Friday, October 26, 2012

First day of University...Not as a Student, but as Lecturer...and “Good Cop"?

I think it's wise to give you some background on what my Fulbright assignment is here in Malta so that the title makes sense to you.  As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Malta, your responsibilities, in a nutshell, are to work as an English teaching assistant in Secondary Schools (the equilvalent of Middle School to early High School in the States), teach an English related course at the University of Malta (U o M) as well as collaborate on research projects through the university and/or on our own in the Secondary schools, along with making time for volunteer work.  We started our Secondary school assignments a couple of weeks ago but it wasn't until this past Wednesday that we started the U o M course.

Now if you recall from my "month mark" blog, I originally thought that the U o M assignment would be one of the lesser favorable aspects of my Fulbright responsibilities because, well to be quite honest, I have never taught university students.  My teaching experience extends mainly to Elementary school students (or Primary as they say in Europe) and minor experience working with the H.S. level.  So as you can imagine this was a bit daunting for me.  Given that the entire framework for the course was being redesigned somewhat added to the anxiety, but it is a core requirement of the fellowship, so basically it's do or die.

Well, let's just say what came of the two hours was something I would've never expected, not after the first class anyway.  I LOVED IT!  Like REALLY LOVED IT! Like EXCITED, LOOKING FORWARD TO WEDNESDAYS LOVED IT!  What took place in the first hour was mainly a filtering process on making sure the students signed up for the correct course (a lot of bureaucratic stuff that I won't go into).  Let's just say they had the fear of God put in them and Melissa and I were left to try to diffuse the tension.  LOTS of smiles, LOTS of head nods in understanding, LOTS of reassurence given that our sole purpose was to help the students any way we can and in the process have fun with it...because you know teaching should actually BE fun and engaging...not that many seem to be aware of that these days.  So as the fear of God was placed upon this class of 27 students and our smiles seemed to ease the shock on their faces, they eventually were able to relax a bit.  We were then able to actually talk to the students, not address them as "Lecturer" to student but actually talk to them and explain to them what we would be doing in the class.

Here is where the “GOOD COP" part of my title comes in.  After the students settled down, one student said to me...“You were playing Good Cop/Bad Cop (with finger pointed at me, a wink in his eye and a smile on his face)...YOU were Good Cop!  Thank you for that".  That comment made my month...for the first time I felt as if I can really, truly make a difference here and go figure that it will be with the U o M International students.  After that, it was pie.  Melissa and I stood up on a platform, worked in tandem to explain the outline of the course, spoke about ourselves, learned about our students and laughed with them...A LOT!  It felt really good up there, almost too good for me because I am not always the most comfortable speaking in front of people.  It goes to show that if you set the right tone, and put out good vibes, you get good vibes back.  The students were so comfortable with us by the end of the hour that they stayed after class to talk to us, to get to know us more and learn about where we are from in the U.S. and what it is like.  I don't know about any of you, but I know that is a rarity in college in the U.S.

I don't know, but if this positive feeling continues through the entire course, and it turns out to be a more favorable part of my assignment (as I really believe it will be), the possibility of more studies could very well be in my future.  It's funny how things play out sometimes because I had a professor tell me that once I was done with my Master's, I will eventually need to go for my PhD because it is a fluid “next step", that it is something I should want for myself.  I thought my professor was crazy for suggesting it (and she wasn't the only one who did) but now I see where she was coming from.  This experience is going to challenge and push me in ways that will force me outside of my comfort zone and after Wednesday, I am actually becoming more and more okay with that because life is about opportunity and learning and growing, so who knows what the future has in store for me.  For now, I am happy to be "Good Cop" for a group of International students because that is what every teacher should be for their students no matter what level you teach:-).

Until next time all:-)


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Birgu Festival 2012: Where an entire city was a glow by candlelight, my heart was captured and my soul filled.

Birgu (pronounced beer-gu) is one of the ancient cities of Malta and one of the three cities of the Knights of St. John, it is also known as Vittoriosa.  The other two cities that make up the three cities is Senglea and Bormla, a.k.a. Cospicua.  Birgu is a beautiful, fortified city that is similar to Mdina where it literally makes you feel as if you have been transported back in time.  The cobblestone streets and alleyways, twists and turns, make it a truly magical place.  This magic was brought to light last weekend when Melissa and I went to the Birgu Festival.  Not knowing exactly what to expect, we went knowing we would see one of our favorite things here...another beautiful, fortified city and in the process, get some good food and nouget.  As the night hit, it was as if someone waved a magic wand or sprinkled some pixie dust because right before our eyes, the city came a glow in candlelight.  Never have I seen anything more beautiful.  Not the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower, nor the fireworks on July 4th in NYC,  or the lights of the Rockefellar Christmas tree could compete with what we witnessed.  Alleyways and side streets that fell dark with the night became alive in the candlelight.  We wandered through random streets in anticipation of the surprises we would find.  We turned down a very steep road that was dimly lit and came to a cul-de-sac of sorts that literally came alive right before our eyes and draped us in it's warm light.   It was such a powerful moment that completely overwhelmed us both with emotion.  An entire city comes together once a year to celebrate it's history and to show it's beauty in it's truest form.  The candlelight was so magical that it could be seen from Senglea, which is across the Grand Harbour and a ways away.  I was moved, I was speechless, I was in love.  Birgu captured my heart by revealing it's beauty in this purest form of light and filled my soul because it was the first place I have visited here that gave me a glimpse of what Malta was like about being transported back in time!

