Seven Wonderful Ways You Benefit from Having Penpals

pen pal letters

My grandmother used to subscribe to all the weekly women’s magazines, which, of course, I voraciously read. On the last page of most of these magazines were ads. Two of the staples were an ad for international correspondence courses and an ad for an international pen pal club.

Sometime when I was thirteen, I learned that my friend Michelle had signed up with the pen pal club and was already exchanging letters with a fourteen-year old boy from Germany. She let me read one of his letters, and I found the idea fascinating. There was this kid all the way on the other side of the world telling my friend about himself and his life where he was. I checked out the photo he enclosed. He was pretty cute too.

I didn’t waste any more time. I joined the club, got a list of names and addresses, and penned off a few letters right away. The first reply dismayed me a bit. I was expecting to hear from a kid like myself, but the writer was a 55-year-old woman from Sekiu, Washington.

I thought that was weird. She was the same age as my grandmother, and, apparently, I was about the same age as her granddaughter who also liked New Kids on the Block. She had been married two times, had grown children, and several grandchildren. She liked to knit and fish! How was a 13-year-old brat like me supposed to relate to that?

She sounded really sweet though and definitely fascinating. She wrote back to me even if I had written a lot of silly juvenile things. I decided to pursue that correspondence, and that was definitely a smart decision. She was funny, wise, thoughtful, and very good about answering letters. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very good about that myself. By the time I was 15, I was going through some pretty severe growing pains (mental and emotional) and gradually stopped writing.

In the years I did write though, I really enjoyed exchanging letters with my pen pals. In hindsight, I could also see better how the experience benefitted me. This is why I encouraged my daughter to give it a whirl a year and a half ago when she was 9. As her mom, I can see how the exercise benefits her even more than it did me. In any case, she’s still at it and gaining more pen friends as she goes.

different US stamps

What are these benefits that I’m talking about?

  1. You experience delayed gratification. There is the thrill of anticipation in waiting for a letter to arrive, after which, there is also the excitement, of course, of getting something in the mail. The experience means so much at this time when practically everything is done electronically and the end desired is achieved almost instantaneously. Email has its purpose, but engaging in snail mail actually helps build character. Writing by hand takes longer. Mailing (especially here where we need to go to the post office to send letters) takes longer. Transit definitely takes longer. You get a better grasp of having to work patiently toward results.
  2. You learn to express yourself with care and sensitivity. The written word can so easily be misconstrued since the reader doesn’t have facial expressions and vocal inflections to work with. Without hearing the intonation, a teasing phrase meant in harmless fun could be taken as something mean and snide. You become better aware of what you’re saying and how you can be misunderstood. In relation to this, you also learn to practice cultural sensitivity. You register that there are different people in the world and that they operate according to different values and standards.
  3. You improve your penmanship and composition skills. There’s just more satisfaction and joy in creating a neat and interesting letter. You want your recipients to have an easy time reading and understanding your letters. You become adept at following the introduction-body-conclusion sequence and you hone your thought organization and development process without even registering it.
  4. You become more creative. You want your letters to have a nice appearance. You also want them to be more substantial. You want to decorate accordingly either with drawings or stickers and, from time to time, maybe even enclose a poem you wrote, a picture you drew, a little craft project you worked on, etc.
  5. You develop a healthy form of curiosity. Your interest in your pen pals will lead you to find out more about their background and, in the process, learn lots of new things. If someone said that she’s a member of the Church of England, you find out what that means. It’s easier now with the Internet, but, back then, we had to turn to the encyclopedias. You also learn to read between the lines since letters are all you have. If your pen pal wrote, “I’m making a kippah for my brother,” and you have no idea what that means, then you might want to look it up and then, from there, make some logical inferences, such as their family is Jewish, she knows how to sew, she’s nice to her brother, etc. You get lots of exercise for that probing mind.
  6. You are compelled to start collections. You invest in stationery because you acknowledge the convenience of having different writing implements, pretty paper, greeting cards, stickers, rubber stamps, etc. That practical consideration soon develops into an outright collection. Also, from getting different postcards, postage stamps, mementoes, etc. you can unintentionally start new collections as well.
  7. You make true friends. They may not be near you but your pen pals are happy to get to know you, and as you continue exchanging letters, you’ll grow to care about each other. Soon, you’ll be sharing confidences, gaining precious insight into each other’s personalities, becoming a part of each other’s lives, and providing each other encouragement and support.

different European stamps

Did/Do you have a pen pal? What has it been like for you?

Do you want to get started on a pen pal exchange? You might be interested to watch this video of my daughter sharing pen pal tales and tips.

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