For the first four weeks of the semester, students corresponded with assigned pen pals from the other university exclusively through handwritten letters, mailed through the post office. During the fourth week of the project, Radford University students came to Virginia Tech to meet their pen pals and take part in a joint rehearsal. Students were asked to share their thoughts on this exercise. Some responses have been edited for length.
Note: Students were instructed to refrain from looking up their pen pal on social media until they had met in person. After the in-person meeting, many of the students joined together on social media to stay connected and to discuss the process (the instructors were not part of this online group).
“The pen pal experience was very eye opening for me. I was not used to writing and sending letters. I learned the value of building a relationship through a conversation and the patience that was required from a world of communication before cell phones.”
“It made me realize how difficult communication was before we had mobile devices because I would receive a letter from my pen pal when she had not even read my previous letter yet. It really put into context what the suffragists had to go through when communicating with each other and with politicians during the suffrage movement because they did not have instant communication like we do today.”
“Getting to know someone... before we all met for the first time definitely helped to ease any nerves.”
“It was like Christmas every Friday when I got to open another letter.”
“Waiting every week just to see what they would have to say created a healthy dose of anticipation for me. The thing is, it made me understand that with technology we can communicate so much faster!”
“I enjoyed sharing our playlists, experiences, and recipes [through our letters]. It was crazy, because the first day everyone met, it did not feel like we were meeting strangers but seeing longtime friends after time apart.”
“I learned [about them] without looking through the lens of social media. . . . I am friends with them on various social medias, but I am grateful that my first impression was through snail mail – it made for a great foundation to a friendship.”
“I enjoyed having a pen-pal more than I can express. It transported me to a time before technology... It was my first time communicating with someone solely through letters, and I got ridiculously excited every time I was about to read mine.”
“I enjoyed writing the letters so much that I am currently exchanging letters with another person in this class as a way to stay connected during quarantine.”