Pictured are Teresa Jordan and Sharon Van Aalst at the Joshua Tree National Park in California earlier this month. Photo Provided
Pictured are Teresa Jordan and Sharon Van Aalst at the Joshua Tree National Park in California earlier this month. Photo Provided
What started off as pen pals from across the world turned into friendship of 45 years for two women.

Teresa Jordan, Claypool, said there was an after-school program that some times aired on Saturdays called “The Big Blue Marble” and it would feature kids from other countries. At the end of the show, if someone wanted to be a pen pal, they were encouraged to write to the show, so Jordan did. She thinks she had to fill out her name, age and a topic to write about and pen pals were matched up.

Sharon Van Aalst, of Auckland, New Zealand, said the way she was paired up with Jordan was through a comic or magazine. Van Aalst said she may have had to provide a date of birth because she and Jordan are exactly one month apart in age.

Jordan said each of them received each other’s information and it was up to them to take it further.

Jordan said when the two first started writing each other, she used something called rice paper. When the rice paper was folded, it would be used as the envelope as well as the letter. The letter would take two months sometimes for Van Aalst to get what Jordan wrote and another two months for Jordan to get a response.

“You had to be really patient in getting a response,” Jordan said, noting things have changed over the past 45 years. “And now we can do a Messenger on Facebook and communicate immediately. We did evolve with all that through email. We did, all of a sudden, realize we could call each other, but it was extremely expensive. It was over a dollar a minute. And so I would have set a timer. And so it was like, set the timer and then you knew you could only talk for that amount of time.”

When they started writing each other, they started talking about things like sports, boys and school since they were just 12.

Jordan said she and Van Aalst found they had a lot of common interests, as well as some diverse interests. Van Aalst said some of the common interests include shopping and a love of animals. Jordan added in the love of chocolate and the beach.

Van Aalst said the pair have been really good at keeping in contact.

“And I guess being of the same age, we’re going through similar things at similar times,” she said.

Jordan also said being so far away, the two felt they could tell each other anything and they didn’t have to worry about the secret being spilled. “And so you learn you can really say anything and know you can get it off your chest. It’s almost like a diary.”

Jordan said the two can almost be like sisters because there are so many similarities. Most of the time, Van Aalst said they get on with their own lives, but it’s so easy to message each other. After not seeing each other for several months or years apart, Jordan said they just pick up where they left off. Van Aalst said she thinks that’s a sign of a good friendship.

Van Aalst also likes to travel. Since New Zealand is at the bottom of the world, you have to jump on a plane to go anywhere. And her sister-in-law lives in Philadelphia, for her and her husband to come to the United States isn’t that much of a difficulty, even though it’s a long way, she said.

The two have met up with each other several times, including four times in Maui and Van Aalst has been to Jordan’s house two or three times. They also met up at Niagara Falls. The most recent meet-up was earlier in July in California.

They said a Maui trip got cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first time they met up was in Maui when Jordan’s daughter was 9 months old in summer 1996. Van Aalst has a son that is a little older than Jordan’s son and they both paired off “quite nicely,” Jordan said.

Some of the things they’ve gone to together includes Farmers Market, an aerial tram, going to the Joshua National Park and shopping.

Van Aalst said by having a pen pal, you can learn about different cultures and what other people of a similar age are experiencing in a different part of the world. Jordan said so many times, sometimes some people don’t realize the true differences or similarities in other cultures. Being pen pals with Van Aalst made the world a little smaller for Jordan.

Jordan said she loves learning about a different government system and how other places work and work well and it doesn’t have to be the same as another country.

Van Aalst said she grew up in New Zealand’s biggest city while Jordan grew up in the country, so Van Aalst was able to learn about growing up in the country.