Key Takeaways:

“People have kind of bought into that conventional wisdom that older people are hopeless and naturally can’t get this tech stuff. It's not a natural part of aging to not know how to use technology.”

Diantha just recently returned to the US after living for 45 years in Rabat, Morocco. While originally a New York native, she is happy to have settled down in Rochester, Michigan. She met her husband, a Moroccan citizen, while they were both in grad school in New York and New Jersey. As soon as Diantha finished her Social Work degree, they married and lived in Princeton until Mohammed  finished his degree.  At that time, she worked as a social worker and her husband was a research associate, though the couple always knew they were moving to Morocco afterward.

“He [her husband] wanted to go back home to help his country,”

and Diantha was up for the adventure. Most of her first year there, she spent adjusting to the culture and learning the languages, and the couple was happily anticipating their first of three children.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have had different and very satisfying jobs just kind of fall in my lap throughout my life. Unfortunately, that’s the opposite of most people’s experience.”

Soon after their eldest daughter was born, the Peace Corps reached out to Diantha because they needed someone to be a volunteer liaison in the office. Despite not having lots of office skills, she took up the challenge to learn. She worked there for a few years before taking off for a while to be a full-time Mom when her second daughter was born.

When she felt ready to go back to work, she started teaching English at the American Language Center part-time. This inspired her to get training as an English teacher. Initially, she didn’t think she would be able to do this officially and asked to audit classes at the government’s one-year teacher training program for university graduates in the English section. The director at the time encouraged her to be a full-time student and even found a clause in their statutes about mutual cooperation with the US. Thus, she became their first full-time foreign student. After completing this course she was hired, not by a high school as expected, but  by  the 2-year-old Library and Information Sciences School as its first full-time teacher of English as a Foreign Language. She continued teaching English as an assistant  professor for 13 more years to undergrad and graduate students. When she felt the need for a change, she once again recycled her skills.

“In the end, social work, teaching, and advising, are all linked or intertwined.”

This time,  she was offered a position with the non-profit American Friends of the Middle East (AMIDEAST), where she became one of their Educational Advisors and translator, helping foreign students in Morocco apply to university programs in the US. Her three languages (English, French, and spoken Moroccan Arabic), and the fact that she had helped her own three children apply to college in the US, helped her in this educational role. Back then everything had to be handwritten or typed, then mailed, and there were mountains of paperwork!

When her husband passed away in 2014, she considered staying in Morocco because she has a huge wonderful family there and lots of friends, but opted to be closer to her children in the US and resettled in the US in late 2014.

Stumbling on an exciting opportunity

Diantha was just sort of browsing something on the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services website when she came across their partnership with GetSetUp. She thought it looked really interesting so took a New Members Orientation and signed up for a few classes starting with one on how to organize photos.

“That was quite useful because I'm always trying to organize them. I put them in albums on the cloud and on my phone, but this class had helpful tips, and I wanted to go further, so  it really spoke to me.”

But the class she found most helpful so far was Creating Playlists. Her feedback for the class was detailed and thorough.

“I couldn't ask for a better result. Please bear with me if my explanation of why is long. Having an idea of the concept, I had no idea how to proceed and hadn't been particularly motivated to look it up (YouTube, Google, etc.), or ask my own "guides" (aka my kids /spouses), my usual two approaches to tech questions. Being more interested now, your class hit the spot. Your presentation really demystified playlists and other people's questions helped also. This evening, I started 4 playlists on Amazon (I have Prime); one (Folk/Country) is already quite long and I'll probably divide it. The others are just starting. For some additions, I searched specific songs, and others I plucked from different playlists or albums already in My Music. I'm listening to the longer one now. It has definitely been fun discovering how to play with these, and I look forward to continuing. There is plenty to explore about it still, but I feel I have been given a really good start as someone who hadn't a clue to begin with. Of course, I can also imagine getting immersed and not noticing the time spent :-) Thank you for a terrific introduction to a new way to listen to my favorite music.”

Playlists might not seem like a big deal, but they are essential to Diantha’s work. Since 1989, she’s also worked as a French to English translator and the pandemic hasn’t slowed that down in the least. She has been as busy as ever and doesn’t like to work in silence. Her latest computer doesn’t have a CD drive, and when she works from her daughter’s house, it’s nice to have the playlists because then she doesn’t have to bother  bringing her external drive and CDs.

