When you think of pen pals, you probably think of old-fashioned letter writing. At least, that’s what I thought of when I decided that I wanted a pen pal. Writing a letter by hand, putting a stamp on it, putting it in the mailbox, and then waiting until you get a letter back. It seemed great to me, but since stamps are not very good for your bank account, it never happened. In addition, I didn’t know where to start, because how do you find a pen pal? After some searching I found a website for pen pals, created an account and then things went fast. In no-time I had contact with peers from all over the world, and I talk with them about culture, school and daily life.

De first pen pal with whom I got long-term contact was a girl from Iran. We have been e-mailing almost a year now. Sometimes weekly, but sometimes we wait a long time for each other’s answer because are busy. The first time it took so long before I received an answer, I had already given up hope. However, when I received an extensive email from her after a month, I was overjoyed. We exchange a lot information and experiences about culture and traditions, and we send photos with explanations with it. In this way I really learn a lot about the Iranian culture, and she hopefully also learns a lot about the Dutch culture. For example, I now know that making a ‘Haft Seen’ table is a common tradition in Iran, for example at ‘Norooz’, the public holiday celebrating the first day of spring and the new year. ‘Haft’ means ‘seven’ and ‘seen’ is the ‘s’ in their alphabet. So seven things are put on the table that start with an ‘s’ in their language. Besides that I learn new things about culture, I also notice that there are many similarities. For example, there is a tradition in Iran to put colored eggs on the table, sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Furthermore, we like to send pictures of our lives and things that we have experienced to each other. We share holiday photos, but also photos of food, pets or paintings that we have made.

Recently I also have contact with a girl from China. I was very curious if the Chinese food we order here looks like what she really eats, so I sent a photo of our takeaway meal. This was not the case: very little of the food in the picture was familiar to her. She, in turn, was very interested in the war buildings and monuments in Europe, because many things have been recovered in China while much has been preserved in Europe. I have therefore sent her photos of my holiday to Normandy and other parts of France, and explained what can be seen there.

If you think that it’s always about culture and traditions, then I can assure you that that’s not the case. I talk about music with a guy from America, which turns out to be our shared passion. I even got him to buy a ukulele. We do not tell each other much about culture, we mainly talk about our daily lives. Recently I got a detailed description of what he had done that week, as if it were his diary. Super fun to read, and in this way you can really see what peers do in other countries.

As you have probably already understood, I’m very enthusiastic and can recommend it to anyone to look for pen friends. It is first and foremost fun, but it is also very informative and you come across surprising things that match or are very different. If I’m honest, I had few expectations at first. But now that I’ve been in the ‘pen pal world’ for a year, I’ve found that long-term contacts arise and perhaps even real friendships. I would love to meet my pen friends in real life one day. So, don’t hesitate, go to Google, find a pen pal site you like and write it down!