UC Davis parent Sunny Choe cherishes a card from her daughter, Aileen, and keeps it at her bedside. The note inside shares observations of school and expresses loving gratitude for the comfort and care Aileen received from her family in San Diego.
“Thank you for moving me into college and helping me get settled into my dorm,” the English major wrote. “I never realized how big and essentially how different the world is.”
The note was among those written to parents and other relatives by 15 students in a fall first-year seminar called the “The Lost Art of Letter Writing.” Students learned a variety of letter-writing styles and, along the way, warmed the hearts of parents like Choe.
“She appreciated that we were there [in Davis] a little longer than other parents to help her get settled in,” Choe.said.
Aileen, her mother said, added “a little note to her dad saying thanks for being the source of strength for our family. He is a family man — and she mentioned that — saying that not too many men can work full time and still make time for their family.”
Aileen said the note has brought her and her parents closer. “They had physical evidence that I allocated a part of my day to invest my thoughts and energy into updating them about my life,” she said. “Nowadays, we talk more frequently and they seem more interested in the activities I do in class.”
Letters like Aileen’s are part of what lecturer Linda Egan has learned to love about the first-year seminar she teaches. Students write thank-you letters, business letters, complaint letters, letters to the editor — and even love letters. And they have the relaxing experience of communicating the old-fashioned way: with pens, stationery and postage stamps.
“I have been a letter writer all my life,” explains Egan, a Mexican culture specialist in the Spanish department.
Student Aileen Choe says a handwritten note helped bring her and her parents closer.(Nicole Nguyen/UC Davis)
Working closely with faculty
The letter-writing course is among the first-year seminars offered at UC Davis since 1988. The seminars, offered each quarter, examine a wide variety of topics and issues, but their primary purpose is to give freshmen the opportunity to work closely with faculty members in an informal setting. Last year, about 200 seminars had a total enrollment of more than 2,900.
As a passionate advocate of letter writing, Egan wanted her students to learn about the art of writing both personal and professional letters — and she wanted them to appreciate both the art of writing a letter on stationery and the joy of receiving one from someone else.
A variety of assignments
With those goals in mind, she gave her students a number of writing assignments — including letters to relatives; complaint letters for poor services; complimentary letters to friends, relatives and service providers; and at least one requesting a letter of reference.
Eagan had students write letters to local papers — one student’s letter was even published. She also had each student send a handwritten note to a class pen pal each week and, at the end of the seminar, write a letter to the entire class. “We’re all family at the end,” she said.
Freshman Carlos Bugarin says he would definitely recommend Egan’s class to other students. “It's a good way to be forced to think and really put down your thoughts on paper,” he said. “Not too many people realize how freeing it can be and what joy it can bring others.” The class will be offered again next fall.