All it took was one class writing project and multiple letters to bring together two people that were living almost 5,000 miles apart. This is the story of how Bossier resident, Tara Love, met her pen pal.
It started when her seventh grade English teacher put three names on the board and informed Tara’s class that they would be participating in a pen pal program. The original intent was to teach the students how to write to other people and learn more about other cultures but Tara wrote her pen pal further than seventh grade.
She picked a girl named Susanna.
“When I saw it I said ‘that’s a really pretty name,’ and I thought ‘I’m going to write to her,’” Love said. “So I picked that named and wrote her a letter and she wrote me back and that started our friendship.”
Her letter from Susanna came from the town of Oulu, Finland. This town is exactly 4,953 miles from Bossier City and over 150 languages are spoken there. Although her pen pal’s first language wasn’t English, this program helped her learn English while getting to know the culture of students in America.
Despite the language differences, the two pen pals were just that pals. They asked each other questions about what life was like in their countries and wanted to know everything there was to know about the other, even what they sounded like.
“When we were that age we couldn’t just pick a cell phone and call each other because it was long distance and my mother would’ve killed me,” she laughed. “One time I said ‘I want to send you a tape so you can hear what I sound like’ because I didn’t know if she had ever heard someone with an American accent speak.”
Susanna responded and said she would send her a voice recording as well. Tara joked they had found a way to do “social media” before it was a thing. The voice recording was just one of the things outside of her writing she sent Tara. The other that she sent was a toy.
A small, pink pony figurine all the way from Finland made its way to Tara while she sent a toy from America.
“In seventh grade I don’t know that I still liked ‘My Little Pony’ but I obviously kept it because it came from Finland and when I see it I think of her,” Tara said. “Probably more so than a letter.”
The letters and girl talk continued until the end of Tara’s senior year of high school. Then, life came. She became more involved with school, focusing on graduating high school and then going to college, getting married and starting a family.
“I think once I left for college I just assumed that she had probably done sort of similar things,” she explained. “I didn’t know how to contact her, didn’t know if she still had the same address, and didn’t know if she had gotten married and had the same last name.”
Years later, Tara was cleaning out her belongings where she came across an address book that she had from high school. Inside the little book was the name and address of her childhood pen pal.
“I thought to myself, ‘No way,’ and at this point social media is now up and running and Facebook is alive and well,” she said. “I put her name on Facebook thinking there’s absolutely no way one, that she has the same last name still and two, that I’m going to find her.”
After she typed it in, search results gave her one Susanna that matched the same name perfectly. Where was she from? Finland. Tara then sent her a Facebook message to confirm that she was the same Susanna. Indeed she was. Several years later, she was finally reconnected with an international friend she made from a seventh grade English class project.
With social media, she was finally given a face to her letters. She was able to see the child that Susanna saved the American toy for. The friendship was brought back in a different way.
“We can reconnect and stay in touch and if I ever choose to be able to go there or she were to come here, we have the capability to connect in real life,” she explained.
Though social media is great and it has allowed her to reconnect with an old friend, nothing beats the joy of receiving a handwritten letter in the mail.
“I just think there’s something to be said about actually writing letters to people because we get lost in social media and we don’t really get to be our true selves. When you write a letter to someone you can’t get any more real than that,” Love said. “I also think when we go and check the mail every day, it’s fun to get something in the mail: it’s fun to get Amazon packages, it’s fun to get birthday cards from people but what I crave more than a birthday card is the note inside the card.”
Take time today to celebrate “International Day of Friendship” by giving a friend a handwritten note to show that you’ve been thinking about them. Everyone loves to get mail but what’s inside of that mail is sometimes what means the most.