Monday, August 31, 2009

Penpal of the Week #12

When I recently met her on InterPals, she seemed like a fun girl with a bubbly personality, so I asked Lisa from Germany to be the Penpal of the Week and she kindly accepted, so here she is!

1. Please tell us about you!

My name is Lisa and I’m 25 years old (born March 9th, 1984). I live in the north-eastern part of Germany in a city called Rostock right at the Baltic Sea. I love living only 20-30 minutes away from the beach, I have always loved the sea. I moved here from Bremen (north-western part of the country) to go to university. Bremen’s university does not have a medical school, so I had to leave family, friends and my familiar surroundings behind. Getting the sea in exchange was definitely a plus! :)

This shows me on the beach here in Rostock. One of the few photos of myself that I actually like.

I have a very small family: parents, one brother (22) and just one grandfather left. They all live in Bremen, 300 kilometres away and sometimes I miss them a lot. We’re all really close. I also have a wonderful daughter named Kira who is 7½ years old. Right now she enjoys her first summer holidays after her first year of primary school. I never planned to become a mum that early in life (she was born a month before my 18th birthday), it just happened. I wouldn’t miss this for the world, I love being a mum – yet I hate to be reduced to that. Kira is my absolute pride and joy, but I have other interests as well.

This is the most recent photo of Kira and myself that I have. It was taken a couple of weeks ago in a café in Rostock.

To name a few: I write. Big surprise, I wouldn’t be "Penpal of the Week" otherwise, right? ;) Writing letters has been a part of my life for about 17 years now and I’m absolutely addicted. When I don’t write, I read. I always carry a book with me. When I don’t write or read – now finally a hobby that doesn’t have something to do with words (most of the time) – I’m creative. I do all sorts of arts and crafts from painting to scrapbooking, wood design, candle making, designing do-it-yourself calendars, glass painting and so much more. I heart my art, I really do. :)

One of the wooden boxes I painted. The Celtic knot on the lid took me ages.

I have a page on Facebook, but I don’t use it much. Feel free to check out my penpal profile on Interpals though, for some more information about me.

2. Describe your personality in 10 words!

Oh, that is such a difficult question. At least I get to choose ten!

I am a friendly person. Sounds boring? :p I just think that being polite doesn’t cost anything and smiling from time to time doesn’t hurt anyone. As long as people are nice to me I see no reason to be rude to them. I’m creative. Already mentioned above, I’m always full of ideas for new projects. Explosive, I do have quite a temper sometimes and explode quickly. I calm down quickly, too. Perfectionist, absolutely. I always expect 250% of myself. I’m pretty indecisive sometimes. Doesn’t mean that I don’t have my own opinions (I most certainly do :p), but I hate having to choose. I’m generous. I truly enjoy giving more than taking, when it comes to presents for example. I’m also contradictive – one day I want this, the next day I want that. Same for my moods, a constant roller coaster ride. I would say I am open-minded, who says that my way of doing things is the only one that’s right? Chacun à son goût and so on. Addicted, to whatever is my current drug: a book, a movie, art styles, a song. I can get obsessed (not in a bad way) with something, it usually lasts from a few days to a few months. And finally, I’m stubborn. Very much so. I want things to go my way, haha. ;)

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

I’ve been writing letters since I was about 8 years old, that makes it 17 years already. Of course I remember my first penpal. Her name is Svenja, she’s from Germany as well. We met during the summer holidays when she was 3-4 and I was 4-5 years old. Both our families stayed in the same village in Bavaria for our summer vacation. Our parents got along well and exchanged addresses and phone numbers once the holidays were over. 2-3 times a year we would go visit them or they would come to visit us for a weekend. When Svenja and I started primary school and learned to write we began to write letters because 2-3 weekends a year didn’t seem enough for us. Once we were older (secondary school age) she would come to visit me for a week during the holidays and vice versa. We are still in contact today even though we write emails nowadays. Mainly because Svenja is just less into letters than I am, but I don’t mind. It’s great to have someone that you’ve known for such a long time.

I started international penpalling when I was 13 years old, my English must have made some of my pals giggle back then. Good thing I can’t read my old letters anymore.

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

That’s difficult to say, because I’m only just starting out with some of them. I’ll have a guess and say around 20 penpals. They are from all over the world really. To mention just a few countries: Austria, Germany, Ireland, the UK, India, Australia, the Netherlands, Mexico, Norway, Italy, Sweden, Mauritius, the USA, Kenya, etc.

Some letters that I have received, postcards and other little things that reached me by mail and also a few coins I have left from my trip to Mauritius.

