Developer Jiho Kang created the app “Wayfare” to show people that discovering and writing to pen pals can be a special experience.
“In my opinion, pen-palling is really romantic and captivating; it’s a really powerful concept,” Kang told Business Insider. “It also helps people discover that their so-called ordinary or boring lives aren’t really that ordinary or boring, they’re actually kinda special and it’s a matter of perspective.”
The concept behind Wayfare is simple: The app matches with someone who lives in another country, and over the course of the next seven days, you get to know each other with the help of daily photo missions.
If your match speaks another language, Wayfare provides translation from within the app so you can message each other or chat about the day’s photo mission.
“Missions are prompts that ask both users to share specific things,” said Kang. “Normally they’re pretty easy, like stuff laying around the house.”
Missions can range from asking each person to share a picture of what’s hanging on their wall, a famous location in their town or city, or how they got to work that day.
For Kang, the idea of missions are fundamental to recreating the experience of travelling, where the local people, culture, and customs make lasting impressions that just aren’t seen in online chat rooms today.
“Through these missions, we’ve seen really interesting conversations spark up,” said Kang. “Even though you’re taking a picture of something on your wall, the wall is made of some really weird brick you’ve never seen before, stuff like that really gets the conversation started and it gives others an opportunity to feel what it’s like to live where you are. It makes you feel like you’re a little ambassador of this town or country.”
Once the seven days are up, you automatically become “friends” on Wayfare with your match, but you’re free to explore and experience other matches too.
Kang says the sheer distance of the app’s interactions have caused some users to open up and share details they might not normally share.
One of Kang’s friends, for example, was matched with a girl from Canada who chose to share first on Wayfare that she was pregnant, telling her match before even her boyfriend or parents. “She wanted someone to listen and not judge,” said Kang.
“Another friend was matched with a girl from China. Apparently she had lived in China her whole life, and my friend in California was the very first non-Chinese person she had ever had the opportunity to communicate with in real life.”
Kang says it’s cases like these, along with the change in perspective Wayfare brings, that truly makes the app great. And while other apps tend to quickly devolve into pure flirtation or an excuse to share dirty photos under the veil of anonymity, that hasn’t been a problem with Wayfare thanks to real interactions the app provides through its missions.
“Wayfare lets you kinda switch lives temporarily with someone else living on the other side of the globe,” said Kang fondly. “You can kinda take a peek into someone else’s life.”