Finding a friend through a love of letters

A student reflects on her love of putting pen to paper and the excitement of corresponding with a pen pal in Chicago.


I was just about to walk back into my room when I heard the sound of the mail slot on my front door open and then shut.

“Siani, mail came for you!” my mother yelled out.

I rushed downstairs to find an envelope waiting for me. It was from my pen pal, Jasper, in Chicago.

We had followed each other on the social networking site Tumblr for quite some time, and after seeing other people post online about having pen pals, we thought we would give it a try.

In her first letter to me, Jasper wrote:

“The idea of having a pen pal seemed so romantic to me. Even if there’s no love letters exchanged and the correspondents aren’t lovers, there’s something so intimate about writing a letter. I love the modern world, but some things are beautifully old-fashioned.”

I felt the same, although my love of letters wasn’t new. I’m a sentimental person, and I have always loved writing my feelings down on paper or penning a personal note to a close friend.

When I graduated high school, I even hand-wrote a letter for each of my friends detailing our memories together and wishing them luck as we parted ways to go to different schools. Each letter was personalized with stories and doodles, and my friends seemed to really appreciate them.

But mine and Jasper’s letters were different. We weren’t reflecting on a shared past, but instead were getting to know each other for the first time.

I learned several fun facts about Jasper from our correspondence. She prefers writing prose over poetry, but find poets fascinating, and she believes the roof deck on her building is one of the loveliest places in the world. When she’s older, she wants to adopt teenagers so they don’t face adversity as they age out of the system.

I also learned a lot about Chicago, too — a city I have never even visited. It’s a lot like Philadelphia actually, with neighborhoods each dominated by a particular ethnic group. There’s even an area there called the Gold Coast that houses families that come from old money. Jasper told me she likes to take long walks downtown on State Street and Michigan Avenue. These streets are mostly filled with stores like the Water Tower Mall and tourist stops like the big metal bean often frequented by tourists. Everything’s more expensive downtown, Jasper said, but Chicago is just generally expensive.

Her words helped me glimpse into her life and imagine the city she calls home. I hoped my words did the same for her.

In my letters, I described how my favorite season is spring, but I love Philadelphia in the winter because everyone is so excited for Christmas. I shared how my namesake comes from Siani Lee, who was a journalist, and how that’s a funny coincidence because I’m studying journalism too. I update Jasper on how college is going so far — sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not.

I love sharing these small details in my letters and that personal connection is why I like letter writing. The digital age makes things easier to do, but it’s nice to have something that you can hold in your hand that someone took the time to make. From the word choice to the type of paper it’s written on, everything is thought out and special.

The contents in each envelope feel like a personal secret. Even if Jasper and I contact each other outside of our letters, we don’t talk about what we’re going to write. I’m one who can’t help but share spoilers, but when it comes to these letters, I keep my mouth shut. I love the feeling of anticipation as I wait each passing day wondering if I’m going to receive a letter that afternoon.

Would it just be a letter? Or would I receive a personally made short-story, like the one Jasper wrote about a missing girl who didn’t want to be found? What about stickers? Or a playlist? Or Polaroids so I could share in a fond memory with her?

The last time Jasper and I corresponded was mid-September, and I’m currently waiting for her to mail her next letter. While it may be strange to feel close to people you’ve never met and places you’ve never been, I always feel like I have a piece of Chicago and Jasper with me when I think about our letters. And I can’t wait until the next time I come home to find one waiting for me.

Siani Colón can be reached at

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