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Teen penpals meet after years of correspondence

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An enhanced friendship and fond memories of Canadian culture were two of the treasures Judith Steenvoorde took home to Holland on Sunday after a five-week visit with penpal Janelle McQuaker of Stratton.

The two girls, both 18, had never met in person prior to Steenvoorde’s trip here last month but had corresponded by mail for more than a decade.

They had exchanged addresses back in 1987 through Stratton resident Riet Carnahan, who is Steenvoorde’s aunt and also a long-time friend of the McQuakers.

“We wrote to each other twice a month, faithfully, for 11 years,”

McQuaker said last week.

“We wrote to each other about school, our problems, guys, family, everything,” added Steenvoorde.

Her arrival here June 22 set the stage for a exhilarating visit, starting with their first-time meeting at the airport in Winnipeg.

“My plane arrived earlier than expected so I was waiting with my bags outside the airport for Janelle and [Riet],” recalled Steenvoorde. “I saw them coming, and I just left my bags there and ran to them.”

“We were screaming and she was screaming,” McQuaker laughed.

The five weeks they spent together were jam-packed with activities, including a sightseeing trip to North Dakota, a shopping spree in Thunder Bay, camping, and a slice of lake-life at the cabin.

Steenvoorde said she was most impressed by the wide expanse of the countryside here, noting in particular the greenery and abundance of lakes.

“It is less compact [here] than in Holland. There are many more trees and big lakes,” she remarked. “And there are many varieties of vegetables, and a lot of salads.”

Three of her favourite foods she enjoyed here included gravy, mashed potatoes, and Snickers bars.

Carnahan, who met her South African penpal for the first time two years ago after decades of correspondence, spent a lot of time with the two teens during their visit here.

She said her intuition had been right all along about how well the two were matched as friends.

“It has been wonderful for them. I have seen them having so much fun together,” Carnahan smiled. “I knew they would get along.”

Both girls will head into post-secondary education come September. McQuaker plans to attend cosmetology school in Red Deer, Alta. while Steenvoorde will attend college in Amsterdam to study “Mensendieck” (a popular European form of “hands-off” physiotherapy).

And they plan to keep on writing to each other.

“Oh ya, we’ll continue to write but our letters will be different now. We know more about each other and we’ve become closer friends,” reasoned McQuaker, with Steenvoorde nodding in agreement.

“It’s a totally different friendship than you’d have with someone you went to school with for 11 years,” she stressed.

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