02/20/01
On the Internet: International Friendship Week
    by Heather Tomasello

This is International Friendship Week. What can be more thrilling than receiving a postcard from a friend from another country thousands of miles away, with its mysterious journey and exotic postage stamps? For years, when I was a teenager, I exchanged letters with Max Geier, a boy my age who lived in Munich, Germany. We met when he stayed with my grandmother for a year as an exchange student and afterwards I eagerly awaited his notes and postcards of Oktoberfest and the Rhine. Sometimes these letters took over a month to arrive.

Nowadays, children can communicate instantaneously with pen pals (or, should I say keyboard pals?) around the world through the Internet. An excellent site for children in search of an international friend is e-pals.com. This website has constructed itself as an interactive global classroom for educators and students around the world and offers instructions in English, French, Spanish, German and Portuguese. Children can locate an e-mail pal based upon a region of the world, language, or interest. The most fascinating feature of the website is its translation service that breaks down language barriers. For example, a child who does not speak Spanish can still communicate with a student from Colombia by selecting the Spanish to English translator. The site is very child-friendly and safe -- for a child under the age of 13 to join they must mail in a signed parental consent form, and a parent is notified by e-mail when a child first uses the site.

Children who prefer the excitement and stamp collecting opportunity of an old-fashioned, snailmail pen pal can still use the Internet to be matched with a friend. The Student Letter Exchange, the world's largest Pen Pal organization, offers online registration. The Student Letter Exchange matches children from ages 9 to 18 with pals based upon age and gender; all are English-speaking. The organization provides pals with postage information and other helpful advice to assure a problem-free letter exchange.

Those not yet old enough to write a pen pal can still enjoy interactive learning about people and places around the world through Dorling Kindersley Multimedia's CD-ROM, "My First Amazing World Explorer." Children select a part of the world they want to explore or may choose a topic, such as capital cities, famous places, natural wonders, or plants and animals. Landmarks are animated -- Flamenco dancers in Spain dance, a shuttle takes off from Cape Kennedy, and lions in the African plains roar. Children can make and print their own postcards to themselves from the different places that they "visit."

As technology makes our world increasingly smaller and closer, it is especially fitting that it also creates greater opportunities for friendship between children of every tongue, tribe, and nation to blossom.

The Student Letter Exchange Site: http://www.pen-pal.com
The E-mail Pen Pals Site: http://www.epals.com

Copyright 2001 by Heather Tomasello

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Wednesday, 09-Apr-2003 23:13:13 EDT


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