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Pen Pal

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A pen pal is a person who writes letters and gets letters from other people. These people are known as your "pen pals."

Your pen pal could be a best friend who moved away, a person who you've never met, a person who you've met once on a visit, or even a boyfriend or a girlfriend. A pen pal could live across the street or on the other side of the world.

People who are pen pals write letters about anything -- school, work, daily life, culture, or religion, to name a few. Most of all, pen pals learn about each other's lives.

"One of the best parts of being a pen pal is, the more you write to your pen pal, the more you find out about that person," says Shannon Cole of Indiana.

Pen pals correspond in one of two ways. The most common way is by writing letters and sending them through the mail. The newer option is e-mail! Although no pens are used, pen pals say electronic correspondence (e-mail) still qualifies for this hobby. They say it has some very real benefits, too.

"It's great to get an immediate reply with an e-mail pen pal. It can be almost like having a conversation if you're sending mail back and forth quickly. Also, you get to remove the 'middle man' -- the post office," says Trevor Manns.

In spite of the time advantage of e-mail, Manns believes "snail mail" is worth the wait. "There are certain drawbacks to using regular mail, not the least of which is the time factor," says Manns. "But on the plus side, have you ever tried to send a Walkman through e-mail to Russia?"

Cole says he prefers to write and receive letters rather than e-mail. He believes the experience is more personal. "There is something exciting about receiving a letter addressed to you. No one wants a mailbox filled with just junk mail and bills. A letter gives you the sense that someone cares," says Cole.

Pen pals often exchange more than information through mail. Sometimes pen pals send gifts, photographs, or newspaper clippings.

Experienced pen pals say this is a good hobby for people who enjoy getting to know other people. Since pen pals meet all kinds of people of various cultures and with different experiences, a non-judgmental, open-minded approach is a sure key to pen pal success.

"An open mind and a true interest in people are essential," says Cole. "Your pen pals might not always have the same values or traditions as you, but if you're willing to learn, those differences can be a bonding thing, rather than a dividing source between you."

Writing skills are needed to be a good pen pal. People who write letters must be able to convey their ideas so their pen pals understand what they mean.

"When you are first writing a new pen pal, it's important to be clear in your writing. You don't want the recipient to misunderstand something you've said and be offended," says James Zivney, a pen pal enthusiast from Japan.

Another big part of being a pen pal is "listening" skills. People who take part in this hobby say the best pen pals are the ones who pay attention and respond to what you have told them. "Everybody likes to feel like they're being heard, even if it's only on paper," says Manns.

This is not an expensive hobby, but there are costs involved. There are tools like a pen and paper, or computer. Then there are stamps or your Internet time. If you join a pen pal club to meet other pen pals, there is a cost involved. Sometimes these clubs are free, or they may charge you to supply you with addresses.

Pen pals say their hobby has the power to change the world for the better!

"I think everyone should have at least one or two pen pals, people that they can talk to and share their thoughts, hopes and dreams with. If more people had pen pals, I think the world would be a better place," says Manns.

Pen pals say this hobby helps them learn about the world.

"When I am watching TV or reading the newspaper and there is a story about the part of the world my pen pal is from, I pay more attention to it. I find that I am more interested in world affairs now than before I became a pen pal," says Zivney.

People interested in this hobby may be able to find work directly related to it. Pen pal service operators compile, organize and distribute lists of pen pals from different countries -- either online or through the mail -- and charge a fee for their information. While people in this line of work say no one is earning a fortune from it, operating a pen pal service has its own reward.

"Since I have enjoyed being a pen pal so much, it's great to be able to help other people get involved," says Cole, who operates an online service.

Cole suggests this activity is great preparation for a career as a foreign correspondent. "People with pen pals from other cultures learn about diplomacy, learn to respect cultural differences and sharpen their writing skills. These are exactly the kinds of skills foreign correspondents need," says Cole.

Getting Started

So, you're ready to take pen (or keyboard) in hand and start doing some socializing? Experts say there are a number of ways to connect with potential pen pals.

One way to get started is by making a list of friends or family who live in different cities. Writing to these people might help you to rekindle an old friendship or create some stronger family ties.

"Sometimes it can be nice to write to people who already know you, so you don't have to start from 'ground zero' in your pen pal relationship," says Manns.

Experienced pen pals warn newcomers not to get discouraged if your letters are not reciprocated. "Some people just don't have the time, energy or inclination to write letters. It's usually no reflection on you if a pen pal doesn't respond," says Zivney.

If you prefer to embark on a pen pal hobby with a more global perspective, there are a number of agencies and Internet organizations that can help match you up with a suitable pal. International Pen Friends is one of the largest and most respected pen pal clubs in existence. For a fee, it will connect you with eager pen pals from all over the globe.

When you join a group, you will have to write a little advertisement about yourself. Other pen pals will read this ad to see if you are destined to become their pen pal.

"When you write an ad, make sure that it is specific. Spell out what you are looking for in a pal," advises pen pal enthusiast Angela Cheek.


International Pen Friends
IPF 758
Kapahulu Ave. 101
Honolulu , HI   96816

Student Letter Exchange
211 Broadway, Ste. 201,
Lynbrook , NY   11563-3265
E-mail :

Listing of pen pals from all over the world

Amazing Kids! PenPals
A non-profit organization offering letter writing pen pal programs to children worldwide

Make friends around the world

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