Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Let the Good-BYES (start to) Roll...

Some shots from my 5 hour trek (hike) through Marsaxlokk and Marsascala
Well, friends I am officially down to just under a month left in paradise.  To say my time here flew by is a complete understatement.  Am I excited to head home to see family and friends  (and can't forget my dogs)?  Well, yes I am although I can honestly say I am not so eager to be back in New York.  9 months in true paradise does that to you.  This experience has helped put so much in perspective and has really opened my eyes to so many ideas and opportunities...but I will leave that for a later post.

My view along a cliffside walk...NBD...I know it is insanely beautiful:-)
This entry is more about me finding ways to properly say goodbye to all that is important to me here and believe me it is taking some work.  After ending university (I'm happy I was able to get a picture of my students), I have now (semi) closed another chapter, my time volunteering with the North Malta Girl Guides.  I say semi because of my goodbyes needing work. The one thing I did not do in saying goodbye was get a photo of my girls.  Really Kelly?!?! It had more to do with the chaos of the day but never the less I now need to find a moment to make my way to them to get a picture with them.  Yes, this is a must.  The NMGG is a group of women and students that I will truly miss.  They welcomed me with open arms, shared laughs, hugs and many stories.  I learned a lot and truly enjoyed my time with them.  My girls shed many tears and gave many hugs and asked the 2 questions I get asked virtually on a daily basis:
  •    Can you take me with you to New York? PLLLEEEAAASSSEEE
  •    Miss Kelly, you are coming back next year, right?  You have to!!!
Two questions that break my heart because of the reality of the “real" answers.  I will say though, I do believe no one should never say never so I'm just going to go with that idea for now.

I don't think I have fully accepted that my time is almost up with my secondary school girls but I am just letting that idea take it's course.  Deny, Deny, Deny! Over the last week, I have been able to really enjoy this beautiful island and I plan on continuing this for the rest of my time here.  Hey we only live once right?

So as much as I know I will be sad to leave, knowing this would eventually come to an end (for now anyway) all I can do is enjoy the rest of my time as best as possible.  I have to say, I think I'm off to a pretty good start...

Some of the many animals I got to meet along my trek;-)
I kicked off my one month mark enjoying a cliffside harbor view in Valletta of the the Malta International Fireworks Festival, which was one of the most amazing fireworks displays I've ever seen.  I followed that up by enjoying an amazing day out in the country for a hog roast lunch with a group of some really cool people and this past Saturday, I went on a non-stop 5 hour trek through the south of Malta enjoying the rugged countryside, seeing many animals, visiting a permaculture center and walking along an unbelievably beautiful cliffside, taking in some amazing ocean views.  No better way to end a day like that but with a nice dinner out!

Check out the Fireworks Grand Finale for yourselves...ENJOY!

I have more planned and am not sure how I will manage it all but I promise to share my remaining adventures as they happen.  I also have some friends visiting at the end of the month and I have to say I can't think of a better way to close out my time here than to share this beautiful island with some pretty important people in my life.  It's going to be pretty epic:-).

Some beautiful fireworks shots taken at the Malta International Fireworks Festival in Valletta
Hog Roast Lunch on a random Wednesday in the Maltese Countryside.

Jill Scott said it best “I'm Living My Life Like It's Golden" because when you are blessed with such an amazing opportunity as this whole experience has been, regardless of what happens next, I will treasure this moment in time and all whom I've met along the way, forever!

Forever Grateful!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Chapter Written, A Chapter Closed

Yesterday marked the ending of a chapter in the book that is my life in Malta....teaching at university.   In texting with my fellow ETA and friend, Salwa, about university ending, I realized I was a lot sadder about it than I thought I would be.  She replied by saying “yeah you don't realize how attached you get to them" when she spoke of losing her form 5's (Form 5 secondary students leave in March to study for their O levels) and then proceeded to say something that really, truly hit home.  It was such a profound statement that I found it to be almost poetic.  She said “Life can be funny like that, all these fleeting friendships/relationships".  It was as if everything fell into perspective with that comment because for the first time I had been hit with the reality of what saying my final goodbyes will mean which is I will never see my students or the teachers I work with...again.