If you are thinking of visiting Malta, Birgu is a MUST SEE and if you can, I would hold off on a visit until October to visit when the Birgu Festival is on.  It is a two day event of re-enactments, museum visits, music and food but on the second day is the saying goes...the magic happens:-).

In the presence of a Pharaoh...Hound that is!


For those of you that don't know me well...I am a HUGE animal lover, especially dogs!  I am blessed to have two amazing, sweet, loving and loyal dogs in my life...Spanky, my mom's Maltipoo and Megan, my Pharaoh Hound/Border Collie mix.  Now for some irony with my being in Malta.  The Maltipoo and the Pharaoh Hound are both dogs of Malta (side note: that played absolutely no part in my decision to apply for a Fulbright to Malta, I swear!).  As the title hints, this entry is mainly about Megan.  Since adopting Megan from the ASPCA over 13 years ago, I have done a lot of research on her breed as it is in no way a common breed in the States.  When I say she is part Pharaoh Hound, part Border Collie, what I mean is that she is 99.999% Pharaoh Hound and the rest Border collie and by "the rest" I mean...long hair and floppy ears, that's about as Border Collie as she gets.  Her temperament, her stubborn but loyal heart, her personality and demeanor along with physical body features are all Pharaoh Hound.  The Pharaoh Hound's history is rooted in Egypt as they were apparently the guard dogs of royalty.  They were then brought to Malta some 2000 years ago and it is here that their breed is kept alive and true.  So you can only imagine my excitement in knowing that I would have short haired Megan's running around right? Well, not so fast.  It took over a month for me to finally see one and it happened just this week while waiting for the bus to go to work.

I was standing at the bus stop (sucking on a lollipop---LL anyone?? anyone??) ...ok we move on, FOCUS KELLY...when a woman walked by with a Pharaoh Hound.  Well you can imagine my excitement and how quickly I woke up since it was so early in the morning.  To the other people waiting for the bus I really believe they thought I must've spotted a celebrity because I literally began to follow and stare at...the dog.  It was an older dog, like Megan, white in the face and pranced as it walked just like she does.  Well what happened next was I guess to be expected but surely not at a bus stop with a bunch of strangers on a weekday morning.  For all the excitement I had in seeing my first pure bred Pharaoh Hound, an incredible sadness hit.  I'm talking a gut wrenching-ready-to-bawl-my-eyes-out sort of sadness, so I had to think quick and act fast.  Sunglasses out, placed on face and papertowel folded and ready to collect tears.  Oh yes friends there were tears.

See, Megan is our princess, she has a presence and grace unlike any other dog, yet a purity and innocence about her that eats away at your heart.  We adopted her because when I saw her at the ASPCA and saw how beautiful she was and knew the hell she had been through, I just wanted to save her, show her love and a good life.  We had just put down our Rottie/German Shepherd/Husky mix a month after her 4th birthday because she had Lymphosarcoma.  It was devastating for us but we knew it was too huge a void to let be so we adopted Megan.  Well I can tell you the tables have certainly turned over the years...she has shown us more love, more devotion, more loyalty and concern than we could have ever expected.  This is the same dog that used to sleep with me and come to me because she wanted to spoon...yes spoon!  She loves being cuddled and nuzzled and always knew I was the one happy to always oblige (sorry Sam you know it's true).

So here I am, at a bus stop, looking at this dog and feeling nothing but a longing to be with my Meggie, my little sweetart, my bubbie and I can't be. WHOA, what.a.void!  Not as happy or exciting a moment I had expected but it is the reality of my current situation, all part of the "adjustment".  Fine, I get it...I don't like it...but I get it.  A few years ago, my sister and I went to San Francisco and in this shop on Fisherman's Wharf , I found a tiny picture that reads "Home is Where the Dog is"...I remembered that picture while enduring my moment and realized Malta may never really feel completely like home to me (because you know, it is more an "experience" and journey and all)  and I am 100% ok with that because Megan is home for me, yes all, Megan trumps Malta.  I told you I was an animal lover, I clearly wasn't lying:-).

I've hit the mark...the one month mark!

