I inherited my brother’s stamp collection when I was 12. He had graduated from college (the university) and as a direct result, also from some hobbies of his, and he had passed on to me his precious and extensive stamp collection. I was ecstatic. I was excited about knowing all these countries and their histories, their culture, and I flipped through giant world atlases and thick geography books. I spent hours organizing and re-organizing the collection in various albums. Sometimes I organized them according to countries, and sometimes according to themes. I loved philately.

I thought about ways on how to add stamps to my collection. I joined a philately club in the city and combed book stores and specialty stores for more stamps. One of my aunts lived in Italy and we always had letters coming from Italy and I added those to my collection. And then it came to me – what better way to add stamps but to receive letters! I only didn’t get stamps, I also got friends!

I signed up for the International Youth Service (IYS) – a service I found through some clubs in my high school in Naga City.

“IYS (International Youth Service), founded in 1952 and based in Turku (Finland), was an internacional penfriend organization which arranged foreign penfriends for children and teenagers between 10 and 20 years of age. In exchange of a fee per address, IYS provided addresses of one or more penfriends (matched in age, country, interests, language abilities… through a computer system). Sadly, IYS closed down in 2008 as this Finnish firm couldn’t compete with the communication through the Internet.”

I remember being 13 and holding this form. I filled it up, checked the boxes with the names of the countries I wanted to have pen friends from, and mailed it to Finland. Basically, I checked the countries where I had wanted to get stamps from, and have some unique friends from – like Brazil because to my 13-year old self Brazil sounded far, far away and totally exotic! (Heck, to my 31-year old self, Brazil still sounds far, far away and totally exotic! :P)  I also checked the box for Thailand because the Miss Universe Pageant was held in the Philippines in 1994, I had loved Miss Thailand and thought Thais were beautiful. 😉