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

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly...of Teaching

Sitting in my staff room today, I felt the urge to sit down during my break to write this blog post because today has been a rather interesting day.  By 12:55pm so much had happened that Melissa, my roomie, asked “what was in the water today?" when I briefed her on my day.

The events that took place, to me, showed how much of an emotional roller coaster you can be on, at times, when it comes to teaching. It is never simply about teaching the content but also being able to perfect your acting skills because there are days where you will play the role of teacher, others where you are counselor/psychologist, mediator, friend, mother,  adversary and everything else in between.  It can be mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting because in most situations, your hands are tied and there is not much you can do so you opt to focus most on the things within your control and simply hope for the best.

My day in a nutshell...

My School
5th Lesson: 11:45am
5th lesson on Mondays is with my Form 1 class.  This class is a teachers dream.  They are all extremely bright and well behaved students who still very much have their innocence in tact, as it should be given that they are only 11.  Since the Half Yearly exams are two weeks away, practice was on the agenda for today.  Today they reviewed Poetry and understanding Personification in Poetry and were amazingly good at it. Some needed explanation while most did not, giving clear examples from the text.  Violet, the teacher I work with, used her laptop in class and had a background picture of Hagar Qim, one of the megalithic temples here in Malta.  She was giving me some history on the temple and the girls noticed our conversation, raised their hands and asked if they could do presentations on places in Malta and cultural aspects so that they could teach me about Malta.  Now, this is a big deal given that I am doing a very similar project with my Form 3's and they are not as pleased with the idea of doing a presentation and yet here are Form 1's who suggested the idea themselves, are excited to share information about their home and to present it to me.  Did I say they are a dream class?  I think even if I didn't it would go without saying.

7th Lesson: 1:30pm
During this lesson, I have what is usually my toughest class.  Well, remember the “what's in the water" comment?  Yeah, believe me I am still trying to figure it out.  I walked into this class to find the girls eager to talk to me, asking me to come up with games where they can practice their speech more, telling the teacher that they wanted me to do the lesson and even though they were loud and talkative, they actually worked.  There are about 3-4 students in that class that make it difficult for any teacher to handle them and they were so focused on what we were doing that part of the loud talking was them telling one of the difficult students to be quiet and stop disrupting...WHO KNEW?!?!?!  More shocking was that one of the other difficult ones actually participated...A LOT! Weird doesn't even begin to describe it.  Now for as difficult as they are, you know the underlying reasons...issues at home, lack of parenting and guidance, learning and social issues that are not being properly addressed so you have to keep this in the forefront of your mind to simply help you get through the lesson most days.  You have to have a strong will to deal with them and know that you are and will always be physically, mentally and emotionally spent after every class with them...and the lesson is only 40 minutes long.  Can't complain today though because they were really good...still exhausted from all of the stimulation but not complaining one bit.

1st Lesson: 8:40am
This lesson was with my better Form 2 class and as they were settling down to prepare for Half Yearly test review I noticed one student who was visibly upset.  She was crying. I made eye contact with her and mouthed "Is everything ok?", she responded by shaking her head no and sobbing uncontrollably.  I motioned for her to follow me outside and she did.  Now to give you some background on this student, this is not one of the stronger students so her English is not the most developed and she also tends to have a bit of an air about her, but in this moment she was what we sometimes forget that these girls are...a child...a 12 year old child who was upset over something and needed some reassurance to calm her down.  When we got into the hallway, I asked her if all was ok and she began to explain that a fight had broken out last week between some friends of hers and now they were turning on her because of her reaction to the situation and therefore made her feel very uncomfortable...oh how this brought me back to Middle School and why it is my least favorite age group, kids at this age are just SO MEAN! I then had to deal with multiple students coming out into the hall to explain what happened and also simply to be nosey so in trying to support her, I had to play hall monitor to get the other girls back to their classes. The crazy thing is that as much as any other teacher would have shrugged it off as she being dramatic, I understood what she was going through and felt her pain because girls here can be pretty rough so any threat should be taken seriously.  Needless to say, I was concerned.  I did what I felt she needed, I offered her a sense of support and protection and waited with her until the Head of the Form 2's appeared so that she could further discuss the situation.  Before she appeared we talked about what happened a little more in detail and why she thought they were treating her badly.  I also asked to see if any direct threats were made that would concern me for her safety but it seemed to be more of a dispute than an actual threat (or at least I was hoping that would be the case).  In the end, she thanked me for staying with her and for being there for her.  What a way to start a Monday morning!

