The Long-Awaited Pen-Pal Meeting:
The story of how I got a free place to live for 1 month.
When I was 7 years old, I had a pen-pal named Isabel. Isabel lives in Germany, while I live across the ocean in Canada. This connection was set up by our mothers, who are distantly related (third or fourth cousins), which makes Isabel and I kind of related. We would write to each other whenever we had the chance for a few years. However, as the years went by we didn’t keep in touch and I lost contact with Isabel.
With the term rapidly coming to a close, I realised I desperately wanted to travel in Europe over the Easter break. However, being an exchange student, I am on a tight budget and travelling can be very expensive. Transportation, food, activities, and accommodation can really add up. So I thought to myself, how can I live in Europe for a month without having to pay anything at all? I thought immediately of my childhood pen-pal, Isabel.
In the first behaviour change lecture, the topic was “just asking”. We discussed how people underestimate how often someone will say “yes”, you just have to ask (Flynn & Lake, 2008). Inspired by this, I found Isabel on Facebook and sent her a message. I started with re-introducing myself, as I hadn’t spoken to her in a very long time.
After a quick look at her Facebook page, I discovered that Isabel attends university in Germany. I also discovered that she likes to travel, as she had posted many pictures from recently studying abroad in Spain. This is very similar to my situation, as I have been posting pictures from my travels and am currently on exchange. I told her that I’m currently studying in England and I will have the opportunity to do some more travelling at the end of term, which is exactly what she did a few months ago. By saying this, I was abiding by the perceived similarity theory (Tidwell et al., 2013). Research suggests that if a person thinks someone is similar to them, they are more likely to like them (and therefore help them) (Tidwell et al., 2013). In one study, participants were more likely to give money to a stranger who identified as being a part of the same in-group. People in the same in-group are defined by their shared values, religions, similar ways of living, etc. (Tidwell et al., 2013). In our case, Isabel and I are both a part of the same in-group. We are both females in our twenties who are attending university. Additionally, we both did an exchange and love to travel. And lastly, even though we are distantly related, we are still technically family. All of these factors could make Isabel perceive me as similar to herself, and therefore more willing to help me.
At the end of a lengthy message, I finally asked if I could stay with her for 1 month after my term ended. After this, I offered to house her in Canada whenever she wanted to come visit. This part of the message utilised the reciprocity effect (Groves, Cialdini & Couper, 1992). The reciprocity effect suggests that people are more likely to help someone who does something nice for them (Groves, Cialdini & Couper, 1992). By inviting Isabel to stay with me in Canada whenever she wants, I’ve created a situation where she feels like she has a duty to help me, and offer me a place to stay, like I did for her.
Long story short, it worked. Isabel said that I could stay with her for a month, and I accepted.
I never would have guessed I would ever hear from Isabel again, let alone live with her for a month. This is the beauty of “just asking”: you never know who will say yes.
Flynn, Francis J., and Vanessa KB Lake. "If you need help, just ask: underestimating compliance with direct requests for help." Journal of perksonality and social psychology 95.1 (2008): 128.
Groves, R. M., Cialdini, R. B., & Couper, M. P. (1992). Understanding the decision to participate in a survey. Public opinion quarterly, 56, 475-495.
Hills, T. T. (n.d.). If You Want More Out of Life, Just Ask. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/statistical-life/201402/if-you-want-more-out-life-just-ask
Tidwell, N. D., Eastwick, P. W., & Finkel, E. J. (2012). Perceived, not actual, similarity predicts initial attraction in a live romantic context: Evidence from the speed-dating paradigm. Personal Relationships, 20(2), 199-215. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.2012.01405.x