My adorable and awesome University students from Italy:-)
Well to be completely honest, I am not sure exactly how true not seeing the teachers again will be as I do believe that this will not be the last time I visit Malta or that I have not done my part in convincing them to visit New York,  but the reality is that, especially for my university students, this was the last time I would see them.  It put fear in me when it made me think of when I have to say goodbye to my secondary students.  I would never want to diminsh this experience to being simply a time where I lived in another country, met some people and taught some students because the reality is that it has been so much more than that.   The teachers I work with have become friends and the students have grown to trust me and rely on me and I have grown to love and appreciate them.  However, seeing that I only have a little over 6 weeks left, I can't help but feel as if this has, in some ways, been one big fleeting moment because of how fast time went by and that makes me just as sad.

Yes, I miss my family, friends and dogs but I can honestly say I am happy here and love living here and will miss it dearly.  In trying to be more accepting of this swift moment in time, I'm running with the notion of when they say your life can change in a matter of a second or in a fleeting moment and am putting a positive spin on it.  To Salwa, I must say thank you for what such a comment brought me to realize...Malta has been and forever will be that fleeting moment filled with experiences, realizations, frustrations, friendships, laughs and love that have helped change who I am and my life...forever!

I have a little over 6 weeks before I complete the final chapter of my life in Malta but even when it comes time to go home I know one thing for sure...this journey is not over for me, in fact, it's just beginning and I will forever have Malta to thank for that!

Until next time...

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Last Hurrah Before Heading Home (Maybe)...

This past Easter weekend marked my (more than possibly) final trip while in Malta and I have to say it was a great one.  I got to visit a country I have been dying to visit and am eager to one day (hopefully soon) return to, to see more of it.  I got to spend my Easter weekend in Edinburgh, Scotland!  

Edinburgh welcomed me with blue skies and sunshine, a rarity in those parts.  The weekend was completely dry, say for a few minor flurries but the air was crisp, the sun was out and the skies were clear.  I had the privilege of staying in a flat with Melissa and her childhood friend.  His parents own a flat in Edinburgh and were kind enough to share their beautiful home with us.  It is in the heart of the New town, within walking distance to all there is to see and was, simply put...lovely.  Melissa's friend proved to be a great host and really just an overall down-to-earth, sweet and funny guy so basically we spent Easter in an amazing city with great company.  I'd call that a win.  

Some beautiful sites in Edinburgh and St. Andrew's

Edinburgh is very much a walking city and it was nice to take in the sites on foot...and to have our own personal tour guide to boot. We got to see the New and Old Town, Edinburgh Castle, Hollyrood House, the Royal Mile...and just to see beautiful snow-capped hills among this very metropolitan city was breathtaking.  The people are the friendliest I've ever encountered in my travels from the older couple (especially the wife) I met while on the plane ride to Edinburgh who couldn't stop talking about Malta and calling my attention to the window to see snow-capped mountains and telling me what I needed to see/do in Edinburgh, to the sweet lady who stopped her bike to help us with directions, to the friendly, and very talented, artist who wouldn't stop chatting us up at a local market...all warm, welcoming and friendly people helping to make Edinburgh feel like home.

It was a great way to cap off this final run before I head back to the states.  We enjoyed some much missed Starbucks, Thai food and even tried Haggis for the first time...I can actually say I like it...go figure!  Not necessarily fond of the idea of what I was eating but it sure was tasty;-)!  I got to spend my time doing some critical shopping, walking around Edinburgh Castle feeling as if I was in an episode of Game of Thrones, walking the Royal Mile seeing the tourist sites and chatting with Braveheart himself (no not Mel Gibson just someone who is a very entertaining version of Braveheart) and at St. Andrew's, walking around what is a lovely little town, taking in the beautiful scenery while visiting the sites that included the coffee shop that had a banner that read, and I quote “Where William and Kate first met...(for coffee)" needless to say, while passing by I saw that the place was crowded and I, for some reason found this hilarious.  Having booked this trip so far in advance, it reminded me just how fast time has flown by and how important it is to savor every moment.  With the little time I have left in Malta I know what I should do or rather what I need to do to complete this experience. So, should this be my last hurrah before home, I will say my time in Edinburgh was spent just how I like it, seeing some sites, taking in the city and the bonus...staying in a home were I had the privilege to cook home cooked meals, baked goods and Easter dinner!

