Monday, November 19, 2012

Round 2: The 2 month mark!

Yes friends the 2 month mark has hit!  And I have to say even faster than the 1 month mark (or at least that is what my sister said).  I have officially been in Malta 2 months today.  It feels weird.  Everything that happened before leaving seems so long ago or as if it never happened.  When I think about when I first got here until now, it doesn't even seem like it's part of the same time frame or event. Again...Weird.  But it all is and all it shows is how much this is all a growth process and an adjustment.  Funny what you can get used to in such a short amount of time.

So here's my recap of things I've learned and what has happened:

  • Still thankful for my roomie Melissa, we definitely go through some pretty frustrating days here and it makes it all the better to have someone you can vent it out with (or do the occasional Christian Bale ‘Good for you' impression with:-)...that moment is just so relevant in so many situations).
  • I am definitely (and finally) feeling a sense of adjustment and community at home and in my school placements. I am really enjoying my time in both the Secondary School and the University because I work with some pretty amazing teachers and have some pretty awesome students.  Being able to sit back and watch a student give a presentation and allow myself to take in the surroundings is a really intense moment when you have that realization of where you are and what you are doing. I have come to realize how big this is for me and have learned to be proud of myself for being where I am and for having been able to accomplish this. GO ME! (and US to my fellow ETA's).
  • The Arriva bus system is still the most annoying thing in existence, however, you know you have moved on when you can laugh at the insanity of the bus drivers (wonder if that makes me a little insane too...hmmm?).  Either way, they are so insane they deserve their own reality show (personally I think insanity is a requirement for reality t.v.). Cursing customers out, driving off on people, playing cat and mouse with pedestrians...yep that would make for some entertaining t.v. time!
  • Still struggling in the coffee department.  I face timed with a friend yesterday and she asked “what is the one food you miss, is there anything you are missing right now"?  Coffee immediately came out my mouth.  A nice large Dunkin Donuts cup would be a dream come true right now.  Funny thing is that I was not a major coffee drinker back home but because it is such a comfort drink for me, I am having a very hard time with not having good coffee!
  • I still miss my dogs terribly, so hard without them!  I miss them so much that I really do foresee me volunteering my time at the SPCA in Floriana to be able to get my doggie fix.
  • Men and fashion still don't go hand in hand here, for the most part unfortunately, but it is what it is ...again you just learn to let go and move on:-).
  • Still never tire of being able to walk the promenade on a random night for that pivotal Coca-Cola run to McDonald's or for bubble tea or gelato.  It just never gets old and is really the most relaxing perk of where I live.  So grateful for that.
  • The Maltese are very loud and passionate speakers (and for all I know they could just be saying 'hi' to someone) and this makes me happy because I think of home and makes Malta feel a little like home because us Puerto Rican folk are about as loud and passionate as it gets...but you know, it's not yelling:-).
  • Now for the big moment:  I have officially been able to prove to myself that I can live away from my family and friends (and dogs) and the world didn't end because of it (dramatic I know, but I needed to drive the point home).  I wasn't sure if I would ever get over that hump of feeling homesick.  I still miss home terribly, don't get me wrong, but life seems surreal here most of the time and believe me when I tell you I am not living a particularly glamorous life.  School and home with an occasional visit to a restaurant, festival or day out shopping is the norm, but it is surreal and I know I will never have it this good again so while I am here I must make the most of it!  Nothing can be taken for granted because this will all be over in 7 months (whether good, bad or indifferent) so just trying to take in every moment of everyday. Carpe Diem, Y.O.L.O. and whatever other fitting mantra that suits my point you can fill in here______!
  • Now having said that, the other key point proven?  A 6 hour time difference is too long and Malta is too far but it'll do for now:-).
As Thanksgiving approaches, my reflection on the last month has been one of learning acceptance and acknowledging the blessings I do have in my life.  I know some things for sure, I will continue to grow, personally and professionally (BLESSING as we should never stop growing),  there will be good days and bad days or as one prior ETA put it “the highs will be really high and the lows will be really low" (BLESSING because that is life, you take the good with the bad and it's what you do with it that matters).  I have a loving and supportive family, amazing friends and have had and will continue to have once in a lifetime experiences whether good, bad or indifferent (BLESSING because it shows me I am living life, simply living life)!  So I end this post with a part of a song I think is very fitting to my 2 month mark and how I am feeling about things right now in general.  The song is called On Top of the World by Imagine Dragons:

