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Women from Michigan, South America share ‘unique friendship’

By MICHELLE SWARTZ, The Monroe Evening News

LASALLE, Jan. 23, 2010 (AP): Rachel Krueger held up a stack of cards and letters she received from her pen pal about 13 years ago.

The letters were the beginning of a long-lasting friendship with Carolina Conde of Lanus, Argentina.

``I had other pen pals before but they didn't really work out, but we are around the same age and have so much in common,'' Krueger said from her LaSalle home.

Conde recently visited Krueger and her husband Robert. It was her third visit to the United States since they began writing letters to each other while in high school.

The pen pals were matched through an organization called International Youth Service. At the time, in 1997, Rachel Krueger was a senior at Monroe High School and Conde was a junior at her high school in Argentina. Conde was studying English during the initial letter-writing process. Today, the 28-year-old teaches English in Argentina.

``We began writing letters, but it was hard at first because of the language barrier,'' said Krueger. ``But we eventually learned each other's writing styles, and we found that we had a lot of similarities.''

They soon learned mailing letters overseas is not a quick process. It sometimes took up to two weeks to receive a letter. The slow postal service only allowed for one or two letters exchanged in a month.

``It takes discipline to have a pen pal because it takes time to not only get the mail but to get to know each other,'' Conde explained. ``We didn't call too much because it was really expensive.''

They exchanged mail for nearly two years before e-mail became popular. Today, they e-mail each other and communicate through Skype.

They have visited each other's hometown. In 2006, Krueger and her husband visited Lanus, which is located about 30 minutes away from Buenos Aires. She took a six-week Spanish class in preparation for the visit.

``It was so great meeting her family and friends and putting faces to the names,'' said Krueger, 29. ``We toured the city and did a lot of shopping. And we ate really good, too. The food is great there.''

Over the years, the friends have discovered similar interests in music, books and movies. They also find the differences of living in two different cultures interesting.

``The timetables here are different,'' Conde observed. ``At home, we don't eat dinner until about 9 p.m. If we go out to dinner, we could be there two to four hours. We take our time.''

She explained that her culture commonly eats four meals a day, with a breakfast-style meal around 5 p.m. The more relaxed pace in Argentina is quite different from the fast-paced mindset of Americans.

``That's one thing Rob and I took from her culture. We try to be more relaxed at dinner. When we have a crazy day, Rob will say `Let's go out Argentinian style,''' said Krueger, smiling.

During her third visit, Conde came to appreciate the winter season. ``I love the snow. I took the best pictures,'' she said.

Conde also had a chance to see how Americans celebrate Christmas and New Year's Eve.

``We celebrate Christmas and New Year's a little different in Argentina. At Christmas, we eat dinner around 9 or 10 p.m. and open gifts at 12 a.m. on the dot. We don't take turns. We open gifts all at once,'' she said. ``On New Year's Eve, people will set off fireworks and we usually stay out all night, going to friends' houses, until about 4 a.m.''

The two cultures, as well as being 5,000 miles apart, have not deterred their friendship.

``We're a part of each other's lives despite the distance,'' Krueger said. ``She's like family.''

Conde feels the same way: ``When I talk about Rachel to family and friends, I don't have to explain who she is like I did when we first became pen pals. A lot of people tell me it is a unique friendship, and it really is.''

Information from: The Monroe Evening News, http://www.monroenews.com






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