There is lots to look forward to that I know will make this time go by even faster such as my friends visiting at the end of May, beach days, Gozo/Comino trips, more hilarious student moments and the ever-loving job hunt.  So all I will say to that is Carpe Diem (no YOLO here, I choose to keep it old school).

Until next time,

Sunday, March 24, 2013

“Why Malta, Miss?"

I wasn't sure if I was going to do a 6 month recap/blog entry but after doing my lesson on New York a couple of weeks ago, my students have continued questioning me about why I came to Malta.  Honestly, it has really made me reflect on the last 6 months.

I can't help but think about where and who I was when I first arrived and the person I am now.  Gone is the unsure girl that arrived in Malta in September, who second guessed her decision to move 5700 miles away.  Here now is a girl not yet ready to end the adventure that has been her life in Malta for the last 6 months: breaking cultural barriers with her students in her secondary school, struggling to create a viable university course syllabus with her roommate and co-lecturer, traveling, developing friendships, volunteering, experiencing, living and breathing in this beautiful, simple and calm life that this tiny 17 mile island has afforded me, all the while blogging to tell about it.

Yet, I can't help but continue to think about my student's question...“why Malta, Miss?"...6 months ago the easy answer would have been that for a Fulbright fellowship, it had no language requirement.  Today, it's a much more complicated answer.  I am here for the experience of something new, opposite of the norm that has been my life, to test my own limits, and finally “spread my wings", as they say.   I can end this blog today and say mission accomplished.  Done.  We can all go home. But I still have 10 weeks.  

10 weeks to take in the beautiful sunshine and warm weather that has been making a slow but steady return. 10 weeks to smell the salty air and stare into the ocean just outside my balcony.  10 weeks to do all I have not yet done and to repeat as many times as I can the things I love doing like lunch on the beach, walks along the promenade, people watching while enjoying a great meal at my favorite restaurant, and photographing it all along the way.  10 weeks to prepare for my return home where family, friends and my dogs, oh my dogs how I miss them, await. 10 weeks to eye roll the Arriva bus drivers just because they remind me of what I wish not to remember about New York.  10 weeks to enjoy loud staff room conversations and teachers constantly apologizing for speaking in Maltese then translating in English, only to then jump back to speaking Maltese-HA!  10 weeks to enjoy Sunday morning runs to the market for fresh, hot “bagel" bread,  seeing “Captain Jack" as I call the man who sits outside of the pub on the corner and wears a Captain's hat, Army Wives marathons, making fun of the “Bangkok style" neighborhood that is Paceville, Pumpkin pizza at Piccolo Padres, Chicken and pumpkin Ftira at Gululus, Falafel and Sweet potato pomegranate salad at Mint, hikes along some of the most picturesque land and seascapes, boat rides, wine bars, Gozo, Comino, and of course, gelato! Lastly, 10 weeks to give Malta a proper but heartbreaking goodbye and thank you:-(.

The upside is I get to share this special place, yet again, with some very special people who are visiting in May.  I get to play tour guide of a place that has become home to me in it's own way.  In talking with my sister today about Malta, she kinda nailed it when she said “Malta touched my heart and that doesn't usually happen to me, but it really did, it really is a special place".  I think that's what I've been trying to say all along.

So to my student's who will continue to ask “why Malta, Miss?"...after all I've written in these last 6 months, I think my response to them will be why the heck not!

Until next time,



Saturday, March 16, 2013

Making Strides...and loving every minute of it!