Learning to get over the technology hump

“I think what is great is the comfort of GetSetUp classes, especially the technical classes for people that are 50 on.”

Diantha wasn’t always a natural with computers. At first, she struggled with them. Diantha first was exposed to computers in the early 1990s when her school got each teacher one.

“We were supposed to learn to use them and I was completely blocked - as blocked as anyone can be - totally as they say in French, bouchée. They gave courses taught by computer science professors and they were awful because they were used to a different kind of teaching and couldn't adapt to us newbies. The professors wanted to teach how the computer worked, and we just wanted to know how to use them. They didn’t know how to talk to us, even though they were our colleagues and friends. And then the technicians would come for SOS’s and just fix them, but we didn’t know what they were doing, how, or why, and that didn’t really solve our basic  problem.”

Diantha thinks that similar experiences may be why a lot of older people don't like to ask for help.

“They don't know how to ask or people don't know how to answer or help them express their questions. People just aren’t communicating.”

She struggled for a while, until she got two pushes that got her over the hump. Her teenage son convinced his parents to buy a computer from his friend. Once he installed it, he patiently showed her some basics and said, 'Just play with it. Don’t worry, you can’t mess up anything that can’t be undone, or break anything that can’t be fixed, so relax and play with it.' Then he walked away.

She did play with it, not all at once, but it sure helped. She learned by exploring and doing, like a child. Then she would reach out for help as needed and still does.

The other thing that got her over the hump was a colleague she translated for telling her to take home a translation and take as much time as she needed, but do it on the computer. Pre-computers, she had been typing all translations, using white-out, or correcting with tape, and literally at one point editing a book draft by cutting and pasting to reorganize it!

“The first weekend translating on the computer, I was struggling. This was beyond playing, it was a job to do. It was an initial struggle but I haven’t looked back since and now I’m totally comfortable and use PCs or laptops all the time.”

Stop telling yourself you cannot - because you can!

“I know so many people my age or quite a bit younger who’ve just kind of bought into that conventional wisdom that grandma/grandpa or older people are hopeless and naturally can’t get this tech stuff. This is the dumbing down of anyone over 50 or 60 (like the girls don’t do math myth). I wish people wouldn’t buy into that and would not let themselves be dumbed down that way. It's not a natural part of aging to not know how to use technology. For ordinary people aging in a normal way, they don’t have to say I'm just hopeless in technical things. They might have a mental block, as I did, in my early fifties, but that just means you need to find a way around it.”

Diantha once heard someone say in a talk that 'if you are afraid of your device, the best thing to do is to have a 5-year-old help you, and if you don’t have one, go borrow one.' Diantha found a 16-year-old who filled that role.  

Unfortunately, not everyone has a 5-year-old or patient teen on hand, and that’s where GetSetUp comes in. One of the great things about GetSetUp is that the Guides are near the same age as learners and know what their peers are going through. They are specially trained to help learners get over the hump and get connected!

“I think classes are really great, friendly, and  have just the kind of non-threatening approach that draws people in. It makes the technology classes especially, more approachable for people who are a little scared of the whole subject. In this day and age, we have to stay connected. Pandemic aside, families and friends are extremely far-flung and we have a big menu of options. If you can’t feel comfortable with Zoom, the iPad, WhatsApp, FaceTime, emailing, etc., you are missing so much - it is a pity.”

Technology can connect people in amazing ways and is adaptable as you age. From closed captioning to changing font sizes on screens, technology can easily age with you to keep you connected. Diantha for example, has had a tremor in her right hand for years. She had already slowed down the cursor sensitivity on her laptop, but still often had trouble with the laptop mouse. However, with a large wireless ergonomic mouse that fits her hand well, she can easily and smoothly  navigate without the frustrations of the  laptop mouse, though she still uses it sometimes.

Technology is helping Diantha stay connected every day through Whatsapp to her friends and family in Morocco, playlists to help her work, and she plans to add more connections by joining some more GetSetUp social hours. Her first social hour was a Get To Know your Guide social hour hosted by Deb.

“It was fun and I plan to do some others, especially since I'm quarantining again.”

While it still may be some time before she can get back to visit those she loves in Morocco at least she can stay connected with them now virtually and connect with new people through social hours. Join Diantha in making quarantine a time to connect!

May 23, 2022
Learner Stories

Classes by:

Liz Miller

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