3rd Lesson: 10:55am Lesson 3
This Form 2 class is not as strong as the original class above but there is one student in this class that has really gotten to me.  I feel for her and all she has been through in her short life that for all of her outbursts, acting out, and lack of focus at times, I simply can't ever be mad at her.  She is one who has been dealt a heavy hand of cards at a very young age and is simply doing the best she can with what she has to work with.  Her good days are REALLY good, she is focused, smart, really bright and she actively participates.  However, the strikes against her are great, especially being here in Malta: she is severely ADHD, lives most of her time in an orphanage that does not believe she needs her medication, she only sees her mother on supervised visits and she is half black/half Maltese so she gets teased for that, oh and she's 12 so with all going on in her life, she is also trying to deal with being an adolescent.  When Mondays come around, it is usually a rough day for her because she has not been on her medication all weekend to help keep her calm and focused. This is the only form of “therapy" that is being offered to her at the moment so for that to not be consistent is truly just awful for her.  Today, she bounced around, walked in/out of class and acted out.  She said things to me like "You should go back to New York, why are you here?" and continued to say inappropriate things in Maltese to the teacher and eventually admitted in the end that she was saying these things because "Ms. Rivera is not paying attention to me, she is ignoring me" and looked at me with pained eyes.  Again, just can't bring myself to be mad at her.  We continued through the lesson but you can't help have that affect you because you know where it is coming from and you can't let it go from your mind as you sit and obsess about why she is the way she is and what is really going on.  Apparently, the Head of the Form 2's has said time and again "If I told you everything she has been through and witnessed, it would destroy you".  After a day like today, I believe it and that breaks my heart.  i wish I could fix her and her situation and I know I can't and that feeling of helplessness is like kryptonite to a teacher.

So what is my reason for writing this post...well basically it is to help paint a picture of what teachers face in the classroom everyday alone, this doesn't even include what one deals with when it comes to Administration issues.  Most people have a very tainted idea of what is involved when it comes to being a teacher...usually all they see (or choose to see) is the vacation time and supposed early hours, when do you think unit and lesson planning and grading papers and exams happens?  What most don't care to realize is that we are dealing with the emotional highs/lows that these students face on a daily basis. We are dealing with no less than 24 different personalities, home situations, learning and social levels and are expected to actually teach and educate these students and be able to do so completely composed and unscathed and in the end give them a grade for their progress or lack thereof.  Keep that in mind the next time you think a teacher and students today, have it easy.

Until Next Time,

Thursday, January 24, 2013

4 Times the Charm...The 4 Month Mark!

And so it came and went, in the blink of an eye...the 4 month mark.  How quickly time has decided to speed up on me (sneaky little bugger that time is) for now the constant concerns and questions are simply, is there enough time?  do I have enough time left here?  My how things have changed in just 4 short (yet very long) months.  The things I fret about these days are “normal"...lesson ideas and that of preparing for lessons when a teacher decides to throw you for a loop, preparing for the next wave of Erasmus students for my University class, making lists of the things that I still have to see and experience here, and excitingly...preparing for my sister's visit, which just yesterday felt like it was a ways away but is now down to just two weeks from today...can't.wait!

These norms led me to reflect before sitting down to write this entry because the shocker to me in all of this is the realization that I have truly come to have a genuine life here in Malta, one that is my own, one that I am completely settled in and truly enjoying only to know that in a little over 4 months, it will be over.  As much as things have truly settled, the hard(er) work will soon begin...preparing for life AFTER Fulbright, AFTER Malta...le sigh.  I can honestly tell you I am not completely sure how I feel about that and allow me to explain why.

Not a typical outdoor Maltese lunch unless you are joined by the local cats!
I live on an island in the Mediterranean that is but 17 miles long yet is really beautiful and quaint and simple.  Coming from NYC, this is something I truly craved, more than I originally thought.  I am teaching in a Girls' Secondary State School that is certainly not without its' flaws but has some students I have come to truly care and worry about and will miss terribly when I leave.  I work with teachers that welcome me as one of their own, that value my opinion and respect my views and look out for me and my best interests.  To hear students tell me that they missed me on my days off or to be told that my toughest class asked for me and wondered why I was not in class and if it had to do with me “not liking them anymore" whereas before they couldn't give a darn actually has brought tears to my eyes. To see my students eyes widen during a lesson on New York when I discussed country, state and population size differences and especially when they saw that NYC is a very small part to the rest of the state or that it takes me about 6 hours to fly from NYC to California and share a good laugh with them over it, gives me a sense of connection.  It is an amazing feeling to stand before a class and have them ask a million questions about what it is like to be from the U.S. but to push them to explain to me why they are so enthralled with NYC and why they want to go there and see them begin with simple answers as “because it is big" to then watch them freely express their reasons, in English, when they hesitate to speak the language otherwise, and say things like “because it represents opportunity, opportunity we don't have here" and to know they are only 12-13 years old proves to me that my being here has opened their minds as to just how big the rest of the world is,  it shows me that I am making a difference, albeit a small one, but a difference nonetheless...we have to crawl before we can walk right? To see my University students take their assignments seriously when it is a class that does not count towards their GPA, all because they want to improve their English and are grateful for the help, is great motivation to want to always be better and more for your students.  As you can see there is a lot one can find themselves getting attached to.  How do I just walk away from this and these people come June?  Malta is not exactly around the corner from my house so this is certainly a concern for me.

