Many of us are experiencing a new normal – perhaps working from home, avoiding theaters, dining outdoors – and with these new Covid restrictions, what better time than now to develop a written correspondence with a pandemic pen pal?
Commonly, pen pals are people who seek friendships and new experiences through the exchange of letters, often among people who have no previous connection. Many people favor international correspondence in order to learn and better understand the culture and customs of another country. In the early days of Social Correspondence, I often read sweet stories about long-term pen pals who actually meet in person, many years after initiating their letter writing exchange. Such stories seem less common these days, given that most people communicate through the Internet rather than written notes through the mail.
A recent story in the journal Poets & Writers spoke of a new pandemic pen pal organization called Penpalooza. According to the Penpalooza website, “the exchange began in Spring of 2020 to connect people during the pandemic, and now has over 10,000 members from over 75 different countries.” Penpalooza was founded, initially on Twitter, by Rachel Syme, a New York based writer and staff writer for the New Yorker magazine. In addition to pen pal matches, Penpalooza offers a bi-monthly newsletter with letter writing and stationery tips. Kristin Keane, one of the early participants in the program, the daughter of a letter carrier, described receiving a physical letter as “a little boomerang of hope” during the difficult days of the pandemic. For those who create and love mail art, beautiful handmade envelopes abound on the site.
Pen pal organizations appear to date back to the 1920s or possibly earlier. Pre-pandemic, however, hand-written letter writing has been on the wane. The Letter Writers Alliance, founded in 2007, closed shop in 2020, although the founders have maintained the archives online. LWA specialized in downloadable stationery and stamp design, offered letter writing tips through their newsletter, and provided links to letter writing and pen pal organizations. The archives include an extensive list of pen pal sites.
In light of decreased travel during most of last year, Travel + Leisure Magazine featured seven pandemic pen pal platforms in March 2020. International Geek Girl Pen Pals (IGGPPC) is among the recommended sites, “a 17,000-member community open to all gender identities, ages, cultures, and backgrounds.” The site, first established in 2013, promises that “each month, we pair hundreds of geeky peeps with their nerdy soul mates from across the globe.” Through Patreon, the site charges a modest fee for membership.
Another long-lived pen pal site, PenPal World, has more than 2,800,000 members from around the world. PenPal World emphasizes user privacy and safety. The founder, Jake Hermann, grew up in Switzerland, and has been the sole proprietor and webmaster for 23 years. He and his wife and family live in Southern California. PenPal World offers both free and paid memberships.
If writing a note or letter sounds like too much, you might want to consider Postcrossing, “a project that allows you to send postcards and receive postcards back from random people around the world.” Postcrossing was founded in Portugal in 2005 by Paulo Magalhães. By January 2021, Postcrossing had facilitated the exchange of 60 million postcards. Postcrossing has participated in numerous related activities, including a postcard design contest, exhibitions, workshops, fundraising for non-profits, and more. Participation in postcard exchange through this site is free.
There are many ways to connect via the written word, both nationally and internationally, and these are just of few of the available sites. For writers, mail art enthusiasts, letter writing aficionados, and those wishing to connect in a personal way with other people, consider becoming a pandemic pen pal!
Pandemic Pen Pals by Emma Hine. Poets & Writers, March/April 2021
Pen Pals. Letter Writers Alliance, archives.
These Websites Connect You with Pen Pals Around the World by Stephanie Vermillion. Travel + Leisure, March 2020