Sending Letters and Postcards

Dear Nora,

The longer I stay in Spain, the more aware I become of the need to also maintain healthy relationships across the ocean. It can be incredibly difficult to stay in touch with all of the friends and family that you would normally maintain relationships with in the United States. Keeping up these bonds is important because one day you'll be returning home and you don’t want friends to think you completely ignored them while you were off living your 'fabulous life abroad.' At the same time, you don’t want to miss out on once-in-a-lifetime opportunities here in Spain because you spent three hours a day Skyping with your mom, best friend, and boyfriend back home.

A postcard is a quick and simple way to show you care.

A postcard is a quick and simple way to show you care.

We’ve said it a million times, but I’ll say it again—balance is key! However, balance is difficult and means something different for everyone. With that in mind, here is my advice regarding written correspondence to help balance your relationships:

Send Letters? Yes!

Send Postcards? Yes!

Taking the time to sit down and pen out a letter to mom or dad may seem unnecessary when you can shoot them an email or Whatsapp that will arrive in an instant, but let me just be ultra-traditionalist and stay this is more important:

1.) Why write: If you have a parent who is anything like my mom, they will be sending little cards and “hellos” in the mail as soon as they get your address. Whether you are the first to ever wander so far from the nest or the second or third to put them through this separation anxiety, the reality is the same—they’re not used to having their baby so far away. They are thinking about (and probably worrying about) you 24/7. And while they probably do take comfort in the thought that you are so busy exploring and discovering a new culture that you don’t have much time to write, the short letter or personalized card from time-to-time will bring a HUGE smile to their face!

The same goes for your friends—you may be the first to study abroad and so people are very curious and intrigued to know about your lifestyle so far away. Or perhaps you have friends who have studied abroad in the past and who are a bit envious that you’re living that exciting life while they’re back to their everyday routine in the States. Whatever the situation, dropping a line affirms the fact that these friends ARE on your mind and you haven’t forgotten about them in the whirlwind of novelty your Spanish adventure has become.

2.) What to write: You don’t have to say anything awe-inspiring in your letter. I remember once writing a really long letter in which I explained little things like the persianas on my windows and how garbage pick-up and recycling worked in my city. My parents were thrilled! Why? Because those little details were mundane to me but, for them, they were intriguing differences that helped my parents picture my life 4,000 miles away and feel a part of it each time they picked the letter up.

On the flip side, be sure to ask about their lives and show interest in the events or developments you’ve missed that are important to them. While you may feel like you're leading a 'more interesting' life at the moment, friends especially can get easily turned off if you send cards and postcards that simply feel like you boasting rather than communicating. If you’re filling out a postcard from the beautiful, lively square of Plaza Mayor in Salamanca, for example, mention how you’re enjoying it and wish your friend were there to sip a sangria with you. Trust me, it’s those little details that make all the difference.

3.) When to write: I understand you may only be spending 4-5 months in sunny Spain and simply don’t want to take an hour each week to send a letter home because, let’s be honest, you probably spend a decent amount of time catching up over social media and other platforms already. You also may have a blog in which you write about your travels or daily insights. The more you already share with your followers, the more unnecessary sending letters will feel. Still, I maintain that this (arguably antiquated) method of communication is the key to balance. Many can argue that updating your blog is just as much for your own posterity purposes as your readers’ enjoyment. And sending a response to mom’s ten Whatsapps a day is simply good manners. On the other hand, the fact that you sat down to write and then obtained the proper postage to send a card or letter on your own volition is a sweet gesture that everyone will remember.

Your relationship with each of your 'people' is different, but I’ll tell you what timeline I try to live by (with lapses in consistency, of course, because we are all human)―I like to send a card/letter to my parents about once a month and a postcard to good friends twice a year. If you’re only studying abroad for a semester, you can easily get away with sending home one big batch of postcards to friends and family members (and maybe an extra card or two for the parentals). Send a card on your best friend’s birthday. Write a letter if you’re going to miss an important holiday with family. Don’t forget that at the same time you are psyched to spend Easter break in Greece, Dad’s feeling a bit depressed about not setting your seat at the dinner table.

In conclusion, it’s not actually the length or content of your letters that matter, it’s the thought that counts and assures your loved ones that they’re on your mind. And trust me, that kind of peace of mind is well worth that 1.35 € in international postage.