5 Reasons You Need A Pen Pal & How-To Guide

Did you have a pen-pal when you were a kid? I did. Recently, I considered the profound way the experience stuck with and shaped me. 

What is a pen-pal, you ask? Pen pals are long-distance friendships you maintain by writing letters to each other. 

When I was in grade school, I had several teachers who set us up with pen-pals for the school year. Most kids exchanged one or two letters with a child from another part of the world. Predictably, after a few months, correspondence would drop off or disappear entirely. One or both students inevitably found more interest in the changing seasons, holidays, and the all-consuming business of being a kid than writing letters to someone far away with a weird name (Benoît.) I was one of those kids. 

So how did eight to ten letters from strangers impact my life so profoundly? I traced some of the roots to the fleeting but highly impressionable memories created courtesy of my pen pals.

The letters' content was forgettable and bland - we were eight years old, and I'm no Lara Jean Covey. But, I clearly remember the great joy I felt when I received a letter from my pen-pal of the moment. I would spend hours poring over the delivery like a detective sniffing out clues. 

Here are five ways having a pen pal can enrich your life and how to get started.

  1. Practice your language skills.Improve your writing by communicating with someone who speaks, reads, and writes in your learning language. This is a great way to improve your vocabulary, grammar, and usage. 
  2. Learn about a different culture.Imagine an envelope decorated with exotic and official stamps and approvals addressed to you! Who is the heroine celebrated with a postage stamp bearing her picture? What route did your letter take to find you? Pull out your map and explore! Having a pen pal makes you more curious about the world and connects you with someone willing to teach you their perspective. It allows us to learn about things we might not have taken the time to do so on our own. Most importantly, it shows us that someone from a different background can have similar values.
  3. Improve your writing skills.Texting and email communication is a deviation from more formal writing skills. It's good to keep that long-form writing muscle exercised. I remember being humbled by the tight, carefully executed script of my pen pals.  Their handwriting was like calligraphy compared to my own broad, loopy cursive. The precision imbued them with worldly sophistication in my mind, and consequently, I was charmed. I still make my I's the way Lisa from Barcelona did. 
  4. Create a connection with someone new. It can be challenging to meet new people who are also looking for a similar experience. One of my pen-pals was from England, and she sent me a British fashion magazine which made me the most popular girl in my school for like a month. I got two letters and a magazine from her twenty years ago, and I still think about her fondly.
  5. Self-discovery. Explore what you love and what you believe through slow-paced conversation. I discovered a love for stationery, travel, people, and graphic arts. Share what you love by sending small token, stickers, postcards, articles, and bits of humor. 

As for the how - there are dozens of Facebook Groups and websites dedicated to the safe matching of pen-pals. Here are a couple to get you started. 


Matched by interest and location. Letters and small packages. The next pen pal application deadline is March 31. https://geekgirlpenpals.com/

Improve Language Skills - https://www.conversationexchange.com/

Postcard Exchange. This is fun! https://www.postcrossing.com/

On Facebook - Worldwide Snail Mail Pen Pals is an active Facebook group that fosters friendships worldwide. 

If you are looking for a connection or just a fun add-on hobby (there are lots of subspecialty pen pal groups), give it a try!

Click here for writing prompts and small gift ideas.

Have you had a pen pal? What did you take away from the connection? Let us know in the comments!



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