I have more female than male penpals. Somehow I find it more difficult to find a good male penpal, but the ones I have are great. Of course writing to a guy is different from writing to another girl, but it’s a good different. I know that some women refuse to have male pals and I often see the reasoning "I have a great husband / boyfriend and don’t want to talk to men". I respect that decision of course (not that it applies to me anyway) but I find it a bit weird. In my opinion a partner is not a reason not to have friends and penpals of the opposite sex.

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

I enjoy writing about everything that’s going on my life. I make sure that I always answer my penpals questions and to comment on what they wrote and ask questions myself, it’s important that your letters are not only "me, me, me". If I wanted monologues, I’d write a diary. ;) It also depends on my penpals: what do they write about? I’d say most of my letters (after you got past the introduction and all that) consist of things that happen in my daily life, things I see or read and what I think about them, my feelings / thoughts / worries / dreams etc, funny things, sad things – pretty much a mirror of my life at that point.

A random photo of the trees in front of my balcony. The trees all covered in ice even though there was no snow. My winter-fan personality had to take a photo.

6. What are you looking for in a penpal?

A friend. That’s what is most important, everything else builds on that. This is something a lot of people don’t understand. It used to drive my ex-boyfriend crazy "How can you spend so much time on writing to someone you don’t even know!? Don’t you have better things to do?" That’s exactly the point for me: a penpal can become just as important as a friend you have in your daily life. Some of my penpals know more about what I am like on the inside than some of my friends. I have always been better at writing, maybe it’s because some things are easier written down than said or because I have more time to think about what I want to say. Penpals are not just penpals to me, they are friends who just happen to live a bit further away.

I want penpals who will stay with me for years. I dislike short letters a lot. Probably because my letters usually go on and on and you have to sit down for a while to read them. Getting only one sheet of A5 paper written on with a huge handwriting in return is frustrating. One of my first international penpals never wrote more than that. I tried to be subtle and asked tons of questions to get her to write more, but she only gave monosyllabic answers. Her shortest letter had 103 words (yes, I counted them!). In the end I stopped writing to her because it just wasn’t going anywhere. Writing a letter should be fun.

A sample of my handwriting and the typical look of my letters.

7. What do you like the most about penpalling?

The happy flip my stomach does whenever I spot a letter in my mailbox. The time I spend reading that letter – smiling, laughing or making little comments (yes, I do that haha). The feeling of wanting to grab a pen and some paper and reply immediately, because there is so much I want to say.

I love the feeling that you get to know a person you wouldn’t have met in your life otherwise. As I already said, I reveal much more of myself and much more quickly on paper than I would in "real life". Writing real letters instead of emails is almost a lost art nowadays and I like doing something that only a few people do.

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

Only German and English. Mostly in English, it feels almost weird to write in German by now. I wrote in French in the past, but the girl and I fell apart. I could read French letters, but I don’t think I could still express myself very well.

A part of a do-it-yourself calendar I made for a friend's birthday.

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

Most of my letters are written on the sofa in my living-room, in the evening / at night, often with music and sometimes with the TV in the background. I don’t always use stationery. I like to do it, but mostly there are just 10-20 A5 sheets and 5-10 envelopes and if I already need 10 sheets or more for one letter, I get annoyed when I have all the envelopes left and no paper to go along with them. I like gel pens, but they usually die at some point and then my letter looks like a weird rainbow.

I keep all the letters I receive, it’s great to reread them sometimes years after they were written. I have a huge box full of old letters.

I always try to write back as soon as possible, but life gets in the way sometimes. Or maybe something serious is going on in my life which makes me neglect my letters for a while. I don’t write half-hearted letters while I don’t feel like it. How much I write depends on the length of the letters I received of course, but I don’t think I ever write less than 5 sheets of A5 paper (back and front).

I rarely manage to write a whole letter at once. Actually I can’t remember when I last did that. My letters are long, I’m a slow writer because of my handwriting (in the words of a friend "you don’t write, you paint your words!") and I don’t have much time, so I write whenever I can until it’s finished. Once I wrote a letter to a really, really great penpal of mine all throughout a month (it was about 40 A4 pages – back and front – long, that’s my excuse) and always wrote down the day and the time when I wrote. A bit like a diary, only that I answered my penpals questions as well of course.

Something else is that if I have a penpal in common with another pal I never mention the content of a letter I received to the other one. That’s just private. I avoid talking about my other penpals when writing letters, I mean saying "XY writes great letters" is ok, but I’d never mention private stuff.

This is my daughter Kira about to start her first school year. In Germany there is a celebration on the weekend before the first school day. All the new first years and their families sit in the schools auditorium while the headmaster says a few wise words and the children who are already in school perform a little play or sing songs to welcome the new children. In the end they meet their teacher, see their classroom and get their timetable. What Kira is holding is the so-called Schultüte, it's filled with sweets, small toys and useful things for school. It's a German tradition to give your child one and of course Kira's was handmade. ;-)

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

Weird requests from people who want to be penpals (or so they say), who doesn’t get them? Apart from the usual "hi, how r u?" messages (oh, how I love the lack of grammar) I had a girl writing to me and telling me that she joined Interpals to find a man who knew how to treat a woman and who would love her unconditionally. I was a bit taken aback. Why did she write me?! Do I look like a man? Haha.

