They grew up a world apart, but shared a lifetime of experiences.

After exchanging letters since childhood, pen pals Debbie Diedrich and Jennifer Crawford met for the first time this week when Diedrich, who is from Australia, visited Crawford in Manitoba.

The pair can trace their friendship back 34 years to when they were students. In school, they were both handed a slip of paper with each other’s name and addresses on it.

At first, the exchange of letters via snail mail was a long, drawn out process.

“You’d send a letter and then you’d just wait and wait and wait,” said Diedrich.

But they hit it off right away, and through words, the women opened up to each other about everything.

“We’ve practically grown up together but in different countries,” Diedrich said.

“We’ve gone through our first boyfriends together, our first dates together,” Crawford said.

The pair’s friendship is even a testament to the rise of digital communication.

“We started doing handwritten letters and then we started with typewriters because we were taking typing in high school together,” said Crawford. “And then we went from the typing to email and email to Skype.”

Their letters and photos now packed away, the women now communicate via video app on their handheld devices.

But no matter how technology changes, nothing can replace the power of the written word, Crawford said.

“I wish they would still do that in school these days because … it’s a special bond, it’s a special friendship,” she said.

After an emotional meeting at the airport in Canada, the pair shared another first: A joint birthday celebration.

Diedrich travelled from Australia to surprise Crawford with a celebration of their two birthdays, only a day apart.

With a report by CTV Winnipeg’s Rajeev Dhir