Friendship with Nicole Marhold started by chance.
“It has turned into something really amazing,” the 19-year-old Black Hawk resident said.
Ferguson’s friend, Marhold, is an 18-year-old from im Burgenland, St. Margarethen, Austria, and the two have been pen pals for the past several years.
This summer, Ferguson met her best friend for the first time when Marhold traveled more than 5,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean for a two-week visit.
“It’s just been an amazing experience,” said Ferguson. “We were both really nervous, but it was awesome to get to finally meet each other after almost four years of friendship.”
The friendship started out on the photo-sharing application Instagram, where they found each other through their common interest in One Direction, an English-Irish pop boy band based in London.
“We were both big fans of this band,” said Ferguson. “We saw that we liked the same band and had similar interests.”
They began following each other on Instagram and chatting some through comments or messages.
One day, Marhold posted to her followers that she would like to have a pen pal. Marhold said she had always enjoyed talking to people through social media and thought writing to a pen pal would be a fun experience.
“Having a pen pal is really kind of vintage, and I love things like that. I love to keep things and look at them later,” said Marhold. “I wanted to try to have a pen pal, because it’s really cool. I didn’t know where to get one, so I asked on Instagram if someone wants to be my pen pal.”
Marhold said she got about five replies. Most of the responders just wanted to email, but Marhold wanted something a little more personal. She wanted to exchange handwritten letters.
“I think having a pen pal is really fun, and I really like to write letters,” said Marhold. “I think letters are really personal.”
Ferguson, who also has a love for all things vintage, loved the idea of having a pen pal, too.
“I liked the idea of actually seeing their handwriting on a piece of paper rather than seeing words on a screen,” she said. “It’s nice to actually see someone’s penmanship and them actually putting their time into writing a letter, because it means a lot more.”
Ferguson commented back and told Marhold she would like to be her pen pal.
“It sort of started from there,” she said.
The two talked a bit on social media, Instagram, Snapchat and We Heart It apps and then exchanged addresses and began their pen-pal friendship.
“Me and Nicole, we like the old school stuff. We like the idea of writing on a piece of paper and using a pencil or pen,” said Ferguson. “We would decorate the letters and outside the envelopes to make it fun for each other.”
They soon found out both had many shared interests and similar personalities.
Ferguson and Marhold also began sending each other postcards when they both traveled and sometimes little packages.
While waiting on letters, Ferguson and Marhold would also talk on social media regularly.
“We would always talk to each other every day, and we became best friends over social media, and it’s really cool that we’re meeting now,” said Ferguson.
Having a best friend who lives in a time zone seven hours ahead did pose some problems, but it was nothing too difficult that true friends couldn’t work out.
“I have to catch her at the right time,” said Ferguson. “I’ll be waking up at 6:30 or 7 in the morning, and it’s lunch time there, and we speak during that time. If I’m up still late at around 11:30, she’s just waking up. So we’ve kind of figured it out.”
This is Marhold’s first trip to the United States, and she said she has been enjoying the new experience. She had been talking about coming to the U.S. to meet Ferguson for about a year.
“I knew that I had the time, and I thought it was something kind of special for me,” said Marhold.
Marhold’s father thought her journey would be a good experience, but her mother was a little hesitant.
“She was scared about me traveling alone halfway around the world, and I was like, ‘I really want to do this,’” Marhold said.
She finally got the OK from her mother and began looking at plane travel plans and tickets. When she found the perfect travel plan, Marhold immediately contacted her friend.
“I was all for it,” said Ferguson.
On July 3, Ferguson and her parents met Marhold at the Memphis International Airport.
“My nerves were rattling,” said Ferguson, who brought an American flag to welcome her Austrian friend.
When they finally met, Ferguson said, “It was such an amazing moment for me, for both of us.”
Marhold agreed, even though she had just gotten off what’s typically a more-than-14-hour flight, which included a five-hour delay in Chicago.
“I was flying for a long time, so when I got there I was a little bit tired,” said Marhold. “I was really happy to finally be there, because it was all exciting. I was a little bit tired, but also I was really glad to be finally with them.”
Since her arrival in Mississippi, Ferguson has been showing Marhold around.
“We’re trying to give her the Delta experience here in Greenwood,” said Ferguson. “We have been showing her some things around here, and we’ve taken her to Jackson and Ridgeland.”
Marhold recently had her first experience at a water park and went fishing for the first time. She even caught a fish.
“I’ve had only good experiences,” said Marhold. “The airport wasn’t as hard as I was expecting, and everything in Mississippi is really great. I’m having a really good time.”
Marhold also recently accompanied the Ferguson family to Biloxi, where she enjoyed her first taste of seafood and had her first encounter with a hermit crab hidden away in a shell she picked up.
“The beach was really fun,” said Marhold. “I’m trying to stay at home and just chilling with Katie at home. That is the reason I wanted to come here — just to meet Katie and get to know her better.”
Ferguson is planning a trip to Austria next July, and Marhold said she is excited said she is excited to show her around.
“I really hope she can come, and I’m really happy to show her everything,” Marhold said.
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Marhold said she keeps all the letters from Ferguson, because she thinks it will be neat to look back at them years from now.
“I think it’s really cool if you have children and you can show them all the letters,” she said. “That’s the best thing about it. I like to always read over them.”
Ferguson said she feels sentimental about the handwritten correspondence, too.
“It will be cool later in life when you show your family,” she said. “I think it will be great to keep these memories and photos as well to show down the road to your family.”