I have also been asked by a 40+ American if I could send his daughter dresses from Europe since she was so interested in studying our fashion.

Something funny my Mexican penpal sent me was a little stamp with a turtle on it. I love turtles and collect them and she knew that of course. Under the turtle was a word in Spanish, I think she said it was a rude word for someone who is late all of the time. This stamp apparently was in use in Mexican schools in the past for children who were never on time. It made me giggle.

11. Have you met any of your penpals?

Yes, I have and it has always been a great experience. I’d never say no to meeting one of my pals. :)

First of all there is Svenja of course. I’m not sure if she counts, because I knew her as a friend before we started to write letters.

The first time I ever met a penpal that I only knew through letters was 4 years ago and thousands of kilometres away from home. I visited my penpal Usha in her country – Mauritius. We became penpals in 1998. Back then I didn’t even know where Mauritius was (don’t laugh, I know my geography… but it’s a small country, right?). We exchanged letters and got quite close.

When she got married in 2003 she even invited me, but I was doing my final exams in secondary school at the time so it was not an option. She told me that if I ever had the time + the money for the plane ticket I should come. In 2005 I did – rather spontaneously. After around 16 hours of travelling I finally met Usha. We were both so nervous and the first few minutes were a bit awkward, but we got used to each other quickly. She was great, her husband was very nice, their little son was adorable and everybody in her family was so very warm and welcoming. Kira enjoyed herself, everyone loved the little European girl and I had the month of my life. Since I stayed there for free I sometimes bought the groceries or paid for an entrance fee when we made a trip, because I didn’t want to be a burden and it was cheap for me anyway.

Kira when she was three years old. She fell asleep on a pillow in the form of a sheep during a friend's birthday party.

Usha and I became so much closer during that month and our friendship really deepened. When it was time for me to leave we both cried at the airport and I cried on the plane for as long as I could see the island (fortunately, it’s a small one :p). I really hope I’ll be able to go back one day and see them all again. I could go on for ages about that brilliant experience, but this might be getting too long. ;) Unfortunately, I only had a "normal" camera back then so I don’t have the photos on my computer and can’t share them.

Another international penpal I met was Noel from Ireland in April 2008. We met on Interpals, he wrote me a message and made me laugh (he has a great humour) and made up for all the weird messages men usually send me there. We wrote emails and a few letters in between since 2006. I didn’t go to Ireland specifically to meet him, I visited a girl I went to school with while she was staying in Dublin for half a year. Since I was already there to see Conny we agreed to meet up in Dublin one day and just explore the city together a little. I had fun that day and we quickly got over the initial shyness. We almost met up again when he was in Hamburg last year, but I couldn’t go in the end. Ah well, Ireland is not as far away as Mauritius for example. ;)

One penpal I definitely have to meet one day is Samantha from Mexico. We have exchanged letters for some years now and during the time between letters we write novel-ish emails as well, I never run out of things to tell her. She truly is like a sister in mind, better than any real sister I could have had I guess. We are so alike in many ways, from small things like having glasses but being too vain to wear them sometimes, to our music preferences or our love for arts and crafts. I don’t think there is anything I wouldn’t share with her and meeting her one day has to be possible somehow. :)

A photo of me on the train going... somewhere. I love black and white photography, that's why I chose this one.

12. Are you currently looking for more penpals?

I’m always open for new penpals, why not? If I have the feeling that I "click" with someone I find it very hard to say no. I don’t think I can take a lot more, but there’s room for a few I think. Maybe not until September, because I will be doing exams until then but I seriously hope to catch up on my letter-writing afterwards. So if anyone reads this and is interested, one way to contact me would be on Interpals.

Finally, I would like to say THANK YOU Julie for giving me the opportunity to be the "Penpal of the Week" this time!! I enjoyed reading the other interviews, it was interesting to read what others had to say about their experiences and opinions and it has been fun to share some of my views, which I hope at least some people found interesting to read. :)

Well, I'm happy that you enjoyed being Penpal of the Week, Lisa! Thank you for accepting my offer!

If anyone is interested in being featured on my blog as Penpal of the Week in the coming weeks, just reply to this post with your email address!

Julie xox


  1. Lovely interview.
    I really enjoyed reading it.

  2. That handwriting looks really pretty!

  3. she is my pallie and absolutely FAN-TA-STIC!!!

  4. For what you can glance in the picture, your handwriting is beautiful! Your friend should be right!