In the midst of the circuit breaker last year, instead of burying my head in technology, I found solace in painting, reading, and music. The repetitive days slowly got to my head and I was looking to get out of my comfort zone and do something exciting. Writing to a pen pal had always crossed my mind, and the circuit breaker played a big role in enhancing my desire of finding a pen friend.
This time turning to technology, I searched for ways I could find a pen friend. Being an over-thinker, I was hesitant at first as I was wary of shady individuals lurking on the internet. I first turned to YouTube, where aesthetically pleasing videos about writing to pen pals reside. They recommended going on Instagram profiles, notably profiles dedicated to writing to pen pals. I mustered up my courage and sent a DM to a few people who were looking for pen friends. Thus began my journey of writing to 3 pen pals.
The first letter
I was beyond excited and whipped out my stash of letter paper and envelopes (they were conveniently sitting in my drawer due to my past pursuits with stationery). Pen in hand, I eagerly wrote to them about myself, Singapore’s take on the pandemic, and my interests. Writing a letter is incredibly calming and therapeutic.
I stored my written letter in an envelope meticulously decorated with stickers and calligraphy. The nearest post office to me was temporarily closed because of the circuit breaker, which meant that I had to travel further to get these letters sent. Although I had sent out letters before, I was particularly nervous that day. Thankfully, the post office lady was helpful in guiding me through what was essentially my first ever personal letter to someone overseas. Slotting them into the international mail feeder at the post office, I made my way home and waited for their reply.
My anxiousness made the wait seem longer than I expected, but I got my first reply three weeks after sending my letters. Reading the handwritten letter sparked a fondness in me as I felt fulfilment in finally having a pen friend. Since then, letters have been going back and forth between me and my pen pals. Over the past months, our letters have changed from casual conversations to emotional ones. There is a lot more trust and comfort when penning down your thoughts instead of typing them on a phone or computer.
My pen pals
I currently have 3 pen pals; 2 from France and 1 from England. My pen friends and I have bonded significantly through the letters exchanged over the past year. We tell each other about how our home countries handle the pandemic and share about university life, pets, and hobbies. We also throw in photographs of our pets, artworks, postcards, and the occasional paper confetti to spice things up. The playlists exchanged (we write the songs and artists down on paper) are also a great way for us to delve into the current musical ears of each country. Although we follow each other on Instagram, we keep communication strictly through letters. We have even agreed to tour each other around should one of us visit the other in the future.
Maintaining pen pals
Keeping a long-term pen friend definitely comes with challenges. Apart from trusting that your pen friend replies to your letters, you have to make your way down to the post office to get stamps (not that it is a hassle). A writer’s block also hinders your reply speed. However, despite these challenges, sending off a letter is always fulfilling, knowing that your pen friend on the other side of the world (literally) will receive your letter — make sure you get the address right!
Having a pen friend is a great way for you to meet people from different countries, where you both get to exchange your lived experiences, customs, and traditions with each other. Although you get a faster response with electronic messaging, the old school process of writing, waiting, and receiving a letter is rewarding. I hope that snail mail will once again be popularised, allowing for the forging of friendship, and a gentle, steady alternative as compared to the weighty and regular use of communicating through social media and messaging apps.
Tips for finding yourself a pen pal
If you’ve been thinking of or looking for a pen pal, I strongly recommend hopping onto Sophie’s Instagram profile (@penpalsophiee). A friendly and experienced writer in the world of pen friends, she shares her beautiful handwritten letters and envelopes on her feed. Being entirely new to the world of pen friends, I sought her advice on how to find pen pals, and she kindly directed me to her ‘pen pal search’ post. The pen friend scene is slowly growing on Instagram, with accounts like Sophie’s facilitating a safe and controlled environment for people searching for potential snail mail buddies. The plethora of pen pal websites is another alternative to Instagram. There, you can set your filters according to what kind of pen pal you’re looking for; age, gender, country, and interests.
I must warn you however that I reached out to my pen pals based on intuition, and I was lucky that they were not the creepy people I feared. With that said, I thoroughly recommend hopping on pen pal Instagram profiles to look for a pen friend. As commenters on the post are each searching for pen pals, you need not worry as much about getting catfished. Remember not to give out your address immediately and make sure that the other party is not a scam by chatting with them first. Another tip that’ll be helpful is to find a pen friend who shares similar interests. The joy about snail mail is that you get to keep long-term friendships!