Sunday, June 14, 2009

Penpal of the Week #1

Hello! From now on, there will always be a person who will be featured on my blog as the "penpal of the week"! I love hearing stories about penpalling and I thought that you might too!

So this week, let me present... Ilse from Belgium! *clap clap clap*

1. Please tell us about you!

Hello! I'm Ilse, I just turned 22 and I live in Belgium. During weekdays & examination weeks I live in a student's residence in Leuven where we live with two groups of ten people who take care of a fellow student with a handicap. It doesn't demand that much, we just create a schedule to make sure that there's always someone in the building in case our friend needs help, but usually the people in our residence don't need a lot of help.

During weekends and holidays I live in Oostende, a city at the North Sea, with my mom. I'm now studying for the exams of my master's degree theology & religious studies and next year I'll spend a year on the the teacher training. Afterwards I'll probably look for a job as a religion teacher in secondary schools or as a pastoral worker in a hospital.

My facebook (if anyone adds me, please mention something like penpals in the message)
My livejournal
My penpal blog

A picture taken last month.

2. Describe your personality in 10 words!

Wow, that's a hard question. Some words that apply on me: shy, talkative (those two already might seem like a weird combination but it's all about who I'm with), doubter (I find it hard to make decisions), chickflick-fan (I love watching movies!), penpaller (my penpals are as important to me as my real friends), chocoholic (the word says it all), girl next door (I'm actually quite the average girl), caring (I care a lot about my friends & family), music (I listen to music a lot), travelbug (I've been bitten by the travel bug and I hope to travel more often in the future).

This is me on a holiday in Prague last September.

3. How long have you been penpalling? How did you first start? Tell us about your first penpal!

The very first beginnings of my penpal history are in the first years of secondary school, when I started to have fun writing my classmates letters. Later on I placed an ad in some kind of youth paper & on the Internet and I started writing to some people I didn't know yet in Belgium and the Netherlands. Soon the Belgians had stopped writing, but the Dutch girl kept on writing for three years, until I was sixteen. Even though we didn't write that often in those three years, every letter of her I received caused a great joy. I just loved getting her letters. It's that joy I started missing when I started a new search for penpals about three years ago. I found some really nice international penpals, but unfortunately all of them stopped writing really soon. I still wanted to penpal, so I just started again placing ads and now I'm already writing for about two years to some of my current penpals, it's awesome!

3. How many penpals do you have now and where are they from?

About twenty. I'm sure that sounds like a really big number, but not every penpal writes that often. I have penpals who write back right after receiving my letter, but also penpals who write only once every three months or so. I think it all comes down to sending and receiving about two or three letters a week, so that's pretty perfect to me.

I really don't mind if people don't write often, it's no criteria for liking them any more or less, nor is the stationery type. I have some penpals who apologize for using just plain paper, but really, people should never worry about that. Of course it's nicer to write on cute paper, but penpalling is most of all about getting to know people and becoming friends.

My penpals are from pretty much anywhere: Australia, France, Germany, UK, US, South Korea, the Netherlands, Finland...

All of my penpals are female. At first it was a choice, but a while ago I've been actively searching for a male penpal without any result. A lot of men really don't seem to understand the idea of penpalling...

I wanted to make my penpals more visible, so this is what I did.

4. What are your favorite topics to discuss in letters?

Anything that's going on in our lives. We keep each other updated about our studies/work, love life, any events we've been to recently, things we're looking forward to, things that cause us trouble... Anything you'd tell a friend actually. And of course the more random topics like our culture, movies, music and even recipes. They keep the conversation going when life gets a bit boring and of course it's always nice when a penpal can recommend me something.

This is me on a free festival last summer, watching the Animals and a Belgian band called De Mens.

5. What are you looking for in a penpal?

First of all a friend. I really consider my penpals as friends who I can tell just anything. I often have the feeling that I might be able to tell them even more than my real friends, because sometimes it's just easier to say things on paper, maybe because you can just take your time to sit down and write what's troubling you. But of course, lots of letters are about happy stuff as well. :)

It's great when penpals keep on writing back, so that you can establish a long-term friendship.

6. What do you like the most about penpalling?

The friendships I've established and the excitement I still feel every time I find a letter in my mailbox. There's not much that can beat that! Sometimes you also get surprised by your penpals, p.e. they include something they know you like in their letters, or they send you a package for Christmas or your birthday just out of the blue. It does make me feel a bit guilty though, because I haven't sent any penpal a package yet. I did send small things in envelopes, but no real packages, because the package costs are just way too expensive over here... But I just made a resolution: I want to become really good at finding nice small things that fit in an envelope.

This is the penpal stuff I have in my student's room, but I've got lots more at home.

7. In what language(s) do you correspond?

English and Dutch. I have French & German penpals as well, and though I technically speak those languages, I write in English with them as well, because I'm a lot better at English than at those other languages.

8. What are some of your habits in regards to letter writing?

I write my letters at my desk, while I've stalled all my stationery, stickers and pens on my desk, or in the sofa. I really like to make my letter as pretty as possible (I'm not that creative...) by using nice stationery paper and nice (often colored and/or scented) pens, stickers, stamps.... Sometimes I make my own stationery on the computer.