Q: What does one do when they feel they are getting too attached?  
A: Why they find ways to get even further attached, of course.

A couple of weeks ago I began volunteering with the North Malta Girl Guides.  I am working with the District 14 St. Joseph's School Chapter in Sliema, the largest on the island.  Now, I was never a Girl Scout or Girl Guide at home so of course I thought I would be perfect for this.  Turns out, it is working out great.  Another extension of my community is growing, another perspective to investigate further, another way to experience this island and its' people from a completely different aspect, another group of people that it will be very hard to say goodbye to come June.  All part of the experience right?  No?  Well, actually, yes.  These are the moments that help mold us and our lives, that allow us to live and show us that we are living.  Life is never easy, no matter which way you look at it, as the saying goes “all good things come to an end" but the catch with that saying is making sure you remember to enjoy the moment.  As I stated earlier, when I first started this blog, this experience will be very much a ride for me...there have been ups and downs, highs and lows; there have been good times and bad, happy times and sad times and that will continue to be the case because for every joy here, there is sadness-missing my family, missing my dogs, and soon it will be that for every joy that will come from being back home, there will be an incredible sadness with Malta and those I will leave in June, hence the importance of moments and memories which are all part of the overall experience.  There is that word again:-).  So, the way I look at it is this, I can sit and wallow about the fact that my time here is almost up or I can really enjoy the time I have left with these special people-teachers, students and friends, and not take anything for granted so that when June rolls around it will not be goodbye but see you later, Malta, as it will always be a second home to me.  

So what is my point in all of my rambling...well, basically, being scared is a constant theme throughout this process...I was scared of moving here, of missing my family, friends and dogs, of what to expect, of the unknown and now I'm scared for different reasons and that's ok...it helps remind me that I am human.  Sometimes scared is good.  For all of the unknown that awaited me before I got here, a new unknown awaits for my return home but no matter what happens next...Joan of Arc said it best...“I am not afraid, I was born to do this".  And so I am. Bring on the next 4 months.

*Note: No recap list for this entry as I think it is pretty obvious as to why- bad fashion and crazy bus drivers are clearly part of my “norm", oh and we finally bought a coffee maker and Melissa's parents brought of bags of Dunkin Donuts so all is now right in the world:-).  I tell ya, it's the little things, people that can make someone oh so happy!

Until next time


Saturday, January 12, 2013

BONNE ANNÉE...J'adore Paris!

me at some of my fave spots in Paris...Notre Dame, ChampsÉlysées, Louvre and Sacre Coeur 
Well folks the new year is here.  Happy 2013 everyone.  I have to say I got to celebrate the New Years holiday in great fashion.  After spending a quiet Christmas holiday at home here in Malta, Melissa and I jetted off to Paris for the New Year.  I have to say that although this was my third time visiting, it just never gets old.  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Paris!  Did I mention I LOVE Paris?!?!?!
I mean really, can this city BE any more beautiful?!?!
Paris is that city that people either love or hate, there really is no in-between.  I am on the love end of the spectrum and I proudly admit it.  Paris is one of the big cities of Europe that manages to still take your breath away because it is, simply put, amazing.  From the architecture to the feeling and vibe you get when there, there really is nothing like it.  Old mixed with new, history, beauty...it is just a place that you can't help but be in awe of.

Just never gets old!
The weather was mild in Paris for December/January, albeit a bit on the rainy side, but that did not dampen the trip one bit, even in the rain, Paris is beautiful!  We got to check out the key sites...Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Louvre, Sacre Coeur, ChampsÉlysées, and wander about some amazing neighborhoods.  It was a particularly fun trip because it was Melissa's first time visiting so I got to play tour guide, I got to meet up with my friend, Kara, as she was visiting the city with her boyfriend and we haven't seen each other since I left for Malta so it was really nice to see someone from home.  The hotel we stayed in is run by someone who helped plan my previous trip to Paris in 2011 for my sister's bachelorette weekend so it was like visiting a friend in Paris.  She and her staff took great care of us and that is the reason why we chose to stay there in the first place. 

