Stuck inside and feeling lonely at the beginning of lockdown, Ira Habiba was scrolling TikTok when she came across a pen pal site called Students of the World. Wanting to meet new people, she signed up.
“I would just, like, close my eyes and pick a random country, and then I’d pick a random person to talk to,” said the West Quincy, Massachusetts high schooler.
Pretty soon, she was chatting with people from Korea, France and Finland. They added each other on Instagram, and messaged back and forth with conversations that stretched over days and weeks. Her French pen pal would send voice messages in English, and Habiba would respond in “broken French,” she said. Her pen pal described living on a farm in the French countryside, where she would tend to horses and cows.
“For her, you know, living in the countryside, having a farm, those things are simple for her. But to me, it’s like a completely different experience,” Habiba reflected.
Not only did she learn about worlds beyond her Massachusetts suburb, but as the conversations went on, she began to feel comfortable sharing about more vulnerable experiences like her anxiety attacks or moments of emotional distress.
“You tend to trust strangers a bit more because you know that they won’t judge you,” explained Habiba. “And they would listen.”
Samantha Farrow hadn’t yet completed her freshman year at Stuyvesant High School in Brooklyn, New York when the pandemic shut down in-person classes. Continue reading