I always try to write the whole letter at once, instead of writing a bit every now and then. It's not always that easy to find a good time to do it though, because I easily need 1,5 hour for a letter, sometimes even more, depending on how much I have to say. Writing back can take some time, depending on the person I have to write back to. I don't respond to letters in the order I received them, but look at other things. P.e. when I get a letter of a penpal who always writes back right away after a letter of someone who writes once every three months, then I'm going to reply to the penpal who writes back quick first. This way, if you need some time to write back to me, I'll take time to write back to you as well. Generally speaking, it can easily take a month for me to reply to a letter. I don't think my penpals mind about that, because it has the advantage that I've got (usually) actually something to say. Letter length also depends on the penpal, but usually I write about 3 A5 pages front & back.

Everytime when I finished a letter, I write some keywords in a notebook so that I can look up what I have & haven't said when I'm writing the next letter to that person. It's a useful system to make sure you're not repeating yourself.

I also write in my blog site when I've sent or received a letter, because it has happened that penpals thought I had stopped writing, while the letter just got lost in the post. I wouldn't like anyone to drop me as a penpal because of that.

I always save the letters I received, even when the penpal has stopped penpalling. I keep them in the original envelope in a chest of drawers (I had to look this word up, so hopefully it's the right word).

Sometimes I make my own stationery (using existing pictures I find on the Internet) with a free program called GIMP, it's fun to do and it's also a way of personalizing the whole penpal thing.

9. Has anything strange/funny ever happened to you since you've been penpalling?

Last Christmas it was a great surprise for me to see that some penpals had sent me packages. I've never had that before and found it really great! On my birthday, about two weeks ago, I was really surprised to find some nice gifts in the mailbox as well.

Also, sometimes it's really hard to know whether a penpal stopped writing. Most people, when they stop writing, just stop without letting you know. So when I haven't heard of a penpal for a long time, I just assume they have stopped. About 1,5 year ago I was looking for some new penpals and one girl seemed interested. She asked me to write the first letter and so I did. I never heard anything from her anymore, so I assumed she didn't like the letter, but a year later she just emailed me, out of the blue, to ask if I still had the same address! She then sent me a letter, responding to my letter - she still had it. When I received her letter I decided to write back anyway, but when I e-mailed her for her current address, she never answered. I suppose she'll do in some months, but writing once a year is really not enough to create a bond. Especially not when it takes a year to reply to someone's first letter.

Another weird thing are the bunch of marriage proposals you get when you post your ad on certain penpal sites, but I'm sure that some of the readers are familiar with this. It takes some time to know what the good penpal sites are.

Just a recent picture...

10. Have you met any of your penpals?

Not yet, but in July I'll be going to the UK where I have two penpals. One penpal unfortunately can't afford to come to London to meet me, but chances are high I will meet the other one on July 11th. She's one of the penpals I connect most with, so I'm really looking forward to it!

11. Are you currently looking for more penpals?

Yes, but only a few more. I wouldn't like to have more penpals than I can handle.

This one's taken two years ago after lunch in the foodmaker in Brussels, but I still like this picture.

Thank you to Ilse for this wonderful interview!

If you'd like to be featured on my blog as the Penpal of the Week, just reply to this post and give me your email address!

Julie xox


  1. Thanks Julie, the article looks really good! I've let my friends know =)

  2. Nice! Maybe I can start penpalling with you as well, when I'm in Sweden next year :-)

  3. This is such a good idea and it looks great, like Ilse, I loved to know about her and she must be a really good penfriend. It's so nice to see that penpalling is all around the world and that it isn't a vain things that people try one time and forget in the next minute. It's really amazing how we can be so far but so close from people from other points of the world.

    Keep doing this good job and I'll be addicted to check your blog.


  4. Thank you for your sweet comment, Joana! I'm glad that you enjoyed Ilse's interview and my blog in general!

    Julie xox

  5. I would love to be your penpal. You seem a lot like me in a way and I am a stay at home mom. 25 and married for 5 years. You can email me if your interested:)

    I hope we can become good friends and write each other.

  6. What an excellent interview. So very open and honest. I really enjoyed reading the details about your experience and hope others get interested in paling again. You don't have to be a perfect always writing penpal to make a match you can keep trying until you find that special friend that just jives with you.

    I'd like to be interviewed just contact me via my blog.

    Also, I do swaps and penpals a lot over on swap-bot so you might find others who would like to share their experiences as well.

  7. Hi Julie! It's Amber. Sorry I'm posting anonymously -- I don't have an account on blogspot! I wouldn't mind being featured as penpal of the month someday. Whenever you have time, I'd be more than happy to take part in this! My email is amd.7202 at hotmail. OR! You can contact me through LJ or Facebook. :)


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  9. Oh mann...I would LOVE to be featured as a penpal of the month someday! it sounds awesome and your interviews are so entertaining!

    Ooops! forgot my email!

  10. hi, i love this blog and the penpal of the week thing. id love to be penpal of the week anytime if you can fit me in.

  11. When it comes to pioneer in socialization, Pen Palling is on top of the list. :)