Travel Diplomacy

Making friends: my Greek penpal

Pro Tip

Making friends seems like an easy task when you’re an outgoing person and – perhaps more importantly – you speak the same language. That was not the case for 8-years-old me: even though I’ve never been a shy kid, my parents’ decision to move me from my “comfort zone” – the Italian elementary school I had been attending since 1st Grade – to unknown territory – the new English International School they had decided to send me to after three years of bonding with my classmates – came as quite a shock. Especially since I knew seriously little English. I was at “the pen is on the table” level. Something had to be done.

The year was 2004 when I subscribed to PenPal International. I thought writing letters would be the best way to improve my English, and it was. I really enjoyed coming back home from school everyday and checking the mail to see if there was any letter for me. Actually, it was way more than that: of course I got to “meet” many people from all over the world, answering all their questions about Italy and learning about their culture – I’ll never forget that evangelical girl who was totally convinced that the Catholic chruch wasn’t part of Christianity – but almost all of them eventually disappeared into thin air after a few letters. Except from one. 

12036801_10207412738377817_1710475335693568655_nMyrto and I clicked instantly: we were the same age, we both didn’t speak perfect English, we both came from Mediterranean countries – she’s Greek – and she has the name of a plant, just like me. We were 8 years old and the world seemed wonderful and magical, we dressed as our mothers told us and we believed in fairies. We shared recipes for love potions to have the boys we liked notice us and we had this little shared diary where we would write about everything that happened to us and then send it to the other with the next letter.

Then we grew up and we were teenagers. She told me about her first kiss, I told her about my first boyfriend. She wrote about her first music concerts and I answered with my trips without my parents, exploring the world. We were there for each other, kilometers apart, year after year. We grew up together. We eventually stopped sending letters by mail and started sharing stuff on our Facebook profiles. And it was great.

All of a sudden we were off to university, 12 years had passed and we were still sharing secrets like it was the first day. I was planning a trip to Paris with some friends from university, it was my first time there, and a great experience to cross off my to-do list. I told her I was going and she asked me: “when?”. And there we met. She took her plane for Athens and I took mine from Venice and we met in the Ville Lumiére. We first saw each other in person after years and years of letters. And it was like we had known each other since forever…because we had. 

After that week flew by, I saw her once again in Athens some months after, for her birthday. But that story’s for another time.

That's Myrto and I in a really bad but somehow amazing picture, our first night in Paris

That’s Myrto and I in a really bad but somehow amazing picture, our first night in Paris

P.S.

Myrto actually takes some really great pictures. You can find her work on Facebook (Myrtoi) or Instagram (@myrtoi).

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2 thoughts on “Making friends: my Greek penpal

  1. Maruša

    Wow, what a great, heart-warming story. I also had pen-pals when I was younger, but none of them had such a crazy long follow-up! I’m eager to find out what happened after the meeting in Athens 😉

  2. Lauren

    That is so awesome! I always wanted to do that as a kid, but I was also into a million different things so never happened. What a lovely little story.

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