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  • Writer's pictureKris Freudenthal

Pen Pal Tips

Updated: Feb 8, 2019

If you follow me on social media, you may have seen several posts about an idea I had to encourage my English lessons with the kids at Kings College. I thought it would be a lot of fun to start a pen pal program with the kids so that they can not only work on their writing skills, but also learn about the world outside of their own community. And the response from my friends and family was fantastic! By the end of the day, I had enough pen pal partners to do not only all three of my English classes, but 1 more class at the school! Altogether, there are 85 kids who will be partnered with someone (most in America) and will have the chance to get to know each other, get extra love and encouragement, and get to know more than they could have known any other way! And I am THRILLED!!

The kids found out about this project this week and wrote their first letters to their pen pals. I told them, and I'll tell you now, that I'm going to be reading each and every letter that goes out of King's College, as well as each one that comes in. I just want to make sure there is a level of appropriateness on both sides. The first letters will be mailed out this week (minus 21 kids in the newly added class, as they haven't started writing their letters yet). And the kids are so excited to hear back from their new friends! If you are one of them, THANK YOU!!!

In researching this idea I found some great tips online, particularly from Compassion International, about what you should and should not include in an international letter to children. Below are some tips I compiled from several sites. I hope you find them helpful:

Quick info about SA life (to explain some things in the kids' letters):

* We're in the Southern Hemisphere. So the weather is opposite from the US. It's summer here now.

* We are about 8-10 hours ahead of the US in terms of timezone. So the kids may say things like "it's night time there..." etc. They're talking about how it's night time in the US when we are in class working on our letters.

* The kids love "pies." But these are not the pies you're familiar with in the US. These are meat pies like chicken and mushroom or steak and kidney pies. They are similar to what we call "pot pie" in the States, but without the veggies.

* The kids do have access to TV, but very limited on options. Most of the kids only have the basic 4-5 tv channels. So they don't see a lot of the same shows you would see in the States. They do, however, know who Judge Judy is, as the adults in the community love her! LOL! They do get to see WWE wrestling on TV. So some of the boys may refer to this. If you have any interest in this, please feel free to talk with them about it. They LOVE it!

* When they refer to "projects" at school, this is the same as what we would call clubs or after-school activities. It's things like sports, chess, computers, etc.

* We don't have a movie theater here in town. So the only movies they are familiar with are the ones we show at school, or the ones they play on Sunday night on TV (older US films).

* We do live on the coast here. So the kids have free access to the beach. They will talk with you about swimming and surfing. Only some of the kids are in the surfing project (club) after school. This is a charity in town that teaches our kids for free. Others who are referring to swimming actually mean just splashing in the water. It's not really swimming as most of you are familiar with.

* They call me Miss F. So if you see reference to that name, that's me. They have a full-time teacher as well that they will mention. She has them all week. I just have them for one or two class periods a week. They may also refer to me as Kris, as that's what I'm called in the community. They have a fascination with my last name (they call it surname here), so you may see them write it a few times in their letters. They love to show off that they can spell it. LOL!

* I've included a quick snapshot of your pen pal in their first letter. I promised the kids that I'll bring my "real camera" to school soon and take nice pics for you all. This was just a quick one in class. I apologize for the boys who didn't smile. Apparently it's not cool to smile in photos. I'll try to get them laughing next time.

* They use British English and the metric system for math/measurements. They also use the Celsius system for temperatures. Just FYI.

* Some of them are very good at writing in English, some of them struggle. So your letters may be long or they may be short. When you write back, feel free to ask them lots of questions to encourage them to write more and more each time.

Speaking of which, below are some tips I found online that may be helpful in writing back to your pen pal. I didn't write these comments but I thought they were spot on:

Suggestions for writing letters to your SA pen pal:

Topics to write about:

· Your family

o Talk about your children, parents, cousins, etc. Tell stories about family members and friends, and tell him or her why you’re thankful for them.

· Your pets

o I know that my dogs are like family to my husband and me. Share pictures of your pets, things they like to do (go to the park or play fetch), and your favorite memories of having them as part of your household

· Your community, state, and country

o Share educational and fun information about where you live. Be descriptive and send photos if you have some.

· Your favorite things

· Encouragement

o It may seem like you aren’t doing much, but you are! Your words of encouragement provide hope and fill the child you write to with love

· Holidays and traditions

o Tell him or her how you celebrate Christmas or why Easter is such a big deal to your family. Share Fourth of July memories and write about the history of the holiday.

· School and work

o As you want to know what he or she is learning at school, the child or teen you sponsor wants to know what you are learning at school or what your job is like. You might even find out you share a common interest.

· Ask questions

· Share your photos

Topics to avoid:

· Money

o Don’t talk to the child you sponsor about money. You both come from very different places. This topic won’t bring children joy, but it could promote jealousy and, possibly, anger.

· Food

o Have you ever thought about what he or she eats? Definitely not the same things, same amount or variety of foods that you do. If you want to write about food, think of describing the type of food or family traditions around the food instead of how much, how often or at what restaurants you eat it.

· Your home or belongings

o Don’t talk about the size of your home or that you have a car (or multiple). Be cautious when talking about things you own.

· Inappropriate pictures

o While that family picture at the water park may be the “best one you’ve taken in years,” the bathing suits may be quite a shock. Also, try not to send pictures of your home or belongings.

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