So Far Yet So Close: Why Pen Pals Are So Important for Today’s Teens

pen pals

After hearing about another friend’s experience with an international pen pal, I decided to give it a shot myself. Nevertheless, some things are easier said than done. Although I had heard about pen pals and snail mail systems before, I was horribly worried. As I looked at the brand new stationary gifted to me, I found myself at a crossroads of how to even begin talking to a new friend, let alone someone who lived in a country I had never even heard of.

I pondered the potential negative outcomes if I decided to actually go forth and start writing to a pen pal I had found: a girl my age who lived in Latvia. “What if they don’t understand my English? What we don’t share a single interest? What if they flat out refuse to write back?”, I wondered.

I brought myself to write a measly hello letter after weeks of varied hesitation. I mailed my small, white envelope shortly thereafter. However, the period between sending the letter and waiting for a response had riddled me with more angst than before. Weeks went by without a response, and I started to assume the worst. “Yep”, I thought to myself, frustratingly. The girl from Latvia either neglected to respond to my letter or the postage system lost it.

Amidst the negative outcomes which flooded my mind, I still maintained hope. After all, Latvia is far from the United States, so my pen pal’s response may have been on its way. When I returned home from school one September afternoon, that little ounce of faith turned out to be the reason when I checked my mailbox.

As I frantically ran into my room to open the thick, cream colored package addressed to me from Riga, Latvia, my heart filled with excitement as well as nervousness.

This was the moment I had been waiting impatiently for what seemed to be an eternity. Nearly destroying the tightly wrapped package, I immediately found an artisan Christmas ornament and a recipe for Piragi, a type of Latvian bread. In addition, I unwrapped three of the most beautifully, hand-written letters I had ever seen. Whoever my pen pal was definitely took her time to write to her American friend.

Reading the letters one by one, I remembered what I had originally sent to my new friend. Suddenly, my short letter seemed insignificant to what she had mailed me. Nonetheless, she thanked me for writing to her in the first place. Furthermore, I observed that her name was Sofie, and she shared many of the same hobbies which I had mentioned in my letter. Sofie even stated that she liked Fiona Apple, one of my favorite artists of all time.

I reread the letters again, each written on different days. Sofie wrote that she enjoyed reading, had 6 brothers and sisters, and was studying to be a geologist. Encouraged by her mom to make an international friend, Sofie was ecstatic when she found me through the pen pal program and even happier when she first received my first letter. The feelings of gratitude expressed by Sofie made my heart leap for joy. Without hesitation, I began to draft my next letter.

For the next few months, Sofie and I exchanged letters every couple of weeks.

Sometimes, she would include a list of films she had wanted me to watch or music recommendations, ranging from old The B-52’s tracks her father used to enjoy to new Brockhampton bangers. The letters we shared would summarize our weeks, as well as new discoveries either of us had made within our lives. Sofie had introduced me to many topics, such as the Law of Attraction and mind manifestation, two subjects I would have known little to nothing about if it were not for her.

We also shared our challenges with each other, as well as our fears. Through my contact with Sofie, I learned that we were more than just pen pals; we were simply two teenage girls navigating towards adulthood in the digital age. Letter-writing became a dear hobby for me, and I began to seek out the opportunity to write to other teens my age in other countries.

As time passed, I started to wonder why I had been so nervous to write to her.

We were alike in so many ways, I had even forgotten that she lived so far away. Oftentimes, it’s so common for teenagers to restrict themselves when it comes to meeting new people. We do not believe that someone on Earth who is thousands of miles away from us can experience the same issues or dream the same dreams. At the end of the day, each member of the human race is flesh and blood. I encourage all teens, from all walks of life, to start letter-writing internationally.

Having a pen pal has helped me foster friendships with teens of various cultures I would have never been familiar with otherwise. From my experience writing to pen pals around the world, I have come to the realization that no matter where you may be on the planet, you still share the same emotions as someone on the opposite end.  By having friends in other nations, it is possible to open your eyes to take note and learn about yourself and the world around you.

Although distance may have separated us from each other, the power of a ‘measly letter’ in an envelope made the difference between ‘girl from Latvia’ and ‘my friend Sofie’.

Notes from Metiza – Looking for Pen Pal resources? Check out this lovely video by Mei-Ying Chow