Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Malta Style!

It's happened.  I spent Christmas without my family...or did I?  Well let's take a look...


  • I got to Skype with my mom and sister early in the day so that I would be able to see my mom open her gifts that my sister and I got her.  I got to talk with her and spend some quality time with her, albeit on a computer.  I really miss her!
  • Later that evening I made dinner at home with Melissa.  We had cavatelli in a pumpkin sauce with pancetta and peas and arugula salad.  To drink? Delicious local Maltese red wine.  
(Being Puerto Rican, you get accustomed to a very specific menu for the holidays that includes Arroz con gandules, perníl or ham, potato salad and pasteles.  For drink, you can usually find a bottle of coquito along with plenty of other spirits, so not having any of that was definitely difficult but you make the best of it and my best was simple, delicious, and quite local).
  • After dinner Melissa and I exchanged gifts...she got me a beautiful satchel with cross body strap in a blush color (we are serious accessories girls and you can find some good stuff in Malta). 
  • We then went to Midnight mass at one of the very few churches here that give mass in English.  All I can say is that it was beautiful and inspiring.  The message?   “To listen"....listen to God, listen to yourself and chances are you will always find the right answers.  So profound.
  • After the service, we enjoyed coffee and hot chocolate as well as pastizzi's at the church.  A truly beautiful and authentic way to enjoy the night.
  • Woke up to a beautiful sunny and warm Christmas day.  Sun was shining, waters were calm and the air was warm but dry...simply perfect.
  • Had brunch with my roomie at a local restaurant that was truly amazing and SO CHEAP!!!  We are still confused as to how the food could be so good and so cheap, but it was.  
  • After, I quickly came home to shower and change to make my way to Marsaxlokk for a traditional Maltese dinner with my “mom away from mom", Violet and her parents.  “Marsa" means harbor and “xlokk" means south in Maltese and I can see where the village got it's name.  It is a small but beautiful village south of the island and your welcome into the village are two vineyards on either side of you while the main square is right on the water where all the colorful fishing boats are lined up and a beautiful gothic church is looking down on you...BREATHTAKING!  Violet met me in the square and we walked to her home.  It was such a lovely home with a beautiful conservatory and her parents are two of the most genuine and kind people I have ever met.
  • On the menu for dinner was: Broccoli and Cauliflower soup with potatoes and bacon(anyone who knows me, knows how much of a soup girl I am), main course was roasted rabbit (or as my sister said, I ate Thumper, listen when in Rome...just sayin') and roasted vegetables.  For dessert we had homemade mince pies that another teacher baked for us to share as well as homemade Baci made by Violet's mom.  We also had fruit salad in peach liqueur as well as local cookies.
  • After dinner, we sat in Violet's sitting room, she insisted I call my mom so I did (you never go against the insistence of the Maltese people, they are relentless, but in a way that really makes you feel cared for) and afterward we all just talked---about everything---school, students, how life in Malta has changed over the years, hobbies that her father used to partake in, how he is 78 years old and walks 7 miles a day, and what he did for a living as he worked as an Electrical Engineer for Commercial and Military ships, as well as travel,  just normal but very interesting conversation.  I was told by Violet's mom that she officially has an adopted daughter which for some crazy reason got me very emotional and I know it is because that when it comes time to leave, it can and will be so permanent:-(.
  • When I got home, I was able to Face Time with my sisters to wish them a Merry Christmas and to see my dad, who was in NY from Las Vegas.  We joked, we laughed, we talked about my sister Sam's upcoming trip to Malta.  I got to see all the food I was missing out on as it was cooking away in the kitchen and I got to see and speak to my nephew and ask him about all the things that Santa brought him (yes he is 11 and yes I still ask what Santa brought him as that is how it will always be!).  I even got to see and speak to my sweetart Megan, my pharaoh hound mix, she was resting but I called her name and she woke right up:-)...miss her terribly, my pretty girl! It was truly the perfect way to end the night.
So there you have it, my Christmas holiday in a nutshell.  As much as I refer to Violet as my “mom away from mom", Melissa, as well as Violet and her parents, are very much all family to me and during my time here are my “family away from family".  As I have stated previously, God knew what he was doing when Fulbright gave me and Melissa the grants for Malta; Melissa and I will forever be family, sisters from other moms, because we already are and we will always be able to see each other as we live in the Tri-state area, but to be able to develop this friendship with such a truly genuine and lovely family as the Rizzo's, a local family of Malta, really makes Malta hold a very special place in my heart.  These are people that I will miss terribly when I leave as I miss my family back home.  So as you can see, although this was not my traditional way of spending the Christmas holiday, that was really not important.  The “how" is not the important part, it's the “who" that is the important part.  I spent Christmas with my family, near and far, and enjoyed the holiday in a way that I will cherish for the rest of my life.  

