Kendall Aronson, Campus Carrier Asst. Arts & Living Editor
I remember when I was little, and my dad explained to me how the mailbox worked. I can remember my awe at discovering that once you put letters in this magical little box, they would disappear and eventually come back with a response. You can imagine my amazement at learning about email a few weeks later.
I had forgotten about this sort of excitement until I was graduating. The times I had received cards in the mail previously were few and far between, and suddenly I was receiving mail, and even better: mail with a cash reward.
Now this was an insanely exciting point in my life anyways, and soon after they began the graduation cards ended and I returned to my mail-less life. Once I went to college though I started mailing my friends who were at different colleges with letters, and I couldn’t wait for the next one to arrive.
One of my friends I had met also regularly received things in her mail, from different countries. It’s called pen-paling and it isn’t just for elementary schoolers.
There are many websites, Facebook groups, Reddit pages, and Instagrams entirely devoted to snail mail. It’s created a culture focused on handwritten letters and learning about other’s cultures with connections from real people.
I now have five pen pals I regularly correspond with. They’re from Hungary, France, Germany, Poland and the United Kingdom. They are all girls my age, and we met via a pen-pal website I like to use called Global Penfriends. I messaged them a few times online and then exchanged addresses. I’ve been writing to them since the beginning of the summer. Each letter takes about two weeks to get here, and when it does it is incredibly exciting.
The letters are decorated. Often times they will include small things from their country like tea bags, origami, stamps, washi tape, or coins.
Some people use the letters to better their understandings of foreign languages, and to learn new languages. My Polish pen-pal does the letter writing in part for this purpose.
I’ve learned a lot about different cultures, and I also enjoy decorating and crafting each letter so my pen pals will enjoy them. We can talk about our lives and different things which are going on in our countries. They often ask me what Trump is up to and we can share unique experiences that are going on in our lives. I’ve never met any of them, but we can still become friends and learn about each other through these methods.
Decorating and writing the letters can be very stress relieving at the end of difficult weeks as well. Covering a letter with doodles and stickers, and then stamping it and putting it in the mail can be very satisfying, especially knowing how much joy it will bring them as well.
I’m sometimes asked, “If you’re exchanging addresses then wouldn’t it just be easier to exchange phone numbers or emails?” And it certainly would be quicker but there’s something both nostalgic and powerful about writing letters.
Often times when people are email pals rather than pen pals, the relationships are shorter lived and less meaningful. I think could be because we are conditioned to get bored with things online faster than what’s on paper. We text people, but we know those people. We live in a now connected world that it’s, in many ways, more novel and dramatic to communicate with a tangible letter.
Writing actual letters on paper has a very different feeling than emailing someone does, and it takes more time. It feels much more meaningful and effortful to be able to send and receive letters rather than to just hit send.
Perhaps in this world of instant communication, some of the more exciting things can come from waiting.