So I have officially hit the one month mark here in Malta.  It was a weird play on time as there were days that I felt I had been here longer than I actually had been but then when the month mark hit, I felt like OH HECK, IT'S ALREADY BEEN A MONTH!  Well having hit the mark, I thought it best to recap.  This is what I have learned thus far in my time in Malta:

  • God knew what he was doing when Fulbright decided to award me and my roomie Melissa, a grant here.  Would in no way have made it without her here!
  • For all the advancements made in Malta, they still have a ways to go in certain areas.
  • They have AMAZING food...traditional Maltese pastizzi's are a new favorite food!
  • The Arriva bus system is the most frustrating form of transportation in existence, it makes NYC look like they have the greatest transportation system in the world (and we know how far from the truth that is).
  • The Arriva bus drivers are equally frustrating, rude and annoying in a tv character sort of way (think Soup Nazi from Seinfeld and that pretty much sums up the idea of them).
  • Malta struggles in the fashion department, especially men's fashion...The fact that most men rock a stretchy, skinny denim look is both unattractive and down-right disturbing! NO stretchy, skinny denim is not a good look for a man, and I mean NO MAN...EVER!  
  • The University is this weird place where you feel you have entered a time-warp of sorts, almost like a Twilight Zone episode, however, what I thought would be a less favorable part of my Fulbright assignment looks like it will be the more favorable part as I have some pretty awesome students---go figure!  YAY ME!
  • The lack of good coffee (and in turn, a proper caffeine kick as mostly all is instant) or truly carbonated soda make runs to Mc Donald's for a medium or large coke an actual event of the night (no lie).
  • The Maltese are for the most part very friendly people, however, they are sometimes not as nice as they make themselves out to be but then again what NYers really are right so who am I to judge, again just an observation.
Now for all "negatives" noted above and for all of the frustrations Melissa and I have had to endure this past month (oh and believe me when I tell you that they continue) there have been some incredible bright spots... what might they be you ask?

Well here are some:
  1. Being invited to an Embassy sponsored concert of Daniel Martin Moore (I highly recommend a listen, he was great!) and having an opportunity to hang out with the Ambassador, made for a pretty amazing night.
  2. Being invited to the Press Attache's house for drinks made for yet another pretty amazing night.
  3. Random leisure walks around Mdina on a late Sunday morning and witnessing a wedding in progress was, simply put, very special.
  4. Random night walks during the week along the Promenade on a balmy night as we go for bubble tea or gelato just because is something you can never beat.
  5. And of course the festivals...OH THE FESTIVALS...Notte Bianca in Valletta was fantastic but Birgu festival simply stole my heart (there will be a separate blog on this festival later).   It was simple, but absolutely mind-blowing and beautiful and of course having the night capped with us having to take 3 dghasjas (die-sa) (water taxi gondola-ish boat) just to get to Valletta made the night even more special:-).
These are the moments that we will look back on (remember the good, bad and indifferent?) that will help to remind us that this is a journey on finding ways to adjust to a completely new way of life but at the same time, to remind us not to forget to enjoy what this new life has to offer and I think Malta and I are finding a pretty good common ground.  Can't wait to see what the next month will bring!

Until next time:-)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Merhba! My Official Welcome to my Blog...

MERHBA!  (That's "Welcome" in Maltese).

After  toying with the idea of whether or not to start a blog, thinking about why I would start one, questioning do I really have anything to say or share, the word "EXPERIENCE" kept coming to mind.  I realized that I can use this forum to share my "experiences" or my journey, if you will, with family, friends and anyone else interested in a quick, fun read on life in Malta for an American.  I have a place where all of my thoughts and experiences (there's that word again) as a Fulbright scholar, living abroad, working abroad, and all of the in-betweens (the good, the bad, the indifferent and most importantly, the hilariously funny) can be shared for everyone to see.

My one key thing when I decided to take the Fulbright, was that I was doing this not only for myself but for my family and friends as well, as a way to represent them and to acknowledge them for their endless support and love which has helped lead me here (to be completely honest I have a pretty amazing support system).  I always stressed that I would be taking them with me on this new adventure and so now I have a way to take a few more people along for the ride. Okay, enough mushy stuff, what can I promise you with this blog? Well I can promise that there will be days or weeks that I have much more to say than others.  I can promise I will try to make my entires as light-hearted and funny as possible and I promise to share my experiences as honestly as I possibly can, in as mature a way as possible (which sometimes is not the easiest thing to do).

So here is my official welcome to join me on this journey, a journey that will last for another 8 months, as I live the life of a Fulbright scholar (as if it is any different from anyone else's life...well maybe the hours are a little better), explore Malta, reflect on my time here, all the while taking time to travel and explore some other pretty cool places as well.   I will say thank you, in advance, for taking the time to read my blog, share my blog, and for all feedback and comments as they are most welcome.

Well, that is it for now...So Let's Ride!

Malta 2012-2013