How did I do it?

I started by making a spreadsheet of the countries I would contact. To be as unbiased as possible, I decided to go with the independent states my country recognized: 195.

To find the most accurate information about the current heads of state, I went right to the source: each country's official website. While some of them were easy to find and very helpful (Great Britain offers salutation advice when you're writing to the Queen) others weren't (Libya's government website only shows a giant yellow padlock).

Gathering the names of each leader wasn't too terribly hard, and was actually sort of fun. I discovered the President of Suriname's Facebook Fan Club page and was thrilled to find so many women leaders. Locating mailing addresses was a bit tougher. For those not listed on the government's site, I searched for humanitarian letters written to world leaders, referenced free preview pages of the $600 Worldwide Government Directory with Intergovernmental Organizations reference book on Google Books, and then researched the remaining countries' official residences. Some leaders live in state houses, some in government or executive houses, and others in presidential palaces. I then used Google Earth to find those places' actual physical address.

The Letter
Next, I wrote a single letter that I would send to everyone. I used the same letter for each country, regardless of their diplomatic relationship with America. My grandfather joked that I was going to get on Homeland Security's "list" for writing to Iran and North Korea, but I wasn't worried because I sent the exact same letter to my own president. I just wanted to know: what would you like to say to the youth of my country?

I printed up 30 letters at a time, signed, sealed, and stamped them, and took them to the post office in batches. It took a lot of time (and I had a lot of homework) and I didn't want to overwhelm my local post office. I started in December 2014, went through the countries alphabetically, and sent out my last group in May 2015. In September 2015, I started sending out a second batch of letters to countries I hadn't heard from, sometimes trying different addresses.

The Cost
Unlike email, it wasn't free (another reason I sent the letters in batches). Thankfully instead of having to weigh and stamp them for each individual country, the US Post Office now has a single global stamp that works for all international mail; the stamps are $1.20/each. I wanted the letter to look nicer than it would just printed on white computer paper, so I bought some plain but elegant cream-colored letterhead and envelopes from Staples. With all supplies and stamps, my total expense was $292. I funded it from my after-school nannying job. (FYI: Babysitting is now called "nannying" because it apparently includes more than just watching kids, you also have to clean and cook.)

The Responses
I got my first response within 3 weeks, ironically from the President of France, although some countries have taken as long as 9 months to reply. The replies continue to come -- I get a new one every week -- and they are amazing.

I'll keep documenting the responses, but overall, here's what I've learned from the experience...