As I sit in my living room on this chilly Saturday afternoon, I can't help but reflect on my time here in Malta and the amazing week I've had.  A week that proved to me that it will be very difficult to leave Malta come June.  I keep thinking about how I was when I first arrived, all of the things that stressed or frustrated me and all of the moments since then that have made those moments seem so minor. I keep thinking about how far I have come with my students and I realize now more than ever, how important it is to me to be doing something with my life that actually has an impact on others and I feel completely blessed to know that is exactly what I am doing.

This past week was a perfect example of that.  As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have a very difficult class and also difficult students scattered throughout other classes.  My girls, though I love them dearly, are tough and rough around the edges, but they are my girls, girls I can relate to because I know what it is like to come from the “not so great" part of town.  It hasn't been easy trying to bring that message across, but it has finally happened.  My girls know that I am from New York and immediately correlate that to being rich and posh.  I am neither and it was time to prove it.

The unit this week in English class was Holidays (vacations).  We reviewed vocabulary, different holidays one can take, different situations that can occur on a holiday and various modes of transportation.  In other words, I was in my glory.  As I have said time and again, I love to travel but more importantly, I think it is imperative that people make it a priority to do so as well.  Now I know it takes money to travel and by no means am I saying that one should always make a point to travel luxuriously or even frequently but the reality is that we live in a globally connected world and it is important that our future generations to come are exposed to life outside of their norms.  As a teacher, it is my responsibility to expose my students to the world and to help them understand that it is okay to dream big and to have a desire to see and experience the world.  That is how they will grow and evolve and find what it is they are truly passionate about.

In following with the unit, I decided to conduct a lesson on New York.  The girls are always asking me what it is like and why I would leave to come to Malta so I figured it was time to show them.  Each class is vastly different and each class responded differently with different questions but all were completely enthralled.  They were at the edge of their seats, screaming, raising their hands, asking millions of questions...and they were looking at the pictures ...daydreaming, in complete awe of  a life they wish they could live and experience for themselves and I was there telling them they can.  One student said that she will never understand why I would ever leave such a great city to come to Malta.  Teaching point at it's finest.  I explained to her that although New York is great and offers endless opportunity, it is important to see the world, experience different cultures and traditions because you may find that the idea you have of one place may not suit you at all.  They looked at me inquistively like a lightbulb went on in their heads.  I explained how there are plenty of ways for young adults to travel economically and why it is so important to focus on school work and learning English so that they will be able to take advantage of these opportunities and it clicked...just like that...it clicked!

These girls never imagined life away from this small island was possible or felt confident enough to believe that they could one day experience something other than their norm but now they do.  This lesson extended to questions about how expensive it is to travel, ways to budget, scholarships, student travel programs, all things that equate to OPPORTUNITY!  The cherry on top of this week was seeing the reaction I got from my most difficult class and students.  To have my most difficult student walk up to the board and ask me to go back and forth on different slides so that I could explain things further and to have me explain a map of the 5 boroughs when she asked if one has to take a plane to each borough (true story) became that moment for me that made my being here clear to me.  I am a vessel in which to expose my students to a life otherwise unknown to them and I am completely okay with that!  She began to laugh and smile and even got comfortable enough to begin to ask me questions about my life (some too personal but she quickly understood I wouldn't answer) but to hear this student who is tough and hard ask “do you miss your mother?" and “will you miss Malta?" and to see her eyes widen when I answered yes to both questions but that I will also miss her and the rest of the class because they are my students and I care about them and want the best for them, almost brought me to tears.  To hear her say “Miss, when you get married I want to be a bridesmaid, thank you for this lesson"...gave me my “aha" moment and made me feel as if I'd won the lottery.

I'm a Bronx girl that has had to work for everything I have and all that I have managed to accomplish, all on my own, and my mission is to share that with my students, to show them that anything is possible because, damn it, it is. As an educator, it is my duty to instill this belief in my students, to help them build the confidence they need to go out and experience and take on the world.  I will continue to be their biggest cheerleader, if their only cheerleader, because every student deserves that.

Until next time all,

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

5 months down, less time to go...WHAT?!?!?!