I coulda gave up then but

Then again I couldn’t have ’cause
I’ve traveled all this way for something

Now take it in but don’t look down

‘Cause I’m on top of the world, ‘ay
I’m on top of the world, ‘ay
Waiting on this for a while now
Paying my dues to the dirt
I’ve been waiting to smile, ‘ay
Been holding it in for a while, ‘ay
Take it with me if I can
Been dreaming of this since a child
I’m on top of the world".

I'm on top of the world friends because LIFE.IS.GOOD!  Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Until next time!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

“Today was a GOOD day"...

Yes I'm quoting Ice Cube because today was a good day!  Why you ask, well here's why:

Highlight #1: Taught a lesson with one of my Form 3 classes (13-14 year olds).  This class is a “lively" class that was a little hard to get through to but seem to really be coming around.  So much so that they begged for me to take over the lessons every week.  I personally think they just really enjoy having someone new who happens to be a native English speaker but when I began the lesson they were quiet, attentive and participated actively.  Seeing the smiles on their faces and how their demeanor changed whenever I would compliment their work spoke eons.  It was a really good teaching moment!

Highlight #2:  There is a class that is known as the difficult class due to a few students who make it very difficult to teach period.  They are so difficult that they give even the worst of them a run for their money.  The sad part is that these girls are Form 2's so they are between 12-13 years old.  I can't even begin to imagine what they will be like as they get older, it is seriously that scary of a thought.  Well, one teacher, whom I adore working with, had them today for the 3rd lesson and was a little sad that I was not joining her for the lesson (I have to admit I was as well because I worry for her as it really works on her when the girls are completely out of control).  So with great anticipation I made my way back to the staff room, to wait for said teacher to ask her about the lesson.  To my WONDERFUL surprise, she had a huge smile on her face and said “I was able to do the entire lesson, 'C' did not say a word and 'K' actually participated, no issues, we got through the entire lesson".  Well what happened next was a moment of all moments.  The entire staff room erupted in cheers, applause, fist pumps, you name it.  All the teachers began asking her what she did, what was her secret? It was as if she was a celebrity of sorts.  She looked like she was ready to cry, sooo happy and soooo relieved.  A moment she greatly deserved and I was so happy to witness and be part of!

Highlight # 3: As a group we all got together and ordered lunch and ate as a group.  Most of us had Chinese and it was wonderful just to sit there, enjoy a good meal and good conversation.  For the first time, I really felt like I was part of the staff.  Also thought it quite hilarious that they were completely intrigued by the fact that I know how to use chopsticks.  It became staff room conversation as to how well I use them and why it is I know how to use them so well.  I'm thinking Asian cuisine is not a norm in Malta.

Highlight # 4:  2 teachers began singing Christmas Carols in Maltese and as much as other teachers asked them to stop, they kept doing it and I loved it!  I love all things Christmas, especially the spirit of the season but I just loved the silliness of it all.  They knew they were driving people crazy but did it for fun, for a good laugh, to bring some lightheartedness to the group and in the end, people had smiles on their faces and were laughing.  That's camaraderie at it's best!

Highlight #5:  Closing the day reminding one of your teachers that you are not in on Wednesdays because you teach at the University and having her tell you, and I quote: “I actually don't like Wednesdays because I have gotten so used to having you in class with me in such a short amount of time, that I have grown to enjoy having you there to work with you and bounce ideas back and forth that I miss it when I don't have a lesson with you, thank you so much for all you do, it really has been such a pleasure working with you, I enjoy it and the students enjoy it, you really have come a very long way in a very short amount of time which is not usually how it goes here" is PRICELESS.

These are the moments that really matter, the little things that just put a smile on your face or allow you to walk away feeling really good about yourself and what it is you are doing.   So yes friends today was a good day, a really good one, so good in fact, I am thinking there will only be better days to come.

