When 'Pen Pals' become real | Ann Oxrieder

Anyone remember "pen pals?" Someone your age who lived somewhere else and with whom you exchanged letters about your towns, countries and lives, until one or both of you lost interest?

My first pen pal was British. I found her name in a kids’ magazine. Ads for pen pals were big in those days.  We wrote to each other on thin blue airmail paper, which we folded on the dotted lines into the shape of an envelope and sealed.

My second pen pals were adults from Alma Alta, Kazakhstan, U.S.S.R. (now called Almaty, Kazakhstan). My husband and I responded to a plea during the Cold War to reach out to interested Soviet citizens and further understanding among peoples in our two countries. We wrote for a few years, sent photos and post cards of ourselves and our communities, but then the world changed.

A few years ago I gained an email pal, a young Iranian woman — Saeide — who had contacted a scholarly friend of ours to ask him about a translation of a Persian poem, which started their e-mail correspondence.  She wanted to be a writer and study in the U.S.

Fast forward to the present. Saeide is in her second year of a Masters in Fine Arts program in the U.S. and pursing her dream to become a writer. In February I met my email pal in person. She was in Seattle for a big writers’ conference. We spent part of an evening and a day together, talking about her goals — really, really ambitious — and mine — much less so. While I took her on a walking tour of Bellevue she told me about women’s lives in Iran, her family, her American boyfriend, life as a teaching assistant in an English 101 class, culture shock, homesickness — all the things you’d associate with someone coming here from another, very different culture.

As a result, we’ve done something that never could have happened between pen pals in the past, something that will keep us more connected to each other’s lives than ever before. We’ve become Facebook friends.


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