Pen pals open the world, keep friends close and bring joy

I remember it like yesterday, the first letter I received from my South Korean pen friend Yong-Suk. I was 14 and it felt like a miracle:

A young boy, on the other side of the world had sat down, picked out his writing pad, put pen to paper and talked to me about who he was and where he lived. Yong-Suk did this in the most beautiful handwriting I have ever seen a teenage boy produce. He had neatly folded his letter and put it in a lily-scented envelope, on which he had written my name and address. Of all the people in the world, I was the lucky one to be the addressee! He had chosen a colourful stamp to go with the “By Air Mail” sticker and taken it to the nearest post box or maybe he walked to the post office, to make sure he had the right kind of stamp on it.

The letter then made its merry way through countless of hands, machines and vehicles to board a plane destined in a westerly direction. Somehow the letter found its way to Finland and again was handled several times until it was put into a grey post sack which landed on the floor of our village post office. My mother delivered the post in our village, so the final part of the letter’s journey to me was in the safest of hands.

And there it was, my first letter of many more to come, bringing me an insight to a country of which I had only heard of in the news. This may not seem like big a deal in the era of the internet, but it was an experience that expanded my world-view in a memorable way. Yong-Suk was one of my many international friends – I also had pen pals in Nigeria, Norway, France and Turkey, giving me unique insights into people’s lives across the world.

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Having pen pals as a youngster was an experience which has no doubt shaped me as a person and opened my mind to other ways of thinking and living. It was a great joy and I still experience the same excitement when I receive a hand-written letter – this has not changed since those days, and I think letter-writing is something that all parents should encourage their children to do. Take inspiration from Toby, whose letter I was lucky to get a couple of months ago – and who has now (with the help of his parents) written a book about his hobby: Dear World, How Are You?

Exchanging letters creates a very special bond between the two writers, and it is good to start early! As soon as your little one can hold something to write with let him or her scribble on a piece of paper and send it (with some explanatory notes) to grandma and grandpa – they will be overjoyed!

Keep the correspondence going when your child grows and it will also become a great writing and reading exercise. Maybe there are cousins that would love to be pen pals – or, if you have moved, let your children maintain their friendships through letters. When your child grows older, find a pen pal scheme that connects children and youngsters across the world.

I am all for any form of written communication that makes people connect, be it text messages, emails or other electronic forms, but nothing is as enjoyable as a real letter from a true friend.

Did you have pen pals or do you still write letters? How could you encourage your children to pick up this habit?

This week is all about pen pals – read a new post from my blogger friends every day this week! I will be listing them all here

Penpal as a way of cultural exchange

Why everyone should have a pen pal

5 things having a penpal has taught me

How having penpals helped me blog

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1 Comment

  1. Jenny Williams

    What a great article Rita – I love penpalling and have now started my kids on the journey of finding friends from around the world and sharing culture. Penpalling is such a great hobby and a great way to explore the world. I have been using Global Penfriends to find penpals for myself and my kids, though there are probably lots of other clubs too.



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