Pauline and Wulf Krause's smiles widened and their eyes got brighter when their daughter, Karla, appeared on their computer screen.

Karla has been more than 6,000 miles from home in Tianjin, China, since September, teaching English to Chinese students. But her parents get to see her face almost once a month.

The Krauses come to the Senior Friendship Center in Winona for monthly Web chats with Karla - their only chance to see her while she's away.

The Krauses use Skype, a free video-chatting technology on the senior center's new computers. Karla's face appears on her parents' screen, and she can see her mom and dad via a Web cam.

On Tuesday, Karla sipped a cup of coffee as she told her parents her plans for the day - going for a run followed by meeting up with a friend - and they eagerly leaned forward to listen, inquiring about the weather and her students. Daily details seemed like extraordinary happenings for the separated family members.

As they said their goodbyes, Pauline stroked the image of her daughter on the screen, knowing the next time they talk will be a month away.

Wulf calls the computers an invaluable resource, especially when other means of communication are unreliable.

"It's not the same as using the phone," he said. "It's better because you can see her face."

Pauline said outgoing mail to China sometimes takes six weeks or more to arrive. Karla is still missing a Christmas card from a friend.

Karla uses the program at least every other day to talk with friends, even some who are in other parts of the world.

Pauline is extremely grateful for the technology, simply for the reassurance that her daughter is healthy and well.

"It's so nice to see her face," she said. "She has such a beautiful smile."

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