Everything you need to know before writing your first letter

Let’s be honest here, pen palling can be a little intimidating (Especially at first!).

After all, you are creating a whole new friendship with a total stranger from a completely different part of the world. However, penpalling is a very fun and rewarding experience that many people enjoy! You might have questions such as, “What do I send my penpal?”, or “How do I know they’re safe to talk to?”. In this article, I’ll do my best to answer all your questions and help prepare you- equipping you with everything you need to know before writing your first pen pal letter.

First off, you should know what a pen pal is.

A pen-pal is a person with whom you exchange letters back and forth with to create a friendship.

These friendships can exist exclusively through the exchange of letters, but sometimes pen pals will talk over social media or even meet in real life! You should also know that there are different types of pen-pals: Those who decorate their letters (or not) and those who write long, short, or medium length letters.

People often tend to wonder what they should write about or send to their pen-pal, and the answer is: Anything! The first letter usually consists of you introducing yourself and asking them questions about themselves. The questions can be as simple as “What’s your favorite color?” or “What’s your favorite pastime?”, or they can require more elaboration such as, “If you were stuck on a desert island, who would you want with you and why?”. The questions can be whatever you want, but remember to keep them pleasant. You should also keep in mind that you never have to answer their questions if you don’t want to! Take a look at one of our most recent blog posts ‘Five Meaningful Questions to Ask your Pen Pal’ or visit our instagram @_penpal.international for more inspiration!

Once you get to know your pen-pal more, the conversations will flow naturally, as an in-person conversation would. When you get closer and more comfortable with one another, it will be just like catching up with an old friend. If you and your pen-pal agree to send goodies to each other, there are many things you can send. Such as candies from your hometown, pictures you’ve taken, post cards, stickers, etc! If you are shipping internationally, it can be cute to send coins/currency from your country to compare to their currency. But be weary of sending seeds, chocolates, and flowers across boarders.

A common misconception about penpalling is that you need to have fancy pens, stationery, stickers, etc. That is not the case! While it is nice to receive cute, themed letters, it isn’t a requirement. As long as you have paper and a pen, you’re all set. If you would like to spice up your letters but are on a budget, a good place to shop for stationary, washi tape, stickers, writing utensils, etc is our online store!

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Adding a theme to your letters is a simple way to liven up and show how much time and effort you put into them. Common themes include vintage, kawaii, animals, food, nature, seasons, flowers, the list goes on! You can also make it based around an aesthetic or color that you or your penpal likes. Some common aesthetics are dark academia, light academia, cottagecore, or it can revolve around different decades. The possibilities for themes are endless!

You should also keep in mind that with penpalling, it’s likely you’ll be writing to someone across the world. That means someone with a whole different lifestyle and culture than you. While you shouldn't let this fact deter you, it’s important to stay respectful and open minded. Often different ways of living may seem strange but being told the way you live is “weird” is usually taken offensive. Being disrespectful about the way a person lives their life could make them not want to continue writing with you.

If you find something odd, use this as a learning experience! Ask questions about it such as “Why do you do this?” or “Who/What started this tradition?”. Kindness is crucial! You can also use this as a chance to educate others about your culture and traditions. Penpalling has the potential to teach you so much, so keep an open mind about it.

Another thing to keep in the back of your head, is that not every pen-pal experience will be the best. Nine times out of ten it is a fun exchange where you get to talk to new friends, make memories, etc. Unfortunately, there will be people who you just don’t click with. A nice way to break it off with your pen-pal is to simply explain that you would no longer like to write to them. If you are writing to someone and they tell you that they don’t want to continue to write to you anymore, it’s totally okay! There can be many reasons as to why they don’t want to write, some of which might be personal, so do your best not to get offended. You will be able to find someone else to write to, this person just wasn’t meant for you. Talk to your pen-pal about what you feel comfortable writing about, and if you choose to send packages, what you feel comfortable receiving and sending. Don’t push boundaries, and don’t feel guilty saying no. Remember that communication is key!

"My Pen Pal's and I communicate almost completely through letters. We do however, notify each other through email when we send & receive each other's letters so we know they haven't gotten lost in the mail." -Jaylee Stringham

Creator of Pen Pal International

Expect to answer a lot of questions from your pen-pal, especially if they live far away from you. It’s common to include a ‘Question & Answer’ sheet within your letter. Answering with more than just “yes/no” can open up more questions and conversation, so try to give your answers substance.

Overall, having a pen-pal is a wonderful experience that everyone should try. You can meet some of the coolest people and learn some new, interesting things. Having the opportunity to make new friends is always fun, and now you have all the tools and knowledge to to start your pen pal journey. Don’t be nervous, send that letter!

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