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How to Write a Letter to a New Penpal

16 Jul

I remember my first pen pal, her name was Christele and she was a French student in a small school outside of Paris.  We were paired up by our respective schools to write to each other – for us to improve our French and for them to improve their English.  It has been over 20 years.  Not only are we still friends, we still write each other letters.  We have never spoken on the phone, seen each other in person or written an email to each other.  Our friendship is purely handwritten.

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I can remember my trepidation writing my first letter to her.  What paper should I use, what color ink, what would I say?! The thoughts overwhelmed me.  In the end, I decided on my favorite purple letter sheet with a matching envelope and my favorite fountain pen with dark eggplant ink.

Writing to someone you have never met is daunting.  What do you say?  How do you start and end the letter, and what do you ask?

First you must decide on the tone.  To this day, I tend to write like I speak, so my tone is fairly informal.  It works for me, so I stick with that.  I write like I am in a personal conversation; I ask questions and then answer them myself.  Nothing too personal, but just enough to get to know who I am.

Always start with an introduction – your name, where you’re from, and a little bit about yourself.  It is the jumping off point, a place where you can start building your friendship.  Then go into sharing with your new friend a few of your hobbies. For example, if you like reading, what are your favorite books and what are you currently reading? What kind of music or movies do you enjoy?  Remember to ask questions, too. Even though this is a letter, you are expecting a response – ask your new penpal what their hobbies are, what life is like in their town/city/country.

Consider also including a photo of yourself (if not in the first letter, then the second).  It is good to be able to put a face to a name!  As my friendship grew with Christele, we exchanged photos of us growing up, so I have a visual record of our friendship!  She even sent me a picture of her with her entire extended family!  I have sent her pictures of me on my most important days of my life.

My first letter to Christele led to hundreds of letters back and forth.  We talked about school, then university, then life as a young adult; we wrote through boyfriends and jobs, moves, hopes and dreams.  Now we talk about our children, our careers, our futures.  On my fridge I have a picture of her with her beautiful family, because through our letters, through that first written word, we became friends.  And it is a friendship that has crossed decades, language and an ocean.


Meet the Writer: Akhila Jagdish is a writer and editor in the process of starting her own editorial services company, The Crafted Word. She loves making lists, collecting journals, reading, drinking wine and cooking. 


11 Responses to “How to Write a Letter to a New Penpal”

  1. Marsi July 16, 2012 at 1:06 PM #

    Wonderful! I got my first pen pal when I was in grade school and we are friends to this day 35 years later! I loved writing and receiving letters. It is becoming a lost art form. Nothing compares to opening the mailbox and finding an envelope with your name, handwritten, on it. The whole process is a delight: writing, sending, waiting for a response, getting the response. Your story was a delight also!

    • europeanpaper December 14, 2012 at 3:01 PM #

      35 years?!? That’s amazing! Thanks for sharing – we adore stories of long-life pen pals :)

  2. Susan November 10, 2012 at 10:52 AM #

    I’m curious now: if you wrote to improve your french and she wrote to improve her english, did you write letters in french and she responded in english? do you both write in english now that you’re older? my high school will be starting a pen pal program like this soon, so I was just wondering. Thanks!(:

    • Akhila Jagdish December 16, 2012 at 10:19 AM #

      Hi Susan! Yes, I wrote in French and she would write in English. Now, I will write in both French and English to her [parts in French and parts in English] and she does the same for me. I also would ask her questions about slang and whatnot, and she would teach me and vice versa! Good luck with the pen pal program at your HS! :-)

      • Barbara February 1, 2013 at 11:31 PM #

        1943- 7th Grade in San Francisco our English teacher suggested we choose penpals from England to help us learn to write letters. Seventy years later Joyce and I still stay in touch across all those miles and years.

  3. Krys April 4, 2013 at 8:54 AM #

    This is really interesting. I started penpalling a long while ago, and things haven’t gone as smoothly as I had anticipated. Now I’m starting to consider to start a new writing project via email. It seems more appropriate for our “high-speed age”. Although I love a good hand written note, emails just seem to be quick to receive and quick to reply.

  4. Claire November 2, 2013 at 9:55 AM #

    I’ve been wanting to penal someone for awhile. since I just love writting and I’ve always thought that sending letters back and forh was cool…. But I don’t know how. I’m a freshman in high school :) how do you find a penpal from the Internet to write letters to? All I can find is “email pen pals” and that’s not exactly what I am interested in..

  5. Vince Cohen December 6, 2013 at 7:32 PM #

    Personally, I would recommend for writing a letter to someone you have never even met. Love For The Elderly is a small, non-profit organization that collects anonymous letters of kindness and distributes them to elderly citizens throughout America. I have written letters and sent them to Love For The Elderly on multiple occasions, and it made me feel really good inside and proud that I probably just made someone’s day. You should really check it out… I think it is great!

  6. Katelyn February 22, 2014 at 2:17 PM #

    How do I get a penpal it seems fun to have one

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