Some street art i came across on the walls while making my way to Sacre Coeur

I am totally promoting here but simply because it is worth the recognition.  If you plan on visiting Paris any time soon, I HIGHLY recommend Hotel Le Six in the Monteparnasse area, 6th District.  Anne, the Hotel Managing Director is the most amazing person.  She was at a previous hotel when I was in Paris for my sister's trip and has since moved on to this luxury boutique hotel and I honestly would not stay anywhere else.  She goes above and beyond her call of duty and has a staff that does the same.  So friendly, so helpful, so pleasant and the hotel is beautiful and in one of the best areas to stay in Paris.  We got to enjoy VIP service, complimentary room service, complimentary Champagne and Hors d’Oeuvres on New Years Eve and they managed to arrange an elaborate and amazing New Years Eve dinner at my now favorite restaurant in Paris...C'est Mon Plaisir (yes I am promoting again). My friend Kara is a vegetarian and not only did the hotel make the reservation literally the day before, but also took care of contacting the restaurant to see what could be done about accommodating her food needs....now it was New Years Eve, price fixe menu and she was able to have her own customized menu...who does that...on such a major holiday as well...well C'est Mon Plaisir does.  It was not only my best meal in Paris but one of the best meals I have ever had in my life...period!  I got to ring in the New Year with friends, enjoying a great 7-course meal, good wine and hilarious music (they played It's the Final Countdown AFTER it hit midnight-HA!).  HAPPY NEW YEAR INDEED!!!
5 of the 7 courses of our amazing New Years Eve dinner!
Now for the highlights:
Along with the amazing 7-course New Years Eve Dinner, there were some pretty special moments during the trip as the one thing I love about Paris is that there has always been something new to do and discover with every visit, like...
  • Watching the sunset atop the Eiffel Tower, I have to admit that I really do like the later afternoon/early evening view of the Eiffel Tower as oppose to going up in the evening, you get a greater appreciation for the city and its' beauty.
  • Climbing all the way to the top of the Notre Dame tower...because the little, old French woman standing guard yells for you to keep going up...a workout in itself and a test of ones' ability to keep their vertigo at bay but oh.so.worth.it.
  • Visiting Sacre Coeur and enjoying the Monmarte neighborhood with its' beautiful shops, Christmas Market and THE VIEW!  Not to mention that the church itself is pretty fantastic!
  • Waiting on line to go up the Eiffel Tower and telling Melissa stories of when I visited with my sisters and how when we went to the Eiffel Tower, the guys selling the 1 euro mini Eiffel Towers ran in a stampede like the running of the bulls because the military came in to patrol and seeing the concern on my sister's face...only to have it happen minutes after telling the story for Melissa to witness herself...it is one of the most bizarre things to witness because they are everywhere so really why run?
  • Being in Paris, one of the fashion capitals of the world, and getting beyond excited to shop at...wait for it...THE GAP!  They were having a great sale and well frankly, that is what happens to you when you live on an island with bad shopping...it makes you appreciate good, American clothing...I mean really, the irony of being able to say that we shopped in Paris...AT THE GAP...really?!?!  Hey, say what you want but I have not been this excited about clothes since leaving for Malta!
  • Being in said fashion capital only to witness a major fashion faux pas...yes they happen everywhere...but seriously when you see a man trying his best impression of an urban style wearing a Charlotte Hornets baseball hat (yes you read that right, I know the team no longer exists...HELLOOO New Orleans Hornets/Charlotte Bobcats), and a track jacket and pants to match only to keep the trend going down to the underwear...yes the underwear...shame even Paris is plagued by the “hang your pants off your behind to show the world your underwear like we want to see them" trend...ummm...well, basically...that is just all kinds of wrong and should be an actual offense...I had to look at you, you were in front of me as we were exiting the Metro station for crying out loud! But add the fact that he was also carrying a knock-off Prada crossbody PURSE (yes it was a female bag) and well that just makes for one hell of a good laugh...in fact...still.laughing! 
There never seems to be a dull moment when in Paris and that is just the way I like it!  It is a magical city and a city I will never stop visiting because I am truly in love with it, possibly the one European city I wish I could live in but since I can't, going back every so often will have to do and I am definitely ok with that!

