When I was 10, my school joined a writing exchange programme, and we all had the option to be ‘paired’ up with someone in another country for a £1 donation. I took the letter home with me, and my dad thought it was a great idea, as he used to have penpals when he was younger. “It’s a great experience to put pen to paper, and to write to a complete stranger who lives somewhere completely different to you”, he said.
I can remember the form which had to be completed. I had a choice of whether I wanted to write to a girl or a boy (or either), and whether my new friend came from France or Germany. Dad ticked the ‘either’ box, and I chose Germany. Thinking about it now, I was silly not to choose for my penpal to come from France, as I was already in the process of learning French. I was pretty good at it too..!
A few weeks later, my teacher handed me a square slip of paper. It had the flags of the Union Jack, France and Germany, simultaneously placed around the outside (as a border), and the print gave a name, age and address of my new friend. His name was Jürgen, he was 10, and lived in the city of Ulm, in Germany.
We wrote for a few years, but we grew up, and one day, he just never responded. I wondered if my letter had gone missing in the post, or if his had; so I wrote again. Still nothing came back. I knew that my penpal was no longer. I was about 14 years old.
But, even though I was waiting for nothing, I had been bitten by the penpal bug…
I can remember making a friend, whilst on holiday. She lived in England too, but about 150 miles away. She was a couple of years older than me, and she grew up and went to university…
Around the same time of me making friends with her, I actually wrote to a magazine, asking for any penpals throughout the UK who were roughly of a similar age (I think I was roughly 15 years old…), who had similar interests to mine. Well, at the time, I was already heavily in to my Kung Fu training, so it was practical for me to write to a martial arts magazine.
I was so excited to receive so many responses, and all within a week of my letter being published in the magazine. I honestly think that I had over 100 letters… However, I wasn’t about to sit down and reply to them all. Instead, I began to sort and sift my way through them.
I was cautious. I read every letter that I received. The letters that didn’t give an introduction, or the persons’ age, would go in one pile. On the same pile, I would place the men who had wrote to me who were all aged 20 and over. After all, why would they want to write to a 15 year old girl?
It was a shame feeding (almost all) the letters in to the shredding machine. 99% of the letters I received were all handwritten; and a lot contained photographs of themselves. I didn’t shred the photo’s though… I made sure that I wrote a very courteous note back to the people who had sent me a picture, thanking them for their letter, and explaining that under the circumstances I could not write to them.
After my organising session, there were 6 people who I was interested in writing to. One soon disappeared after I replied to them, another I wrote to for a few months, another turned out to want more than just ‘snail mail’ friendship… After weeding out these 6 people, I continued to write to the only girl who had responded to me. She was the same age, and we were both studying the same style of Kung Fu, and we were the same grade! We met many times, and even went on a couple of ‘mini’ holidays, however, our friendship was wearing away slowly, and at the age of 27 (long friendship, huh? Ha ha) I got engaged. That was the last straw… She sent a friend request to my fiancé, then congratulated him, not me. She was then messaging him all the time… Or trying to. Anyway, it didn’t last very long after that, and I haven’t spoken to her since.
A couple of years ago, I wanted to get back in to having a penpal. Preferably, a ‘snail mail’ pal, where we’d have to dust off the paper and envelopes, and scribble with ink… It’s too easy to send an email, and although in some circumstances, I prefer to be able to send an email, I still find it so much more on a personal level to receive something handwritten.
On my search for a penpal, I signed up to a penpal website called Interpals approximately 2 years ago. My profile is in depth, friendly and welcoming, and yet I am still waiting for my ‘one true penpal’ to appear. I’ve had a few ‘trials’, if you like, but I’m still waiting for something other than a message in my Interpals inbox that says, “hi, how are you?”.
Who knows… Maybe in another few years, I may write another post, and describe a friendship that I have had for a few years, with someone in another country to my own.