The information age.
Brilliant. Fast. Freeing. Captivating. (On one of its faces at least)
It is thanks to the information age with all its advancements in technologies of communication that we are able to communicate in real-time, with virtually anyone (see what I did there?) in the world, providing they have access to the necessary technology.
But why spend time and effort talking to someone on the other side of the world, who you’ve never met and aren’t likely to ever meet?
There’s something thrilling and satisfying and exciting about it… knowing that you’re talking with someone 1000’s of miles away, about being understood, and understanding. It’s a meeting of two worlds that sometimes are vastly different, through people that, really, aren’t so different at all.
It’s dizzying! That the human race with all its complexities, faults, differences, cultures and ideologies…its funny bits, its silly bits, and sometimes down right stupid bits…when it comes down to it, aren’t so different, wherever they are. We all feel the same emotions. We all share worries of some kind. We’re all just trying to find our way through life… not just fighting for survival, but for meaning – to make sense of all that is.
Though distractions divert our attention and sly evils or sicknesses pervert our thoughts, fundamentally we human beings are the same.
My very first experience of writing to a pen-pal was in primary school. We got to write letters to people our age in America. The idea seemed crazy to me and I remember most of the class being pretty excited. I remember too how I excited I was when I got a letter back. Though I don’t think I ever replied, but can’t remember why…
When I started learning Japanese at 15, I found a number or people in Japan to write back and forth with by email, through japan-guide.com. It was the closest I could get to a land so far. I was always excited to receive an email, to hear about places they’d been or even just about their families or their interests. It was especially exciting to receive pictures, even if the pictures weren’t really of much, to me it was like getting a look through a little window into another world – every picture another window with a different view into another land, another life. There’s something utterly charming about that…
And just like looking through a window and seeing marvellous views, you long to be on the other side of it; to experience the sights, hear the voices and the chimes, smell the air, feel the sun on your own skin… but even when you can’t, the dream of it still takes you over.
There are many things I found interesting and useful in communicating with pen-pals: it helped me practice my Japanese, I learned more about Japan’s culture, I made friends and memories…
Pen palling to practice language has good and bad points: it helps you to use more natural language as you can see how natives use the language and it’s generally good practice, BUT communication is mostly written unless you Skype for example, so you’re more likely to pick up traits of the written form of the language that might not work so well used in spoken language. It’s good to have a balance with practising writing, listening and speaking (if possible).
In all, the best thing about pen-palling in my experience is the view you get into another life in a different land; a view that might just expand you’re perception as a whole.
It can sometimes be very difficult to find a pen-pal, with whom you can connect and have interesting conversations and continue communication with regularly, but once you do, it’s gold – no, not gold even – it’s much more valuable than that.
So Pen-Pallers, keep on penning! Snail-Mailers, keep on mailing!
And to those yet to try it, go for it…
It will be an ADVENTURE.