During my highschool period I had quite a lot of penpals. Back then I had enough time to send many emails and read all the replies. Many penpals came and went..... In some cases we exchanged just one or 2 emails and then the communication stopped. Nowadays I don write with penpals anymore, but it was definitely a great experience!

Why write with people you never met and probably will never meet?

That's a good question! I'll mention a few reasons why you might want to write with penpals:

  • hang for adventure
  • learn about cultures and traditions in other countries
  • Create new (true) friendships (very hard!!)
  • Practice your language skills(often English, but it depends on the country ofcourse)
  • assemble a list of adresses where you can stay for your trip around the world

How to get started?

Getting started is really easy. Just go to one of the hundreds of penpals/mailfriends websites on the Internet and write an message/email to a person that seems interesting to you. (You can find a list of some penpal websites on the bottom of this webpage.) On many websites you also have the possibility to make a profile of yourself and post that on the website. It's up to you if you want that or not. Don't expect to much of that though. It could be that nobody ever reacts to your profile or you just get messages from people that you are absolutely not interested in. But if you're lucky ,it might also result in a very good friendship. Just be careful with the amount of information you post on your profile, but paranoia probably prevents a interesting conversation.

How to build a good email / snail mail friendship ?

Building a solid email/snail mail friendship is quite hard. In the first couple of messages you probably exchange name, age, what you do in daily life , hobbies and sports . And then what? If you're lucky you have one or 2 things in common, for example a hobby or you are both fan of the same actor or artist. Then you can discuss the ins and outs on this subject. After that you have to find some new subject to talk about. A suggestion is to tell about those simple things you experience in daily life. It might sound like very normal to you, but can be very strange/exciting/funny to somebody on the other side of the world.
Another suggestion is to exchange some words/sentences in your own language with your penpal. You could try to get in touch with your penpal through one of the popular Instant Messenging programs. This way contact is somewhat more direct and personal, but you could end up in a situation where you absolutely have no idea what to say (depends on how talkative you are). But again, be careful with the information that you share.

Snail mail(real letters that you have to send via post) versus email

That is quite a personal choice. I personally prefer email, but many prefer snail mail. Snail mail is indeed more special, you get a letter that travelled around the world. It has a special stamp and inside is a real letter , hopefully handwritten . I admit that it is much more personal and has special "human touch" compared to email. But email has a couple of advantages as well:

  • it is cheap
  • it is easy and comfortable to write/type(especially for people with a hardly readable handwriting)
  • Time between sending and delivery is very short, so the news you want to tell your friend on the other side of the world is more up-to-date.
You could try both and see which one your prefer.

What are the risks?

When you have a profile of yourself on some website, you probably get emails from all kinds of people. Also people that you don trust or like. You could chose just not to reply to these people or send a reply that you are not interested. The Internet is open to everybody and that includes a couple of weirdos as well. That is why it is important not to give away too much information in your profile. Probably girls have to be even more careful then guys, because girls are often the target of perverts. It is often a good idea to get a separate email address for writing to your penpals. This is for two reasons:

  1. If your email address is on some penpal website, you can expect a lot of spam
  2. If you are being stalked/harrased by somebody , you can just get rid of the special penpal email address .

Practice your English?

If English is not your native language, it can be quite difficult to write to penpals in English. Just try to make short sentences and use easy words. If you practice enough and read and write enough emails, your English skills will automatically improve.

My own experience with penpals

I don't remember exactly when I started writing penpals, but it must have been somewhere between 1995 and 1999. I was interested in other countries and other languages, but ofcourse I couldn't travel all over the world. So I started writing penpals .. I think I found my first penpal on a message board of ICQ (which was really popular at that time). My first penpal was from South Korea.. The amazing thing is that I am still in touch with her.

I also had a couple of penpals who wrote snail mail.. Snail mail really has something special, but it doesn't really work for me: it takes too long and my handwriting is too sloppy. But I still keep all of the letters I ever got from penpals in one big box. In 2001 I became a member of (this site doesn exist anymore though). That's where I found a lot of penpals/mailfriends. I found that the first email is always easy (who are you, what are your hobbies, study/work?) but after that it becomes much harder. You have to find some things you have in common and not have too high expectations, otherwise it is doomed to fail.

I wrote with people from almost all continents, but it seems that some countries/continents have more penpals then others. People from Asian countries are quite easy to find(China, Japan, South Korea) , but language was often a barrier. Also Europe is quite well represented . And of course the USA as well, although not as many as you would expect from the number of Internet users there. Latin America and Africa as not so well represented, but this is obvious because the number of Internet connections is smaller(but rapidly growing). And I think for some cultures face-to-face communication and body language is more important then for others.

If you have too many penpals, say more then 4, then it becomes increasingly difficult to respond in a short amount of time and to keep track of the conversations you have with each penpal. I really owe a lot to all the pen pals I ever had and I would like to say "Thank you" to each and every one of them. They widened my horizon and I learned to appreciate foreign languages and cultures. And I believe it even increased my social skills a bit and helped me become a more open minded person.

In all those years I've met several of my penpals in person: If I remember correctly, the first penpal I met was my Japanese penpal. She made a trip through Europe and also visited the Netherlands and my town. I also met a penpal from Finland once . I also met my Spanish penpals (she was once here in NL and I visited her in Spain). And during my internship in Shanghai I finally met my Chinese penpal. Meeting them was each time a special occasion and it really means a lot to me. Luckily my trust in my penpals has never been abused or betrayed. I wish you the same!

You can try one of the websites below to find a new penpal:

Finding penpals and mailfriends online : Penpal websites

If you would like your website to be added to this list, add a link to this website on your own penpal website and send me an email.