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International pen pals from 13 years ago end up in same program at Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook

Heather Spicer, left, of Pasadena and Melissa Hamilton of Belize connected as pen pals some 13 years ago. They met in person three years ago when by chance they ended up at the same program at Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook.
Heather Spicer, left, of Pasadena and Melissa Hamilton of Belize connected as pen pals some 13 years ago. They met in person three years ago when by chance they ended up at the same program at Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook. - Diane Crocker
CORNER BROOK, N.L. —

What are the chances that two young girls living a world apart who became pen pals for a short time would one day be studying in the same program at the same university?

That’s exactly what happened to Heather Spicer of Pasadena and Melissa Hamilton of Belize.

The two are now masters students in the boreal ecosystems and agricultural sciences program at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland in Corner Brook.

Spicer, 23, was born and spent her early years in Mississauga, Ont.

About 13 years ago, during the 2005-06 school year, she was a Grade 5 student at Ashgrove Public School in Mississauga.

One of the teachers at her school, she thinks was a Mrs. Hayes, had spent some time in Belize and before returning to Canada came up with the idea of doing a pen pal project.

Heather Spicer of Pasadena kept the letters she received from her Belizean pen pal, Melissa Hamilton.
Heather Spicer of Pasadena kept the letters she received from her Belizean pen pal, Melissa Hamilton.

She had the 42 students in her Belize class write letters, one of those students was Hamilton, and brought them back to Ashgrove.

She then told her Canadian students about her trip and life in Belize and enlisted them to become pen pals with the kids from Belize.

The pen pals were randomly assigned.

“But I remember mine was Melissa Hamilton,” said Spicer.

The initial letter was addressed: “Dear Penpal.”

Spicer remembers writing back and sending a picture of herself to her new friend.

“Once we sent them off we got really excited and wanted to do more than just writing letters,” she said.

The class started a “You Better Belize It” campaign and sold rubber bracelets (she still has one) with the slogan on it. The class also held some bake sales and raised money at parent nights to come up with money to mail their next letters and to send some school supplies.

Spicer still has the three letters she received from Hamilton and, as she looked over one, said her pen pal wrote about Belize, her family and field trips she went on. In one, Hamilton wrote that she loved that Spicer had written to her about sports in Canada because she loves sports. She also wrote that she wanted to meet Spicer.

Spicer said it was really interesting, because her class was doing a unit on culture and she got to learn things about Belize.

But what was even more cool for her was that the next letter no longer had that generic greeting.

“It turned into my friend Heather and I’m sure I wrote my friend Melissa.”

Hamilton also personalized the letters with drawings and bright colours.

Spicer got three letters from Hamilton and knows she wrote two back. She started a third one that never got mailed and still has a bracelet made out of beads with Hamilton’s name on it that she had intended to send her.

Hamilton, 23, was about eight years old at the time and in Standard 3, the equivalent of Grade 5, at Grace Primary School in her hometown of Belize City.

She said the teacher, who she remembers as Mrs. H, was a temporary teacher at her school.

“I initially wrote this letter to whoever my pen pal would have been. Basically, trying to make a friendship, a connection with someone I didn’t know, a stranger,” she said.

“And I remember being so excited,” she said of getting letters back.

In one, she told of a field trip to the Mayan Ruins and visiting in iguana farm.

“I remember drawing the Mayan Ruins on the back of the letter.”

When the school year ended, so did the letters.

Fast forward to February 2016, Spicer is now living in Newfoundland and in her third year of the environmental science program at Grenfell. She also co-ordinating the Let’s Talk Science program and one day Hamilton, who had just come to the university in the second year of the same program, signed up to volunteer.

Spicer has a thing with remembering names and when she saw Hamilton’s something clicked.

After making the connection and thinking she couldn’t not ask, she later approached Hamilton in one of their classes.

“I had to know,” said Spicer.

When she showed her the letters, Hamilton said “it was just so crazy.”

And it came at a time when Hamilton was questioning why she moved here.

“So, I took this as confirmation … OK, thank you God, this is confirmation I’m supposed to be here,” she said.

Since then the two have formed a friendship.

“I feel like we have so many things that we share in common, like we can relate in that regard. I think a friendship is easy,” said Hamilton.

Ending up in the masters program together is another twist to their story.

Applying to the program was something that neither knew the other was doing. But not only are they in the same program again, they also have the same supervisor.

“Like, what are the chances?” said Hamilton.


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