5 things having a penpal has taught me

12 May 2016

Do children even know what it is like to have a penpal any more? The anticipation of waiting for a letter from someone far away? I am not sure.

5 things having a penpal has taught me

I had several penpals when I was young. Two of them had a significant effect on me. I have lost touch with both of them unfortunately and both had/have pretty common names so finding them today on social media is like looking for a needle in a haystack. 

My first pen-friend lived in Ireland, a few kilometres south of Dublin. She and I exchanged letters but also met on many occasions. My parents were Ireland lovers so we took a holiday to Ireland when I was 13 or 14 and met her family. From then on, I had the great opportunity of meeting her for a few years every summer either in France or in Ireland. 

My second pen-friend lived in a town half-way between Quebec and Montreal, Canada. We exchanged many letters over a few years and my parents agreed to let me fly there (alone) as a young teenager and I stayed for about 3 or 4 weeks. Can I just add that my parents were not totally nuts? They had a friend in Montreal who collected me from the airport and took me to the family and would be there in case of emergency.

A few days ago, Amanda wrote: 

"There are so many reasons to have a pen pal: friendship, love, a culture exchange, to practice a second language, to open up your world."

Quebec, circa 1995

For me, penpals were all about learning languages and travelling: my two favourite things in the world back then (already). 
I realise that not everyone gets the opportunity to travel to meet their penpals but if your/my children ever do, I would totally go for it (once I have police-checked everyone).

Here are some of my favourite reasons why having penpals and meeting them is one more thing you can do to raise global citizens.

- Learn about the culture of real people: see how the others live

They had cake delivered to their door. Cake! How cool is that? They owned a car where 3 of us could sit upfront. They didn't travel or go many places at the weekend but they had fun. These are the things I still remember and that I told everyone about at the time about my stay with the family in Canada. They were a fantastic family with a really simple yet fun life. 
Getting out of your comfort zone to meet other kinds of people, people outside of your normal social circle is always a great experience for children. Whether these people are near or far, it doesn't matter.

why having a penpal is great for young people
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- Develop your child's independence & sense of responsibility

Big time. What parents would let their 16/17-year-old fly alone (unaccompanied) to another country and continent entrusting their daughter to a family they had never met? Now, come to think of it, they were courageous and brave. I absolutely loved it. I loved the freedom of being me, sitting on a plane by myself, experiencing so many new things by myself. Sure, there were a few teary phone calls but I had fun. As a teenager, knowing that someone trusts you enough to let you fly by yourself, to be treated as an adult, is something worth its weight in gold. The mother of my Irish friend would let us go anywhere we wanted around Dublin, alone. For me, a small town girl, this was amazing.

- Practice foreign languages

You don't need to fly across the world to do that. Writing to someone, a real person, who has similar interests and preoccupations as you, as a teenager is priceless. Doing so in a different language is even better. You may not know the words for 'crush' or 'trainers' as these are not the one taught in your English/French class but you get to learn a whole new vocabulary and use it. You also get to experience the language as used by real people your own age and sometimes that can be really different from textbooks.

- (Hopefully) awaken a love for travel

I certainly caught the travel bug while going on these first few trips alone. I don't know if I would have ever caught it without them, but I was so excited about these trips.

- It is fun!

Whether you end up simply writing or meeting in real life, chatting on Skype or sending emails, having a pen pal is fun. You have nothing to loose and it doesn't need to cost anything (especially now you don't have to stick a stamp to send a message to someone).

Have you ever had one? Did you meet them? How was it? Tell me.... 

This post was written as part of a mini-series on pen pals. Here are the other articles you might like to read:
Penpal as a way of cultural exchange
Why everyone should have a pen pal
Penpals open the world

1 comment

  1. Love this! I had penpals in middle school/high school. I lost touch with most over the years, but am still close to three (from Myanmar, India, and Japan) today and we are connected through fb and instagram. I even got to meet the one from Japan while she was in the US studying. Such a wonderful experience.


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