MERRY (HAPPY) CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY!  Now to ring in the New Year in good 'ole PARIS;-).

Until next time!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Not your average school Christmas production...My girls made me so proud!

Yesterday was the school Christmas show at the Girls' Secondary School where I work.  Now, you may be thinking that it was your average show with band and choral performances, well you are wrong.  Actually very wrong.  In fact, it was quite the opposite.  All week I heard how teachers were frustrated by the fact that students were being pulled from lessons in order to rehearse and I can certainly sympathize with such frustrations because it is the last week before break and the students have their exams in February, unlike us Americans who don't have them until much later in the year.  So as seems to be the growing educational trend, it's all about making sure that they are prepared for the exams.

Well, I have to say I am pleasantly surprised to know that such efforts were made for rehearsals because the production I saw yesterday was one purely imagined and executed by the students themselves.  They do not have art, music, dance or any sort of other creative-outlet classes.  They take on the sole responsibility of putting this performance together, they come up with choreography on their own, they choose the songs they want to sing and choose the theatrical performance pieces.  All forms take part and all I can say is that I am so proud and even floored by the talent I witnessed yesterday.  There were sets, costumes, makeup, you name it and again, all of this was solely done by them.  So, what does that tell us?  It tells us that creative outlets are just as important as academics.  They provide for confidence building, freedom of expression and help ignite a passion and love for something.  All pivotal components to developing into a well-rounded individual.

The girls supported each other, cheered and sang along to songs and were just so pumped to have the opportunity to show what they could do.  I was able to take pictures and video but am unable to share  for obvious reasons but I really wish I could.  I saw future So You Think You Can Dance talent and X Factor/Idol talent.  These gifts are not always encouraged and performances such as these are not so common here so it made me feel really great to be part of a school, that may not have the resources to offer such programs, but still allows the students to release their creative energy and have their moment to shine.  It was a beautiful moment to witness and it made me so proud to see lots of my students up there dancing and singing (solo) and just looking genuinely happy.

On Tuesday, I ran into one of my favorite students, 'C', and she came up to me and said “MS. RIVERA, MS. RIVERA, may I have a hug?" To which I replied “of course you can", I began to ask her about her day and if she was performing in Christmas show and she said “YES, I'm singing Jar of Hearts". She along with a couple of other students of mine asked me quite seriously about whether I would be attending the show and I told them “Yes, I wouldn't miss it for the world, I know how talented you all are so I'm very excited to see you perform".  They giggled and jumped up and down like your normal teen girls do and said “Ms. Rivera, I love you, you are a wonderful teacher, our favorite teacher, you support us" and as I walked away, they blew kisses at me...great way to end the day right? Well just imagine how I feel now knowing what I know about the performance I saw yesterday.  As Mastercard says...PRICELESS.  This will forever be one of my most precious moments here in Malta.

Until next time...



After a lengthy and time consuming process, I finally got my residency permit for Malta.  When you come to Malta you are automatically given a three month permit that allows you to travel back and forth.  When you apply for the permit, you are then given a temporary permit that is good for six months, however, once you apply and your three month permit is up, you are not allowed to leave Malta as you will, naturally, not be allowed back in. So given that I leave for Paris in 9 nine days and my three month permit expired on Wednesday, you could imagine my concern.  As with most processes here, it's all about follow up.  I applied back in October and had to get the International office at the University involved to get status on the permit because as with most gov't agencies anywhere, god forbid they answer a phone.  No stress though because I have it, I'm officially a resident of Malta so life is good:-).  Merry Christmas to me and bring on Paris!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Where I was, Where I am and Where I'm Going....The 3 month Mark

