Learning cultures through pen pals

best language learning apps pen pals
best language learning apps pen pals

The art of corresponding with pen pals is about as old as time. A way to build friendships mainly corresponding between two or more countries. For decades, pen pals communicated merely through the means of pen and paper.

Some for a period of time before fading away. Some for a period and a certain purpose such as language exchange. Others for a period of time before meeting up in real-life. This could take weeks, months, even 45 years in one case!

Of course being pen pals through snail mail still happens today but thanks to the growth of the Internet, like a pop star whose passed his peak, snail mail has taken a back seat. Email and PenPal websites such as CityMity pen pals social networkPenPal WorldInterpalsGlobal Penfriends and PenPal Gate have sprung up. It is easier than ever to connect and communicate with potential pen friends around the world.

The pen-palling bug bit me nearly three years ago when I took a “break” from Radio West Fife, I wanted to do something completely new. The idea of pen palling tickled me for some time. Perhaps it was the romantic notion of discovering another culture without having to even book a flight, get 10 million vaccinations and choosing a complicated travel insurance policy.

My first pen pal was from Siberia, Russia and we still communicate to this day albeit when commitments and schedules allow. I’ve also corresponded with Belorussians, Ukrainians, Azeris, Americans, Flippinos, Australians, Poles, Ugandans, Germans and many others. Each having their own story to tell, their own views on the world around them and a great focal point for conversation.

Nothing beats travelling to all those said countries to fully experience their culture and atmosphere. However if the budget doesn’t allow you to be Alan Whicker or Michael Palin then pen-palling is the next best thing.

I’ve learnt about various cultures such as New Year in Russian-speaking countries is the equivalent to our Christmas in say the UK. France has a bureaucracy that baffles even the most hardcore of bureaucrats along with their colourful cafe culture. Australian university education operates at opposite times to most Western universities. Grasshoppers are a delicacy in Uganda.

The only way we can understanding the world around us better is to understand different viewpoints, ideas and ultimately cultures.

I’d recommend start using websites like CityMity Pen pals , PenPal World and email as a way of communicating – it worked for me. You could even use the classic means of snail mail, I’ve yet to try this myself but would love to one day.

Be aware that pen-palling can be a tricky commitment to follow if you are a busy person. Been there myself, trust me, so be realistic with yourself in terms of expectations, frequency of writing and the amount you write to him/her. Be honest, be clear and have fun!

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