Volunteering at Wexner Heritage Village

By Eric Connelly

Each year, the students with the Center for Slavic and East European Studies volunteer their time for a service-learning project. These opportunities allow us to give back and share what we do on campus with the local community. Throughout this academic year our students met with Russian-speaking residents of the Wexner Heritage Village near Bexley, Ohio. The Wexner Heritage Village is a senior healthcare and housing organization that has served the community in Columbus for more than 60 years.

Our visits with Russian-speaking residents consisted of large and small group conversations. The residents shared fascinating stories of life in the Soviet Union and immigrating to the United States. As was the case for many immigrants from the USSR, several residents spent a considerable amount of time in countries like Israel before settling here. Many have families spread throughout the world. Our students learned about their family histories and a few residents even recited creative, elaborate stories that they have memorized by heart from childhood. The residents also shared with us an impressive library consisting of Russian-language fiction and non-fiction works.

Our conversations allowed us to improve our speaking skills and share our own stories and interests with the residents. Their keen observations and thought-provoking questions kept our students on the edge of their seats. It was an enjoyable way to learn more about what motivates us to study the region and its many languages and cultures. It is certainly a fascinating region to study, and hearing first-hand accounts of growing up in Eastern Europe motivated us to pursue this interest even more.

Thank you to all who volunteered their time with us throughout the year. And thank you to the residents of the Wexner Heritage Village for sharing your stories and taking an interest in ours. Meeting you all reminded us of how fascinating Eastern Europe is and how welcoming and open its people can be.