Until next time!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

“To Travel is to Live" ~Hans Christian Andersen

If there is anything you should know about me (aside from the fact that I consider myself the luckiest girl in the world to have 2 of the most amazing women in “my" world for my sisters, and the fact that I absolutely love dogs) is that I LOVE TO TRAVEL!  There is no greater thing in the world to do than to board a plane to a new country, wander aimlessly in a city, allowing yourself to be in the moment, all the while taking a few (hundred) pictures for remembrance sake.

See, I grew up in the Bronx, in a working class family where family vacations were not an option simply because there was no money to do so.  As I got older, I realized it was something I wanted to make sure I got to "experience", yeah well that “experience" has become a priority.  Traveling renews me, it fulfills me but it also reminds me that I do have a home, a base and for me, there is no greater reason to make a point to do it.  It allows you to see what you are missing out on, to experience something so different from your norm, an escape if you will, while at the same time, reminding you that you have a home, a place where you completely belong.

This past weekend I got to take my first trip (hopefully of many during my time in Malta) to Stockholm, Sweden.  It was a celebratory weekend trip for Melissa and I as a way to mark the one month mark in Malta.  Yes, we decided to celebrate by voting ourselves off the island.  Allow me to explain...Malta is small, like really small, so small that even the locals will tell you more often than not that they feel stifled here, almost trapped because the only way off the island is via plane or boat.  Well, I can honestly tell you that this NY'er right here, knew exactly what they meant immediately.  Don't get me wrong, Malta is beautiful, and more importantly, it's a genuine place where you can
have a truly authentic European experience, unlike most European countries that are now so watered
down for tourisms sake that it ruins the entire experience, but it is small and really hot/humid, even in November.  So what better way to celebrate the month milestone on my Fulbright adventure than to go somewhere completely opposite of Malta.

When we landed in Stockholm, I walked out of the plane and the first thing I did was inhale the cold air.  People were running for the doors to get inside the airport but Melissa and I just stood there and let the cool air wash over us.  It was GREAT!!!  SOOOO REFRESHING!!!  It is not freezing there this time of year so it was just the right temperature.  Now, the only "downside" to the trip (not that it really was) was that we flew Ryan Air so of course it's airport is one of the furtherest ones from Stockholm.  So aside from the fact that we lived out our very own version of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, I can honestly say that there is nothing bad to say about Stockholm.  It was the perfect place to go as a first trip.  Different from my norm, a place I have never been and another positive
was that it had GREAT COFFEE!!! Like REAL COFFEE!!!! AND Hot Chocolate served in bowls,
yes bowls!  It was heaven!

Stockholm is, by far, the cleanest city I have ever visited, has one of the most efficient and cleanest transportation systems, offers amazing shopping and site seeing, has some of the friendliest people I have ever come in contact with and is easy to navigate.  It is a walking city, a family and dog friendly city (you can travel with your dogs on public transport-AWESOMENESS AT IT'S BEST) and it manages to balance urban and country setting like no other city. But the key thing about Stockholm, that even trumps the fact that you can travel with your dogs and that they have amazing coffee, is that it is a really safe city, probably one  that I have felt safest in aside from Sliema here in Malta (or most places in Malta actually as Malta is a very safe place as well).  It also has amazing hotels and glorified hostels near the airport to save you from having to travel to the airport at 2am for a 6:30am flight!

The architecture, winding streets, canals and bridges just really make it such a beautiful city.  We got to spend the day in Gamla Stan (Old Town), see the Royal Palace, go on a boat ride on the Royal Canal, visit the Vasa Museum (AMAZING!!!!) as well as Skansen Park.  It was certainly too short of a trip but worth it nonetheless. For all of the walking we did, it was relaxing because that is the vibe there, laid back and relaxed, what more could you ask for from a weekend trip.  It is an expensive city but if you do your research, it is definitely a manageable place to visit and well worth it!

I have done my fair share of traveling (and now I can add Stockholm to that list), moved to a foreign country a little over a month ago and took my first trip away from Malta that allowed me to solidify Malta a little more as home as it is my base for the next 7 months where I will continue to return to from any other trip I take.  Munich Christmas Markets are up next in 3 weeks followed by Paris for New Years.  We only have one life to live, one shot to make it our own, to live it our travel is MY way to live.


