Pen Palling: Staying in Touch While Out of Touch


Art by Sophia Wagner

Sophia Wagner, Arts and Entertainment Editor

When Jenny Huynh ’22 was in first grade, she wrote her teacher a letter. The next day, Jenny found a sealed envelope in her desk, nestled on top of her pencil box. Years later, Jenny returns to writing letters. This time, however, the letters are being sent off to friends who, like Jenny, are looking for ways to safely keep in touch while continuing to quarantine. 

“At the beginning of the summer [my friend] sent me my first letter. I thought it was very fun, and that’s where it all started,” Huynh said. “Without quarantining, I probably wouldn’t be writing letters, simply because I would have just opted to talk to my friends face to face. But when you’re home all the time, there’s nothing better to do than write a letter to someone.” 

Anne Kerkemeijer is a student outside of the U.S., who -like Jenny- took quarantine as a signal to start pen palling. In order to reach a wider range of people, Kerkemeifer turned to an online resource, Global Pen Friends. 

The website, which has over three thousand users, is a way to find pen pals around the world. Global Pen Friends refers to itself as a “club,” where it matches members with others who share similar interests. Kerkemeijer was immediately matched with people from across the globe, eventually leading her to begin writing to not one, but two City High Students. Kerkemeijer used pen palling as a way to get to know new people, as well as to maintain contact with friends during quarantine. 

“Pen palling is nice during normal life, but it has certainly helped me stay in touch with people through a different medium,” Kerkemeijer said. “It is important to stay updated on what’s happening in the world and pen palling can help you find out what a whole other country does during this extremely strange period. I think that quarantine has made it more popular again.”

Kerkemeijer has been pen palling for around six months, but with the addition of the Global Pen Friends, she now has twenty pen pals in total. 

“I am a big fan of meeting new people online, yet it always stays just that. When you are writing to someone you can really put your own personality in there,” Kerkemeijer said. “You can also add little gifts to share your culture or your interests. Pen palling has so much more personality than just talking on the phone.”

Huynh, who prefers writing to friends over finding new acquaintances through outside sources, agrees that the “personality” of pen palling is the best part.

“I think a lot of times when you talk to people in person you’re kind of talking about basic stuff, but with writing, you kind of think about everything that happened, and then you want to put it all down in the letter,” Huynh said. “I think it adds more spice to things because you get to think about what you want to write instead of just saying, ‘Oh hey. How’s your day? The test was hard.’ Letters can cover many more topics.”

Huynh and Kerkemeijer have different methods of finding pen pals, but the bottom line was to stay in touch through a time when contact became difficult. 

“Before internet culture, it was a great way of finding new friends, but with the come up of so many new platforms it decreased in popularity,” Kerkemeijer said. “I think that quarantine has made it more popular again. It’s a way of not feeling completely alone and sharing your thoughts with someone.”