Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Thank You, Stranger: The post office and the pen friend

two women pose for a photo
Kolean Pitner and her friend Elena in front of the Italian post office where they met in 2013.
Courtesy of Kolean Pitner

It's time for another episode of Thank You, Stranger, our series about strangers helping us out or even changing our lives forever. Minneapolis resident and printmaker Kolean tells her tale of travelling to Italy and making an unexpected friend.

If this story reminds you of help or even friendship that came from a stranger, we want to hear from you! Call 612-361-1252 and leave a voicemail.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Time, friends, for another episode of Thank You, Stranger. That's our series about strangers helping us out, or even changing our lives forever. This week, we have another international story. Minneapolis resident Kolean Pitner tells her tale of traveling to Italy and making an unexpected friend.


KOLEAN PITNER: I was in Italy on a program through the University of Minnesota called Travels in Typography. And we were there to study at different printing centers and museums. And I had accumulated a lot of printing material and knew I couldn't haul it all home with me.

So I packed it up in a box and went to the Italian post office to get it sent home. And I walked into the post office, looked around, and realized, I don't speak of a word of Italian, I have no idea how to manage this, and what am I going to do?

So in a panic, I looked around and I saw this lovely young woman with a baby. I walked up to her, asked her if she spoke English, which she did, and asked her if she could point me in the right direction so I could get my package mailed. She showed me the line, but she stayed with me until we got to the front of the line and helped me through the process, which I never would have been able to navigate without her language skills.

And I was so grateful that when we were walking out, I asked her if I could get her email to write her a thank you note. Which I did. And she wrote back and said, would you be my pen friend?

And so from that moment on, we became pen pals and communicated via email for years. We would send photos back and forth, and I would send her kids Christmas presents, and we just became acquainted with one another.

Then in 2019, I had a friend who needed a companion on a trip to Italy. So I decided to go early and visit Elena and her family in Treviso because I hadn't met them in-person. And it was an absolute delight. I liked everyone in her family, and just everything about them.

So we got to know each other and we talked about, in the future, that they need to come to Minnesota. And then COVID hit. So with COVID, we decided to do Sunday Zoom calls. So during COVID, every Sunday, we would connect via Zoom, and they would help me with Italian lessons. We would do cooking lessons. I taught them how to make tacos, they taught me how to make tiramisu, and it was just so much fun!

And then last summer, in 2022, the whole family came to visit us here in Minnesota. And it was just a blast. They love canoeing, they love kayaking. We went to the Water Rats Water Skiing Show. We went to eat at all of these typical American places. We even were able to eat at Owamni, the Native American restaurant, which they were very impressed with.

It was just two weeks of such delight. It's experiences like these where I've turned strangers into friends that keeps me open to doing that sort of thing time and time again.

I just can't tell you how this has enriched my life in such a meaningful way. A random meeting in a post office, can you believe it?

CATHY WURZER: Actually, yes, yes, I can. That was Minneapolis resident and printmaker Kolean Pitner. She and her new Italian family have visited back and forth multiple times. She says she thanks her lucky stars every day that she reached out for help in the post office.

To see a photo of Kolean and her Italian friend Elena in front of the post office where they met, go to mprnews.org. And if this story reminded you of help or even friendship that came from a stranger, we want to hear from you. You can call this number. Are you ready? 612-361-1252 and leave a voicemail.

Download transcript (PDF)

Transcription services provided by 3Play Media.

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