Sunday, November 4, 2012


This week, the unthinkable happened to my hometown of New York City.  It was devastated by Hurricane Sandy, as were most surrounding areas in New Jersey, Long Island and Upstate New York.    I have to admit, this hit hard for me and was that one eye-waking moment that made me not enjoy being so far away from my family.  I was scared, I was concerned, I was worried, but more importantly, I was helpless.  Ugh, how I hate that word and feeling.   This was a full on storm that destroyed homes, took lives and left “the city that never sleeps" drowning and burning.  Never in my life did I ever think I would see the day that the subway system would have to be shut down for days on end or that NYC schools had to be closed for a week because of a “natural disaster".  As I read articles, facebook statuses and looked at pictures of the devastation left behind in it's wake, I could not and still cannot believe it is real.  But it is and the unfortunate thing is that I whole-heartedly believe that this storm has brought on a new dawn for us East Coasters.  I have been saying it for years that eventually we too would endure hurricanes and massive storms and the scary part is that we are not built for them, nor do we have the same mindset as those that are used to such extreme weather conditions.

When I heard that the Red Cross was holding a telethon to help raise money to aid the victims of Hurricane Sandy, all I could think about were the recent telethons held for the Tsunami of 2004, Hurricane Katrina, and the Haiti earthquake and how much more surreal this made it for me.  Yet another “never thought I'd see" moment.  Well, one thing is for sure, I may be thousands of miles away but I will do my part.  I have made my donation and will continue to take part in any efforts that I can while here in Malta until I return home, because NYC is my home and the home of my family so we have to come together to help repair our home.

Mother Nature beat on us badly this week but if there is one thing I know for sure and am truly proud of, is knowing that we are a city made up of fighters, people who understand what it is to struggle and what it takes to survive a struggle.  We are a tough city, a strong city and we will be an even better city because of this.  I ask that you stand together and work together to make NYC the greatest city in the world.  Get involved, use your voice and help rebuild your community.  In many ways, we were due for an overhaul and I think that Mother Nature gave us that push.  So move with it in a positive direction!  Change is never easy and never pretty but I have faith NYC, do me proud.  I want to be able to brag about how well my city is recovering from this to those here, but more importantly to show them that we are a people to be reckoned with.  

Frank sang it best “If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere, it's up to you New York, New York"

Now show the world whatcha got!

I Love You, New York City!  Keep your head up, your faith strong and your heart pure and nothing will be able to stop us!

God Bless!

My technorati short code is D2MEYBBZAZ48 

Trip to the Department of Immigration + My Travel Coffee Thermos = A Cultural Exchange of Sorts...

Above is a picture of my travel coffee thermos.  I make coffee (or again a very sad example of coffee as it is instant) in the morning to take with me to school.  Now, the thermos looks normal, right?  Nothing out of the ordinary or extravagant.  It is probably a 10oz. or 12oz. thermos, nothing crazy, just...standard.  Well, what if I told you that this thermos or any thermos of this size is apparently an American detection device?  That carrying this thermos, alerts the public in Malta that an American is in their midst.  No, I'm actually not even kidding.  Sounds ridiculous, right? Of course it does when you come from the land of the Grande's, Venti's, Super-sized and Big Gulp's (well, maybe not the last two thanks to Mayor Bloomberg thinking it is more important to focus on the size of drink a child is 
consuming, instead of focusing on real issues like the failing NYC Public School System or the 
homeless situation or the MTA issues NY'ers face everyday, or more recently, focusing on how to help NY'ers after Hurricane Sandy, sorry I digressed, but clearly, there are more important issues to tackle here than placing sanctions on the size of beverage one wishes to consume).