Today marks three months in Malta and all I can say is time truly does fly.  I have come to that crossroad where I see my time left here as no real time at all because if three months can go by so quickly, a little over five months is nothing.  In organizing paperwork, I came across papers of things from when I first got here and it seems like so long ago.  I was able to see for the first time how much I have changed and things have changed.  Simply put....I've grown.  I've been able to prove something to myself that I'd always wondered about....I did the unthinkable, or what seemed like the unthinkable just three short months ago.  I moved to another country, away from family and friends and everything comforting and familiar, had many a “what the hell did I do?" moments and now I look back at that time as what it was always meant to be ...a stepping stone...a growth process.

So where am I now? Well to be completely honest I still find myself, from time to time, in a place where I ask that ever-loving question “What have I done?", or better yet, “where the heck did I move to?", just not as often because the truth is I have grown to love being here and am truly enjoying my time here.  It is home, albeit temporary, but home nonetheless.  I have settled into my teaching assignments, enjoy them greatly and enjoy the company of whom I work with.  The Maltese remind me a little of my fellow New Yorkers in that we are not the easiest people to deal with or get to know and neither are the Maltese, it takes a while for them to warm up to you, sometimes I like to think the reasons are obvious as to why.  However, when they do, their warmth and graciousness is really comforting and even overwhelming.  One teacher I work with, Violet, is a godsend of a colleague but she is also very much what I like to call “a mom away from mom", she brings me home cooked meals on Mondays that either she or her mother have made.  Her mother actually puts food aside for me, she's looked out for me when I have been sick and invited me to her home for Christmas dinner because she wants me to meet her family...more surprisingly...they want to meet me. That means the world to me.  To be welcomed and looked after is something that feels so wonderful and is something that is much needed, whether one wants to admit it or not.

These last three months have given me quality time to reflect, to be in the moment but to also see where this time, this moment, can take me and little by little I see the endless possibilities before me and that is both exciting and scary.  I am acutely aware of the bubble I live in here and that I will never live in such a peaceful, laid back yet fulfilling bubble again, even with everything that has stressed me here.  For that I am grateful because before now, I never thought such a moment in time would ever be possible and it is.  This is my moment in time and I am savoring every minute.

It would not be a “month mark" blog post without a recap, so here we go:

  • Arriva bus system and drivers are still crazy, but what's even crazier, is for every short stop or sharp turn or lack of concern for schedule, it just rolls off of me.  I watch tourists freak out on the buses and fall forward and I...laugh...if I even notice anything at all. HA!
  • Coffee...what's that?!?!?!  Nuff said:-(
  • Fashion...yeah still hasn't reached here unfortunately, makes Christmas shopping virtually real options on the island and no easy way to ship any real clothing here so really smart move on my part to choose Malta or in the wise words of my nephew..."or was it"...because let's be honest, it saves me money:-).
  • Making it here was definitely God's handy work because I have experienced some of the most precious moments in my life here from being blessed with a roommate and fellow ETA that has become family to me, to developing a working relationship and friendship with a teacher where I am able to express my ideas and feedback and having them become like family (none an easy fete here), to sharing an unexplainable bond with the ETA's that I know no one will ever understand or get but us, to having students show love and appreciation for what I am trying to do here, to being able to look out on my balcony and see the sun shine and the ocean sway...certainly not something I would have ever expected.
  • On a not so mushy topic, there are things about Malta's school system that I wish I could fix with a magic wand, boys and girls do not know how to properly interact with each other because they are kept separated and the evidence can be down right disturbing at times because it is clearly due to a lack of exposure. And there is not enough room in this blog to discuss the unfortunate similarites that I see between the Maltese school system and the NYC school system that lead me to question what is happening in the world of Education as a whole, where are we going wrong?
  • I love that I find it humorous everytime now when I hear some of my most difficult students address me, for “Ms.ReeeveerAAA" will NEVER get old.
  • Nothing is more challenging than 12-14 year old girls questioning your every move and your reason for being on their turf. A challenge I gladly accept.
  • I openly admit that I did not give some of my students enough credit on their views of the world, however, it saddens me a bit to know that because Malta is limited when it comes to certain resources and opportunities, they could miss out on a lot because this is all they know.
  • For most things said above, I know I still have a little over 5 months here to really try to push the envelope, make a difference and most importantly to make my students aware that the word opportunity is not just a word but something they should aim for.  I have students that are really bright and some that are genuinely talented and they should know it and should always be made aware that anything is possible.  They should know that for every time they beg me to bring them home with me, it's a moment they are putting it out into the universe that they want more for themselves and they should!
On my way home from University today, I stopped to get lunch at one of my favorite local eateries, Mint, and I was asked by the owner how long I had been here and I realized that it was three months ago today that I arrived in Malta.  It was a bit of a whoa moment because with each month that passes they become more and more of a blur, which is not cool, hahaha.  I decided to walk home along the promenade from the restaurant and on my walk home, I just took the time to take it all in.  This is real, this is now, this is a moment that has and will continue to change me and my view on things and what I decide to do with my life, for the rest of my life, forever. 

