It was around late September that the International Service Avenue called for POC applications for a project that quickly caught my eye. Titled Coast to Coast, the project was supposed to be primarily focused on a Pen Pal program – with the aim of giving the Rotaract club members of RACFOSUOC a chance to connect with other Rotaract club members abroad.
The whole idea of finally being able to have a Pen Pal and making my childhood dream a reality felt exciting – a dream that was given life at the age of 9, while watching a cousin compose letters to her pen pal in Germany. Without hesitation, I applied to join the Project Organizing Committee to which I became thrilled to be a part of. After a few months of preparation, we were finally ready to commence the International Pen Pal Program, initiated with the aims of joining people across borders and shores and strengthening the ties between Rotaract clubs overseas.
After the introduction of the program, a form was put out on the RACFOSUOC WhatsApp groups for those interested in joining the Pen Pal program. We were given the liberty of selecting a pen pal from a list of Rotaractors from the overseas clubs – someone who we felt could easily connect based on the descriptions they provided about themselves. After filling out the form began what I like to call a short-but-felt-really-long wait for the letter exchange to begin.
The Pen Pal Program officially commenced on the 8th of December, starting off friendships that would thrive during the months that followed. We were asked to write to our pen pals once a week at the very least to ensure that we all made the best out of the opportunity and to allow smooth communication between the pen pals.
The theme for the first week of the letter exchange was university/college life. To break the ice, we kickstarted the letter exchange by introducing ourselves, our experiences at universities, our respective majors, and individual interests, passions, and hobbies. Finding commonality between people and being able to relate to their experiences as they share their stories is something I have come to value greatly, more so after exchanging letters with my pen pal.
The next week’s theme was more personal. Friends and family became the focal point of the letters as we appreciated the constants in our lives and the beautiful moments spent with them. The topic also veered into other more intimate aspects of our personalities – to our beliefs, our values, and opinions about various subjects.
Since Christmas was fast approaching, the theme for the following week became – not surprisingly – about Christmas. To spread the cheer of the season and to let us engage in a bit of fun and frolic, the POC members decided to organize a little riddle game for the pen pals. The riddles described the usual festive decorations that deck households during Christmas. We also exchanged Christmas greeting cards to spread the cheer with each other.
With the merriment of Christmas still hanging in the atmosphere, the dawn of the New Year soon drew near. The letters for the first week of January 2022 were all about New Year resolutions. The letters that my pen pal and I exchanged that week took a very exciting and hopeful tone while we acknowledged the many challenges 2021 brought our way. The letters spoke of hectic schedules and unfinished books that we had wanted to read that year.
The weeks that followed proved writing a letter once a week difficult as two-semester exams were but days away. Owing to this, the letter exchange was temporarily paused until all our exams were behind us on the second week of April.
To Sri Lankans, April is synonymous with Awurudu, one of the joyous times of the year for the people of our little land. Finally ending the three-month-long writing hiatus, the letter exchange recommenced for one last time on the theme of Awurudu. However, the letter I sent took a very somber note as a result of the crisis our nation plunged into. Avurudu of 2022 was, of course, not what we hoped it to be. That became the last letter I wrote during the letter exchange, and it was unfortunate to see how it had to end so soon.
What I most valued by the pen paling experience was the exposure to the perspectives of someone coming from a vastly different culture and background from mine. The feeling to be able to relate to the experience of another person going through the many hurdles that university life brings and the efforts that are taken to overcome them felt reassuring. The pen paling experience is definitely one of those indelible memories that I would cherish through the years to come, an experience for which I’m ever grateful for having.
Nourished by vulnerability, trust, mutual respect, and a deep care for the humanity of another, friendships are the flowers that add color and fragrance to the vast fields of life. Pen pals are like flowers of a more vibrant shade of color and a more distinct fragrance for they are nourished by the rich blend of cultures, beliefs, attitudes, and aspirations. Friendships – including pen pals – are the very foundations on which we build social cohesion and unity, and they are the pillars of peace.
By Rtr. Yowan Dias