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caption: Ilya Zlamanuk
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Ilya Zlamanuk
Credit: Ilya Zlamanuk

A teenager muses on how to keep friends and learn English during the pandemic

All over the region, students are returning to online school. Remote learning can be especially hard on immigrants who are trying to adjust to American life.

Ilya Zlamanuk came to the U.S. from Russia two years ago. This week, he starts 12th grade at an Auburn high school.

Voices of the Pandemic is a series of first-person accounts of the coronavirus era in and around Seattle.

Ilya Zlamanuk says before the pandemic, his English was getting better every day, because he was surrounded by friends who helped him learn.

My friends... they were playing football, soccer. And when they were trying to explain rules, they realized that if they were going to teach me English, they would have to do something.

So they were teaching me a game. And saying all these new words that I don’t know and asking, “What is this?” and trying to show me this.

I can show you actually. For example, "monkey." Like – woo, woo woo.[Ilya makes monkey sounds and gestures in the Zoom call].

And you can guess, 'Oh, that’s monkey!'

Language is not only by your words, it’s also by your hands, by your body moves.

Before the pandemic stuff, when you were at class, you were with your friends. You see their faces, you see their smiles, you can talk to them.

And when you’re online, people are shutting off their cameras, and you don’t see them, and you see only one teacher.

When the pandemic started, I felt very lonely. And because I was isolated, my English started getting worse and worse. Because I didn’t see any friends at all, only texting.

And when you use texting, you use translator, and so you don’t learn any English. That was hard.

In this pandemic, I learned a lot of new ways to build your relationships. Even though if you don’t see your friends, you still have to build your relationships.

Because when you stop talking with them, you stop being a friend, your relationships are not building, you’re not building anything, your relationships just stay same, small, not important and as a result, they’re just destroyed.

And when you see them in the shop, you’re like, "Hey, are you still my friend?" And you don’t know what to say, you don’t have any topics to talk, and that’s sad.

I learned from the pandemic a lot of stuff actually, about friendship. I know that the real friends – even though if you have distance between you, or you cannot see them, they’re still your friends. They’re still texting you, they’re still trying to get to you, to talk to you, to be friends.

School can help with that, but cannot do all the work for you. You have to work, the person has to work.

So, I don’t have to wait for somebody to text me, I have to text to them myself, and say “Guys, I’m missing you, I want to see your face, your beautiful smiles.” Say something good to them so they don’t feel lonely.

I plan to use this knowledge about friendships in future relationships. I will try to be a better friend with my friends.

Voices of the Pandemic is a series featuring first-person accounts of the coronavirus era in and around Seattle. Hear all the stories, and contribute your own, here.

This episode includes music by Alec Cowan and by The Field Tapes.