I am sure you are scratching your head and wondering what this has to do with my trip to the Department of Immigration or how this trip turned into a cultural exchange of sorts.  Well, here goes: 
About a week ago, Melissa and I got up at the crack of dawn to make our way to the DOI in Valletta to process our paperwork for our residency permits.  Given our experiences with government offices back home and the several warnings to “get there early", we took no chances.  Well, for me that meant rolling out of bed and taking my coffee to go.  We get to the office and boy did it feel like home.  Ticket dispenser on the ready for you to take your numbered ticket, ticket number counter up on the wall and even a group of Americans to really make it feel like any other day at the DMV (I kid you not, I said to Melissa "I feel like I'm at the DMV" and minutes later an American walks in and says "this is the DMV on steroids" seriously, I'm not even kidding and actually neither was he).  

We sat and waited, went through our paperwork to make sure all was in order and continued to wait some more, but surprisingly, not much more.  They started calling numbers...and FAST!  I was number 90 and it started at 71...only 19 ahead of me but I was thinking it would be some time before they got to my number.  Boy was I wrong.  The DOI gives you about a 2 second window to claim your number before they move on to the next number;  that would never happen in the States (mainly because people are always ready with their numbers only to, most of the time, be left in a state of confusion or frustration which in turn takes lots of time, no matter what office you are visiting).  It was so fast that when my number got closer, I actually got nervous because I was afraid I would miss my mark, no seriously, it was going that fast.  The number 89 came up on the counter and Melissa looked at me and said “get ready, you're next".  Sure enough, in the blink of an eye, 90 was called and I jumped up and went into the office.

Now, I want you all to think for a second about anytime you have ever had to go to a government office (DMV, Passport, SS Office, etc.).  Think about how you have been greeted (that actually makes me chuckle) and how you have been treated.  Okay, I am sorry if I made you angry, annoyed or frustrated in any way for having to think up such an unpleasant thought, but I was ready for that exact sort of moment, mainly because of unpleasant past experiences.   Much to my surprise, I was greeted with a smile AND a "Good Morning".  Wait, what???  Hold up! Where am I? Now that, I was not expecting.  I even looked around to make sure the man was speaking to me.  I have to say,  the person that helped me process my paperwork was pleasant and helpful to the point that I feel New York could take few lessons...for the most part, at least.  

Remember the coffee thermos?  Yeah well for all of the pleasantries exchanged between said guy and myself, the minute I whipped out my passport, he thinks it funny (with a bit of a sly smirk on his face) to say " I should have known you were American because of the size of your coffee cup, you Americans and your large coffee cups" (uses hands to show large size cup). Now it was early in the morning, frankly, too early for me to deal with any nonsense, so you know I had something to say.  My response was, and I quote, " Given that all you offer here in Malta is instant coffee which, in fact, is not even real coffee, kinda need the bigger cup to help try to give me some sort of caffeine kick" (all said with great sarcasm in my voice, don't worry my Bronx and NYC people, this girl right here knows exactly where she comes from). Said man's reaction...complete deer in headlights, like "oh heck, pushed the wrong buttons there" sort of look.  Needless to say, after that he was very pleasant and efficient as I was done processing my paperwork within minutes and he even felt it necessary to comment on how impressed he was with all of my traveling (as he literally went page by page in my passport-awkward much?).  He proceeded to tell me that he has only traveled through Europe (hey at least he has actually stepped off the island, you'd be surprised to know that there are many that haven't)  never to the States (UH CLEARLY!) but that he really wants to visit the States, especially New York ( of course, who doesn't).  I smiled, gave him the "may I have my passport back now , please" sort of look, paid my fee and was on my way.

There are 3 lessons to be learned here friends: 1. is the old adage "Don't judge a book by it's cover" (I did by the look of the office and was pleasantly surprised to find that it ran much more efficiently than I had anticipated), 2. "Know your audience" (said man thought it cute to call me out on being American simply because of the size of my coffee cup, and in turn, got a true lesson on knowing when you are in the midst of an American as I gladly gave him a piece of my mind to let him know I did not appreciate him trying to criticize us with the coffee cup comment) and 3. "Don't throw stones at glass houses" (because you never know when someone may have a rock ready to be thrown instead).   There is plenty I could have said, but I chose to be the bigger person by saying my part and nothing more and in the end he understood where I was coming from and what I was there for, which was for him to do his job and process my application. Mission Accomplished!