Pandemic Pen Pals

Penpalling grows in popularity as a safe and fun hobby during the pandemic.

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Melody Xu’s workspace is covered in pens, tape, stationary and more which she artfully utilizes to create her beautiful letters. (Melody Xu)

Simultaneously a creative pursuit and a way to keep in touch with friends near and far, penpalling is a hobby that has gained traction in recent years. It has exploded in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, where writing letters has become an optimal form of communication that is both safe and fun. While many have the misconception that penpalling is simply writing old fashioned letters to others, the hobby has evolved into an art form with a thriving community of writers and artists. 

Your pen pal puts in a lot of effort and time to write to you and send you different things, and I feel like that makes it a lot more meaningful.”

— Jia Hiremath

Sophomore Melody Xu started penpalling last summer in order to keep in touch with friends during quarantine and has since become immersed in the community. Over time she has made around 25 pen pals from all over the country as well as around the world, leading to unique experiences with many new people.

“My international pen pals have taught me a lot about different cultures and different day to day lives in other countries that I haven’t experienced,” Xu said. 

Jia Hiremath, also a sophomore, enjoys penpalling because of the sincere connections she is able to make with her pen pals.

“Your pen pal puts in a lot of effort and time to write to you and send you different things,” Jia said. “And I feel like that makes it a lot more meaningful.”

In addition to the aspect of making new friends through penpalling, the hobby serves as a creative outlet for those who pursue it. While Xu enjoyed making art before she began penpalling, through the hobby she realized that designing letters is a unique way of  expressing  her creativity. When she is penpalling, the design of Xu’s letters is equally as important to her as the actual message. 

 “My favorite [pastime] is to sit down with an envelope and play around with color schemes, lettering types and paper until I have something complete,” Xu said. 

Melody Xu’s pen floats over the paper as she crafts a letter to a pen pal. (Melody Xu)

When she has the time, Xu often spends hours crafting her letters until the design is exactly how she wants it and she feels like she is giving a pen pal her best work. 

“I feel really fulfilled when I’m [penpalling],” Xu said. “I want to give something to someone that I put lots of effort into, and I want them to enjoy the art on [the letter] as well.” 

Over time, penpalling became a creative outlet for Xu and Hiremath as well as a way to make friends during the pandemic. In order to spread their love for penpalling with the community and encourage Paly students to explore the hobby, the two sophomores started the club Paly Pen Pals. 

Having a conversation with people that I wouldn’t have otherwise met is probably my favorite aspect [of penpalling].”

— Melody Xu

“The premise of the club is basically to help people get into penpalling and make new friends from all over the world, or also just in Paly, and to make connections through letters,” Hiremath said. 

Xu and Hiremath, the co-presidents of Paly Pen Pals, help club members to find pen pals, promote safe penpalling and organize events with other high school Pen Pal clubs. They know that it can be daunting to begin penpalling and that many newcomers have no idea where to start, and hope that with the club they can introduce more people to the fulfilling hobby.

Overall, penpalling serves as a pastime with a thriving community that encourages creativity and can lead to the development of friendships from all over the world. 

“Having a conversation with people that I wouldn’t have otherwise met is probably my favorite aspect,” Xu said. “I love writing long letters and reading long letters my pen pals wrote, and really creating a connection with someone.”

Instagram has cultivated a thriving penpalling community; check out Jia and Melody’s accounts below!