Writing Back opens to international students

Writing Back

This award-winning project, which sees School of English students become pen pals with older local residents, is opening to international students for the first time thanks to additional funding.

Writing Back was established in 2014 as a method of tackling loneliness in both participant groups while also celebrating the University's extensive Special Collections. Students from the School of English write to their pen pals with personal news but also share items from the archives, such as historical photographs.

By including international students, the project hopes to overcome any potential language barriers and thereby reach even more older people in the local area who are lonely or socially isolated. So far more than 30 international students from a range of different countries have signed up to participate. 

Indian student Ankita Sharma has been motivated to take part by her own experience as an international student, saying "I would love to connect with as many people as possible because communication with my family and friends back home is often much less than expected or cannot be scheduled for many days, mainly because of the time difference. Letter writing is a practice that should be kept alive even though we live in a digital world and talking with someone is just a click away."

Yi-Ping Hu, who comes from Taiwan, has become involved in the project in memory of her grandparents. "I still remember how happy they were every time I visited them" she said, "Company is the best medicine to cure their loneliness."

Melissa Morgan from California holds a similar view, stating, "I believe very strongly in the importance of intergenerational connections and the benefit they are to both older and younger demographics. As an undergraduate, I used to volunteer regularly at a rehabilitation center for the elderly, and I saw how much even small, simple human connections and interactions can mean to someone who is older, often without much family left, and who is faced with long days devoid of much variation or interaction."

Dr Georgina Binnie, who founded the project, said of the development, "Part of the reason we’re starting the new project is to diversify Writing Back, but it is also to appeal to older people in Yorkshire who may not have English as their first language and are looking to engage with students, but may have been put off by the language barrier."

"The focus of Writing Back has always been on preventing loneliness, and for our international students, who may be away from home for the first time in an unfamiliar country, it’s something they want to do for themselves. It’s also a chance to learn more about the Yorkshire heritage and culture."

The project is always keen to hear from people interested in taking part, and is now particularly seeking international students from the School of English or older local residents who might benefit from an international pen pal. To refer someone or get involved yourself please get in touch.