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Pen-Pals: Letters to a Long Distance Friend

A quick history lesson: In 1936 a society called the “Student Letter Exchange” was formed to help students find pen-pals for them to write to. Many movies were made about pen pal relationships including You’ve Got Mail (1998) and Out Of Reach (2004). The exchange of letters through snail mail has since died down in popularity with the rise of technology and social media platforms. There have been articles about “the upcoming rise of pen-pals,” but as the only person I know with a pen-pal, I am not sure how true that statement is. For those of you who have never even heard of pen pals, a pen pal is someone who lives somewhere else (in my case my pen-pal is from British Columbia) and your friendship is mostly, if not entirely, based around the letters you write to each other. 

I’ve had my pen-pal for a little over one year, and prepping letters and finding, as well as making, things to send to her has quickly become one of my favourite hobbies. Every time I leave my house to go shopping I look for things like stickers, papers, leaves, and pens to send along with her letters! It’s given me an amazing creative outlet, and if given the chance, I recommend having a pen pal to everyone. Having a friend that you’ve never met is super interesting, and I’m always learning something new about her hometown, as well as her personality, likes, and dislikes. Every year we send each other Christmas packages full of things we think the other would like, as well as birthday boxes and just some occasional surprises. Getting the mail has easily become one of my favourite times of the day, just in case I have a new letter to open and read.

Now, the current day version of a pen-pal is an internet friend, or someone you write emails to rather than letters, where it’s the same idea as a pen pal — someone you’ve never met but are friends with — but you converse online rather than by letter. This tends to be a more common thing, as it takes less time to have a conversation, rather than sending a letter and waiting weeks for a response back. I personally think having pen-pals should make a comeback because it teaches valuable writing skills, and gives an amazing creative outlet, in which you can incorporate scrapbooking skills, paintings, drawings, poetry, and stories you write for someone else to enjoy. Plus,getting funky letters is always fun!

Another pen-pal option that is not talked about as much are prison pen-pals! There are many websites to find a prison pen-pal, and ones specifically based in Canada! All the letters to and from the prisoners are read and checked over by prison officials, and occasionally prosecutors as well. Oftentimes, getting mail is exciting for inmates, and getting letters from someone else would help make their days maybe a little brighter. 

Getting a pen pal is something I would 100% recommend. I hope this article has sparked some pen-pal ideas in some people’s minds, and that some of you will end up looking into getting a penpal! If anyone does decide to get a pen-pal, some good things to send in the mail are pencils, stickers, tapes, papers, funky socks, fabric swatches, handmade art or sewn projects, and pressed leaves or flowers. My personal favourite things to receive are papers, because I can always make more art out of them later. Now that you know some of the history of pen pals and some new technologically-based ways to make long distance friends, I hope you all take into consideration getting a pen pal. Have fun, stay safe, and happy pen-palling! 

Zelia Piasentin

UWindsor '25

My name is Zelia Piasentin and I am a psychology major at the University of Windsor! I haven't fully decided on my post-grad career, but I want to help others in any way I can. Some of my hobbies include reading, drawing, writing to my pen pal and running my small business. I also love camping and go for walks with my dog! You can find me on Instagram @zeliapiasentin and my shop @littlelemon.co , I'm always open to new friends!!
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