How did this even happen?  How is it possible that I have officially reached the point where the time spent here is now more than the time I have left? <Insert Panic Mode>.  I feel like there is still so much to do, see and experience and the old adage of so much to do, so little time keeps playing in my head on repeat, annoyingly enough.  Only thing left to do is make sure I get to see and do all I want and I am definitely getting there.

I've made sure to make a list of all of the things that remain for me to see and do like:
-visiting the beaches
-going on a wine tour (hey this is actually a must because the wine here is really good and tours average only about 15€)
-Blue Grotto Boat Ride
-Sail to Comino island
-Gozo staycation

These are just to name a few.  The unfortunate thing is that I have to wait until the weather gets a bit warmer to do most of these things so until then, I decided to do the next best thing to occupy some down time....volunteer.  I realized I wanted to be able to find something else to be involved with and when I first arrived here I found a pamphlet on the North Malta Girl Guides.  Since I took my time settling in and traveling a bit, I waited until January to start working with them.  They are part of the same organization as Girl/Boy Scouts.  I volunteer at the Sliema chapter, which is the largest on the island and affiliated with the church school they work from.  That school is like night and day from the state school where I work.  I call it my secret garden because it truly is such a beautiful school and although it is a church school vs. a state school and in a better neighborhood, it doesn't mean they are not faced with the same struggles with students although you would never know given how well the girls speak English.

My Secret Garden (the buildings to the right and left are classrooms and halls, all outdoor halls, no interiors)
I work with the Brownie group, ages 7-10 years old and they are adorable.  It is a 2 hour commitment that I truly enjoy because I have gotten to know yet a whole other community of people here that are really great.  The head of the troop, Carmen, is wonderful, so good at her job, so nurturing, a true mother and guider.  What I enjoy most volunteering with them is that there is always a message and lesson to be learned through their activities.  They remind me how important it is to reflect and to be open to the positive things that take place because it is so easy to miss them when there are moments of too much negativity and sadness.  The organization has what they call Thinking Day, in honor of the birthdays of the husband and wife that began the guiding organization and it was held last Friday.  It was really beautiful and inspiring to see them speak of issues that other countries are faced with and the struggles they endure everyday and how important it is to say a prayer and to keep those less fortunate in our minds and in our hearts.  Just a truly beautiful moment that I felt honored to be part of.   I have been with them for over a month and I know they will be a group of women and students that I truly will miss.

Thinking Day Ceremony
I also began another volunteer opportunity that Fulbrighter's were contacted about to apply.  I volunteer with an organization that is based out of NYC that works with NYC schools and have branched out to Minnesota and North Carolina.  They basically run a geography program because they realized how unaware kids are of the world they live in.  I officially became a Travel Correspondent with them in the middle of February and it looks like it will be a really cool adventure.  I have been paired up with not only a NYC after school program but one that is in my hometown of the Bronx.  I will be corresponding with a 3rd grade class through blogging, video blogging and video conferencing.  We have weekly assignments on various topics from food, traditions, nature/environment, etc. that I will share with this class.  I am so excited about this for the simple fact that so many Americans know so little about Malta.  This class will be experts once the semester is done!  My first field assignment was food so I made the Maltese dish Timpana.  It is a take on baked ziti but better because the pasta mixture is baked in pastry dough.  I also made the meat sauce from scratch and have to say it really was a success...no really it was, I gave some to a teacher I work with and got the compliment of my life from her mom who said I am learning to cook like the locals, which is apparently a lot coming from her, it really was so DELICIOUS!!!  That made my day!!! Completing this assignment got me excited for the others to come.  It helps me focus more on what is around me and what I am doing here which is pretty sweet; the bonus is that I have an entire class I get to share it with!

A collage of my Timpana masterpiece:-)

So as you can see I have decided to take a bit of a different approach for this 5 month recap.  I chose to focus on the things I am doing here and how they are helping me appreciate my time, whatever time I have left on this island, because it is flying by and before I know it , it will be time to head home to the states.  You have to be in the moment to make sure you have truly appreciated it and that's exactly what I am doing.