I look forward to those changes especially with the holidays around the corner and the new year about to begin.  I can say with much joy and excitement that I look forward to the next 5 or so months because I am excited for visits from family and friends, to share my life here with them, it is no more just a place they will visit, but my home they will visit and that is very exciting.  I look forward to more travel adventures and most importantly, more “teacher" moments because that is what this experience is all about.  For every smile I get from students when I tell them I will be here until June and for every time a teacher tells me how much they appreciate having me around,  I know I am exactly where I am meant to be, helping, growing, learning and educating.  Making an attempt to make my mark.  This is the Fulbright life, but most importantly, it's my life and I only see it getting better as time goes on.  Pretty exciting stuff if you ask me:-).

Happy Holidays Friends and here's to a New Year filled with lots of opportunity, prosperity and happiness for all.


Sunday, December 16, 2012


My friend Lauren, who teaches in Germany, told me that “the Christmas markets are one of my favorite things about Germany, I love the way the Germans do Christmas". This comment helped get me excited for my weekend in Munich because I must be honest, Germany was not originally on my list of places to visit while in Malta.  The idea of visiting the markets came about on a bus ride home from the Notte Bianca Festival in Valletta back in September when Melissa and I realized that we would really need to do things to keep us in the holiday spirit given that we would not be with our family or friends.  We thought what better way to celebrate Christmas than to head to one of Germany's markets.  And so, thanks to good old modern technology and smart phones, Melissa was able to begin researching on her phone, while on the bus.  This not only got us excited about the holidays but also provided a much needed buffer to Paceville's finest traveling on the bus with us.

Deciding on Munich was fairly easy and so we began searching for flights and a hotel.  I will say I am IN LOVE with LUFTHANSA and  Lufthansa is an amazing airline unlike any other I have flown and has come through for us with amazing hotels and rates.  Flights were great, transport to our hotel wonderful and efficient and so began our weekend.  We were welcomed to Munich with snow which I felt was just so fitting since we had not seen snow in a really long time and it just made for a great kick off to the weekend.  I have to say, immediately I understood what Lauren was talking about.  The Christmas Markets, simply put, are like walking around a live Hallmark movie or Winter Wonderland.  We were able to visit the Marienplatz Market, the Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower) Market and the Tollwood Winter Festival.  All were very different, very cool and an experience all their own.  The one constant at all three was the Glühwein.  This is a mulled, hot red wine that is a necessity to survive the cold all the while being absolutely delicious. A win/win if you ask me.

We saw many a booth with handmade ornaments, mangers, foods, and desserts; enjoyed many a mug of  Glühwein, a great meal and beer at a local Bierhall and Starbucks coffee! All major scores for us. I have to say, although not a fan of Starbucks coffee (more of a latte/hot chocolate girl there), I love their Christmas blend, a must try! To get you in the spirit of Christmas at the Markets, there were Carolers, Carousels, Horse and Carriages and your fill of fake Santas. 

Munich, as a whole, is a beautiful city, with an efficient transportation system that offered all one would want from visiting such a place-beauty, history,  great shopping and convenience, all with the added bonus of the magic of Christmas.

What more could a girl ask for:-).