In October 2010, an American woman called Hannah Brencher started…
For many of us, our ‘pen-palling’ journey started and ended at primary school, when our teachers organised for us to exchange a letter with a child in another school. In my case, we each sent a Christmas card to an allocated child in a class in France. This was when I was 10 years old, and not one of us continued the friendship. Come to think of it, I don’t recall it being particularly encouraged.
For those of us where a continuation was encouraged, most will have stopped after a short while. Some of us may have written to other pen pals as we got older, but generally, as we work on studying, building our careers, having children, or chasing our dreams, writing to a pen pal becomes seen as less of a priority. ‘Real life’ takes over, and we prioritise in a way which categorises writing to a pen pal as unimportant – ‘after all’, some may ask themselves, ‘what would I get out of it’? Read on…
Why write to a pen pal?
Communicating with a penfriend can be so rewarding, it really is worth considering – whatever stage of life you are at, and however busy your life is. Writing can be very therapeutic; studies have shown that writing about thoughts, feelings and events, gets the writer deeply involved, meaning you forget about your daily frustrations. Even better than that, writing in an emotional manner can help you address any issues you may have, and the narrative you create helps you to deal with and then forget the event that has been bothering you.
When you open communications with another individual, you can not only share with them – perhaps things you may not want to share with those closer to you – but you can also learn all about them, their lives, their passions, their frustrations, and their culture. There is something really special about someone taking the time to write and send you a handwritten letter, and I feel like you connect in a way quite unlike any other. Also, who doesn’t love coming home to find a lovely, handwritten envelope on their doormat? So exciting.
In case you need another reason, it is also a good excuse to frequently use your favourite pens!
Inland or international?
This is entirely up to you, as it depends what you are wanting from your friendship; international pen-palling means longer gaps between letters, and possible language barriers. On the flip side, you learn all about another culture and country, and you could help your friend with English, or they could teach you some phrases in their native language. It’s a personal choice, in the same way as the age or gender of your new friend might be.
How to find a pen pal
If you’re looking for a pen pal, you could volunteer with a charity such as The Silver Line, who match you with a lonely older person who would like to exchange letters. If this isn’t for you, there are many websites dedicated to pen-palling – the largest of which being Pen Pal World, and Interpals. These sites require you to sign up and create a profile, and you can then search for the type of person you would like to get in touch with. You start communication through the website, and then you can take it offline whenever you feel comfortable.
First letter tips
It can be daunting when you sit down to write your first letter to a new pen pal. What do you write about when you don’t know the recipient? Below are a few helpful tips to help you get started:
- Introduce yourself, and briefly tell them about your life and your hobbies. Who do you live with? Do you have any pets? What is your job?
- Tell them what you have been up to today. This is nice as it is conversational, and breaks up the letter, so your letter is not just a bunch of facts followed by a load of questions.
- Ask your penfriend about their hobbies. Do they have pets or/and children? Who do they live with? Do they work or study?
Remember, your first letter doesn’t have to be long. Keep it concise, but give them lots of information about yourself, and ask them lots of questions so you can look forward to finding out all about them in their return letter.
Enjoy your pen-palling!