Until next time...

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sisters Reunited

After 5 long months, my sister FINALLY came to visit!  The timing before she arrived was so bizarre because it never felt real and as much as I thought I was good and just plain old excited for her to visit, the minute I saw the board at the airport show that her plane landed, the butterflies began to flutter in my stomach and the moment the doors opened and she was physically standing in front of me, we both took a step back for a split second because we both were taken aback by the fact that we were really standing in front of each other and by how much we really missed each other.  I face time with my sister regularly but boy did her visit prove just how not enough Face Time or Skype is.  Believe me when I say I am extremely grateful for such programs and modern technology, without them I would not have been able to survive here but the simple reality is that I missed my sister.

The many sites on the beautiful island of Gozo, Malta's sister island

I allowed myself to get so caught up in preparing for her visit that it just never fully sank in and as time does so well...it flew by when she was here that it almost seems like a blur or even as if she never really was here.  Don't worry I have pictures to prove that she was:-).

Marsaxlokk village, Char Lapsi village, the Blue Grotto, and the Tarxien Temples

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am extremely close to both of my sisters as they are my best friends so you can imagine how excited I was to finally have Sam here.  I wish both could have come but the reality is that I live 5700 miles away from home so not exactly the most convenient place to visit.  Sam was here for a week and I made sure it would be a week she would always remember, and I believe I achieved that.  Together we traveled this island top to bottom seeing ancient temples like the Tarxien Temples and the Hypogeum which is the only underground temple in the world and they are all over 5,000 years old; experiencing the Arriva bus system, seeing fortified cities, Carnival, again experiencing the Arriva bus system and drivers, seeing famous movie and t.v. sites, the sister island of Gozo, did I mention the Arriva bus system and we also got up close and personal with some really beautiful animals.  Like the adorable sea lion, Dana, who fell asleep on Sam's lap and the adorable dolphins Sam got to do tricks with all because I pushed her forward as a volunteer (mind you there were only 5 of us at the site but still, I know I'm a pretty good host, anyone else would've jumped at the chance to play with dolphins-hahaha).  We also met a beautiful horse that peaked it's head out of the stable window.  It wasn't the best week weather wise, but the weather held up when it needed to and many great memories were made.

Famous film and T.V. sites in Malta and Gozo

As the older sister yet the middle sister of 3, Sam is the nurturer, the one always making sure you are ok and looking out for you...yeah you can say she is pretty awesome and actually funny as all heck.  I could tell in conversations with her while here that she may have had some concerns about my being so far away from home but after we arrived back at the apartment and she got to experience the neighborhood for herself,  I think she was able to relax a bit, so much so that I think she left Malta with a genuine appreciation for the island and some real insight as she got to meet and be shown around by locals, eat Maltese food, see sites tourists would never see and also see that I make a really good host;-).  She also got to bond with my roomie Melissa and realized for herself why I consider her family.  

Us reflecting at Dingli Cliffs
 There were many sites I had not visited yet before she arrived so we even got to explore this island together which made the trip all the more fun.  I think my biggest concern of it all was how we would be with each other.  I know I have changed in the 5 months of being here, just more aware I guess you could say and although that seems like a short time, with the distance, it has a way of seeming longer.  So I did wonder if things would be “different"...yeah that was certainly a far-fetched and ridiculous idea...we picked up right where we left off as if I'd never been away...joking, laughing, enjoying each others company traveling around and watching t.v. together.  It was GREAT!

All in all, I miss my sisters, it is very hard being so far away from them but life is good here and I know that and am truly grateful for this experience and even more grateful to have such an opportunity that allowed me to share something special with one of the most important people in my life.  Life.is.good!

Just a quote I found that I feel really speaks to the relationship I have with my sisters and thought I should share.

Sisters don't need words.  They have perfected a language of snarls and smiles and frowns and winks - expressions of shocked surprise and incredulity and disbelief.  Sniffs and snorts and gasps and sighs - that can undermine any tale you're telling.  ~Pam Brown