participant is paired with a French senior citizen, with whom they have regular conversations via webcam — helping the students to improve their French language proficiency and social skills, providing company to older people in these times of increased loneliness, and boosting the self-confidence of both partners.

The students and retirees are matched based on shared interests, so that they can form connections based on common experiences, despite their differences in age and cultural background.

Warwick became involved in the ‘ShareAmi’ scheme in April 2020, and is currently the only UK University to be partnered with Oldyssey.

Students from Warwick were amongst the first to try the programme, and support from academic staff members at the University’s SMLC — such as Dr Cathy Hampton, Ariane Demeure, and Kelly Mayjonade-Christy — was key to its inception, according to the charity.

Isabel Cartwright is in the second year of her BA in Modern Languages at the University of Warwick, studying French with Chinese. When the project began, she was very keen to try something new that would be of mutual benefit to her and to her ‘ShareAmi’ partner. She says:Isabel Cartwright

“Creating inter-generational links, particularly between those of different nationalities, is key in today’s society and the partnerships that I have made with two French seniors have been marvellous.

“My first partner lives in Marseilles, and I can surely say that I was paired up perfectly. She is a delight to speak to, we have a number of mutual interests, from French culture to music and books to past life experiences. She has been very patient with me in improving my French. As someone who initially lacked confidence in their oral ability, my language competency has come on leaps and bounds due to her patience and pure kindness.

“We have been speaking weekly for almost 12 months now and our relationship is continuing to bloom. I will be starting my year abroad in August, during which we are planning to meet up face to face in Marseilles. In addition to this, having had such a wonderful personal experience, I now volunteer for ‘ShareAmi’ where I help to create new pairings between French learners of various nationalities and, of course, French seniors — the first connection is a very special moment that I have been able to facilitate.

“I, along with many others, have certainly been able to create some life-long friendships.”

Elliot Bellman is a third year BA Modern Languages student in French, Spanish and Japanese at the University of Warwick. He speaks to his ‘ShareAmi’ partner in France every week for around half an hour. He says:Elliot Bellman

“I saw this as an amazing chance to improve my French while at the same time helping someone who might be lonely during this tough time.

“I thought it would be weird, but I felt at ease instantly. As she has travelled to a lot of places throughout her life; we talk about that and the years she spent in Africa. We talk about politics, the difference between our cultures, and normally fun things that we have done that we want to share.”

Elliot continues: “I have really been taught many lessons by her with all the experience that she has. It has been very heart-warming to have someone to talk to still in lockdown as well — being able to learn more about her culture and creating a new friend.”

“I count us very lucky to have the opportunity to work with this project and am very grateful to the former SMLC student who put us in touch with the ‘ShareAmi’ team last April. It seemed a perfect, positive way to engage in international community building at a time when the pandemic had increased feelings of isolation, and so it has proven. We have lots of ideas about how to build on the excellent work being done by the charity and by our students and are keen to make this a long-term partnership.”

The University of Warwick is a founding member of EUTOPIA, a network of six European universities working together to create a new model for higher education across the continent – one that is based on increased mobility, inclusivity, and serving its six regional communities.

EUTOPIA has invested in co-teaching PhD and MA scholars between different European countries, as well as continuing to establish a growing number of academic and professional collaborations between the UK, France, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, and Slovenia, with the aim of tackling real-world challenges. In 2019, EUTOPIA was included in the prestigious ERASMUS+ ‘European Universities’ programme.

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