The form you see here particularly interests me because it dates from 1986, during the Cold War, before the Eastern Bloc countries were open to outsiders. What a great day it was, when I received my first IYS form listing Russia and other formerly closed nations! Meanwhile, one of my German penpals, from Berlin, recounted her participation in an elated, all-night street party when the Berlin Wall fell. World events took on a personal significance.
Pictured above is the kindly letter they included, whenever this happened. I especially like the graphic, which expressed just how disappointed I felt, whenever my new penpal didn't work out.
I read and dreamed over IYS forms so much, that I internalized their country codes - and I still use them, more than 30 years later, as shorthand for the nations' names. (I also passed them on to my husband, Steve, when he designed my PenPalPro database, to keep track of when I receive and send letters, along with addresses, important dates, etc. So the codes are now en-coded in software, too!) Beneath the country codes, in the yellow box, are the details on my new penpal. You can see she is female, born in '73, then her interest codes are listed, plus her name and address. I'm glad I kept this response form, as I began writing Tanja in 1991, after after a year-long, introductory German language course during my first year at university. I wanted to practice my newfound German skills, limited though they were, and to meet someone from the country whose language fascinated me. Ten years later, she and her husband came to visit us in Canada. And we're still in touch now, sharing stories of family life, careers and vacations.
Several more of my long-standing penpal friendships came from IYS, too. My relationship with my Swedish friend, Cecilia - whom I now consider a sister - is one of them. We first met through snail mail more than 30 years ago. Since then, we've met in person four times, she attended our wedding, and our children even know each other now. I'm grateful for the role of IYS in my life - I wouldn't be who I am today, without their influence. Even our daughter's name is the result of penpal influence - but that's a story for another day.
Does anyone else out there remember IYS with fondness? What are your stories? And have you found new organizations that rival their gracious yet efficient service?
Over the coming weeks, I'll keep researching and sharing what I know about other penpal organizations. But for now - thank you, IYS!