The University of Connecticut student-led organization, Huskies International, has created a pen pal program that allows UConn students living in different geographical locations to connect with each other, Sharon Spaulding, Huskies International president and sixth-semester mathematics major, said.
Spaulding said the club has a tradition of pairing up international/exchange members with domestic members at the start of every semester in a program called Husky Mates. For this semester, they are expanding the program to all UConn students, including those at different UConn campuses and those affiliated with UConn through an exchange program.
“It’s an important part of our goal, which is to provide ways for international and domestic students to connect with one another on campus in ways that aren’t primarily academic or school-related,” Spaulding said. “We thought that during this time, it’d be fun to extend the idea of Husky Mates beyond students who are involved with Huskies International to other UConn students who might want opportunities to connect with other students in different places.”
Once interested students fill out a Google poll to be added to the pen pal program, they are allowed to pick their own pen pal, or even multiple pals, Spaulding said. In a big Google doc, people can make introductory posts saying a bit about themselves and contact information. Others can comment saying they have similar interests and want to connect. From there, it’s all up to the pals.
“We have rules about respecting peoples’ privacy and only contacting them with what info they’ve put down, being respectful and courteous, no hate speech and so on, but other than that we don’t have any rules about what people have to talk about or how they have to communicate, we thought it’d be fun to leave that up to them,” Spaulding said. “We do have an option for people to be randomly assigned a pen pal as well, if they’d prefer.”
Spaulding said Huskies International is planning a virtual get-together with all of the pen pals in the program so people can have another opportunity to meet one another.
“We’re trying to coordinate it so that as many people can come as possible, even with all the different time zones people may be in,” she said.
So far, the pen pals have been writing lots of introductory posts, Spaulding said. She said she has seen lots of activity on the Google doc. Personally, she has been writing emails to her pen pal.
“I have a pen pal who is an exchange student taking UConn classes this semester from her home country, and we’ve been sending each other longer letter-style emails just getting to know each other, comparing what the pandemic has been like for each of us in our own countries, and sharing poems,” she said.
Spaulding said UConn has many different worlds of people and it is a key part of the college experience to meet individuals who perceive the world differently.
“I think one of the best parts of college is finding and creating your own smaller worlds inside of that larger community but I also think that it’s essential to connect with people outside of that in meaningful ways,” Spaulding said. “I actually think it’s a wasted opportunity to be a part of a diverse community and to not interact with people who might spend their time differently, think differently, or who have had very different life experiences from you!”
Caitlin Jones, Huskies International treasurer and fourth-semester pathobiology major, said the pen pal program allows students to interact with new people that they might not have otherwise due to the pandemic.
“In my opinion, it is so important for students to have somewhere to be able to connect with each other especially in times like this,” Jones said. Huskies International has always focused on bringing students together and I am so excited to be a part of the extension we have created this semester to continue to connect students, despite not having everyone meeting on campus.”
For students who are still interested in joining the pen pal program, they can still do so by filling out the Google poll featured in this week’s Daily Digests, Spaulding said.