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Cultivating cross-border friendships, one letter at a time

Patricia Grotenhuis for Progressive Dairyman Published on 11 December 2017
Wating for pen pal letters

Growing up, I had multiple pen pals. There was my cousin in Quebec, the daughter of family friends, a goat farmer and various exchange partners. Nothing could beat the thrill of a personal letter arriving in the mail.

When Emily Zweber, an acquaintance from my previous job posted on Facebook that she wanted a pen pal for her son, I jumped at the chance. Although my son is slightly younger, and was barely reading or writing at the time, I wanted him to have the same opportunity to exchange letters with someone.

I loved the fact that they were dairy farmers so our children could have something in common from the start. The fact they are in Minnesota and we are in Ontario brought in an international component too.

Over the past three years, we have gone from a few letters a year to one every one or two months. Stories are being shared about the farms, sports, family outings, the weather and other hobbies and pastimes.

Our families have a lot in common, giving the children a variety of topics to write about. In addition, having contacts in the dairy industry in the U.S. is helpful as we try to learn about the industry south of the border and follow trade negotiations and agreements.

The experience is going so well, in fact, that our original one pair of pen pals has grown to three as my second and third child started exchanging letters and pictures with her younger two children. This is in addition to my acquaintance growing into a friend who I send notes to often.

These days, when everything is driven by technology and communication is instant, there is still value in regular mail and in pen pals. The excitement my children show when letters arrive is contagious. Opening and reading the letters turns into a family affair as we hear about the news from Minnesota and look at the photos and pictures.

Our children are without a doubt improving their reading and writing skills through the experience. They are gaining so much more, though. They are learning about a different country. They are learning how to make friends even without meeting a person. They are learning how valuable contacts in other areas are.

They learn patience as they wait for letters to arrive. Most of all, they are learning how much joy a simple letter can bring.

In school, our children learn about other countries from books and computers. I love that our pen pal system is giving them a way to make the experience more personal. It shows them that no matter where a person comes from, we all have things in common and we can all learn from each other.

I hope that one day our children will be able to meet in person. Until then, we will keep making excited trips to and from the mailbox, letters in hand.  end mark

PHOTO: Waiting with anticipation to check the mail for another set of pen pal letters. Photo by Patricia Grotenhuis.

Patricia Grotenhuis is a dairy producer in Palmerston, Ontario

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