Sending gifts abroad to make international friendships for kids (and encourage that love of travel)

Last week, my son and I headed down to the local post office and sent a package to Canada. We had been preparing for that moment for a good week or so, and he knew from the map on our wall exactly where Canada was (he loves that it is pink on the map, like Australia, although he doesn’t understand the whole Commonwealth countries are mostly pink thing. Then again, neither do I! Why pink?)

International friendships for kids

We were sending this package because this year we took part in Childhood 101’s International Kids’ Gift Exchange. Christie from Childhood 101 happens to be a Perth blogger too, and one of the few parenting bloggers I ever read, so when I saw that she’d set up an exchange for kids from around the world to send small gifts to each other and potentially start up an international friendship, I didn’t hesitate for a second to sign up – it was perfect for my little man.

International friendships for kids (I had ’em too!)

Back in my day – those days before internet or, pretty much, before computers – I had a few penpals from various places and I just loved it. One was a girl named Sara who we met in a caravan park somewhere in Europe (she was from Florida); I wrote to a girl in England too, and a few in Australia.

It would be lovely if our gift exchange turned into an international friendship for my son – fingers crossed! We were matched with a boy in Vancouver, Canada (coincidentally, the only part of Canada I’ve ever visited. So far, anyway!) and his parents had noted that he loves cars or anything with wheels, and building things, and creating art, all of which sound just like my boy. The instructions in the exchange were to purchase a small gift (a maximum of $15, and not too heavy so the postage didn’t send us broke!) and include a letter or drawing or more with the gift.

The questions children ask their international friends

I set my son the task of drawing a picture for his new Canadian friend and although I didn’t want to stifle his creativity too much, I did suggest he draw something Australian, so we ended up with a kangaroo (kind of) and then some of his usual favourite artwork – rubbish trucks and construction vehicles. He also helped me pick some photos of him (no surprise he chose one of him in his Octonaut pyjamas next to our rubbish bins, combining two of his favourite things of all).

International friendships for kids letter and drawing

Australian colouring book, photos and drawings heading to Canada

The fun part for me was asking him what he wanted to tell and ask this Canadian boy. He started off with a description of the rubbish bins in the photo, and then he wanted to know if the Octonauts are famous in Canada. We sent a small toy tractor as part of the gift and so he wanted to explain that the tractor was the same one as his grandfather’s. Only smaller, of course!

Why I love the idea of making international friendships for kids

One of the sweetest moments of our travelling life happened towards the end of a five-day stay in Trnava with my beautiful Slovak friend and her daughter. My son was three at the time, and of course didn’t speak any Slovak, and her daughter was six. They were both pretty shy around each other the first few days, and hardly surprising given there was a language barrier, an age gap which is pretty significant at that age, and a gender difference; but by the last couple of days, they had figured out how to communicate and how to have so much fun together, and I know my son learnt so much from making that friendship.

On top of that, I know how much I’ve learnt from my international friends. Navigating language and cultural differences adds such an interesting extra layer to friendships and I want my son to know something of that, too. The fact that it is probably easier for him to do that at a much younger age than I did is an added bonus.

And an international penpal? Well, my son loves getting stuff in the mail. (So did I until my mail became mostly bills. Although nowadays it is often online shopping, which is exciting too!) What better than getting a fun letter or picture with unusual stamps on the envelope and all kinds of important information, like whether or not the Octonauts are famous in Canada?

Of course, after we had posted our parcel to Canada and my son said to me, “Maybe one day we can go to Vancouver and meet him!” – without any prompting from me – well, my heart really sang.

Your international friendships …

Did you have any penpals as a kid? Or what do you value most about your international friendships today? I have thought a lot about my friends abroad recently and have a few posts and even a challenge coming up on that topic soon … watch this space!

PS: If you have a son around 4.5 years old who loves rubbish trucks too, email me and I’ll introduce him to mine!


  1. I am so glad this has been such a positive, fun learning experience for your family. Makes all the time it took to match children with similar interests so worthwhile 🙂

  2. That is a fabulous idea – I’m really sorry I wasn’t aware of Christie’s initiative sooner. My 9 yo would have loved to have found a real penpal 🙂

  3. What an absolutely gorgeous idea. xx

  4. I LOVE this idea, so cool! x


  1. […] Sending gifts abroad to make international friendships for kids (and encourage that love of travel) – such a cool idea from Amanda at I’m not a ballerina. […]

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