Thought it would be nice to bring some Paris twinkle to your lives...HAPPY NEW YEAR/BONNE ANNÉE!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Blog Spotlight: Meet Melissa! Fellow ETA, Roommate & Sister from other Parents...

In reading my blog, you know that I have spoken a lot about and referenced my fellow ETA and roomie, Melissa.  Although we reference each other quite a bit, we realized that our readers still don't necessarily know that much about the person we speak of so we thought it would be fun if we “swap” blogs for a day so that one person’s friends and family get to know a little bit more about the other.  We also thought this might help future Fulbrighters get a better understanding of what a Malta ETA applicant might look like.

If you would like to read my responses on her blog, click the link below...


Friends meet Melissa :-)...

Name: Melissa
Hometown: Madison, NJ (just outside of NYC)
Undergraduate/Graduate Degrees: B.A. Political Science, Tulane University (ROLL WAVE!), New Orleans, Louisiana. In a year I get to add an M.S.Ed  or M.Ed – Yay!
I’m passionate about: Students and what makes them tick. When you can find the very precise little things that motivate a student, you have the keys to the kingdom.
Why Malta? I lived in/backpacked through Italy for a few months in high school and wanted to return to an area of Europe that would be similar enough to Italy so that I would feel comfortable, but that was unique enough to provide me with a challenging experience. I am almost fluent in Italian and I thought that might help me here but, alas, no such luck.
Who I teach: 5th form boys (ages 15-16) and a few classes of 2nd form boys (ages 11-12) as well as some university students
Favorite spot in Malta: The beach just across the street from our flat. Sometimes I go there on my way home just to stop and think a little bit. I will never take the fresh smell of the sea air for granted.
Favorite Malta memory so far: The day Kelly and I moved into our flat was amazing. We were so miserable and homesick until we heard that we “won” the bid. The second the landlord closed the door and left after giving us our keys, we jumped up and down and cried. That really was the first day of the rest of our lives in Malta. It put everything in perspective. We realized, “Ok, this might actually be fun.”
Favorite weekend trip so far: It’s a close tie between Sweden and France. Sweden was just so different from anything I had ever experienced. And the guys were nice AND good-looking which, let me tell you, gives Sweden serious points since Malta is apparently where chivalry went to die.
Funniest Fulbright memory so far: There are SO many. Kelly and I crack each other up. One time, Kelly and I were at a concert and this man jumped from the highest step on a set of stairs down to the floor where we were standing while waving his arms kind of like he was trying to fly. Kelly and I found this completely hysterical and still imitate his “take off” every now and then. See, it’s the little things.
I am still looking forward to: I really want to visit Gozo, (Malta’s sister island) because I hear it is gorgeous. I am also looking forward to my parents’ visit in a few weeks and me and Kelly’s Scotland excursion wherein I get to meet up with an old high school friend as well. So much coming up!
Favorite Maltese dessert: HONEY RINGS. ENOUGH SAID. And almond cookies – specifically the one Air Malta served us on Thursday. Thanks y’all, those were delicious.
Fulbright Confession: When I first got here I was so unsure of whether or not I could really do this that I used to contemplate quitting. So, I would sit in bed and think of excuses I would tell my friends if I went home. I got pretty creative with ones like, “I was allergic to the water,” (which is oddly kind of true), and the ever honest, “I just couldn’t do it.”
If I were a song, I would be: It honestly depends on the day. A student of mine this summer asked me this question and I said New Strings by Miranda Lambert by sometimes I feel like maybe I’ve evolved since then. Now I’m a little more like “Below My Feet” by Mumford and Sons:

When all I knew was steeped in blackened hopes
Well I was lost
Keep the earth below my feet
From my sweat, my blood runs weak
Let me learn from where I have been
Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn
Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn
If my experience thus far were a song, it would be: Lost by Coldplay and Jay-Z  

Just because I’m losing

Doesn’t mean I’m lost
Doesn’t mean I’ll stop

Doesn’t mean I'm across

Just because I’m hurting

Doesn’t mean I’m hurt

Doesn’t mean I don’t get what I deserved

No better and no worse

I just got lost

Every river that I tried to cross

Every door I ever tried was locked

Oh and I’m just waiting ‘til the shine wears off

You might be a big fish
In a little pond

Doesn’t mean you’ve won

‘Cause a long may come

A bigger one

(In case it isn’t blatantly obvious, this experience has been all about finding myself and figuring out my place in the universe).

The thing I miss most about home is: My family and friends. I miss being able to see them and hug them and even be annoyed by them…in person.
The thing I will do first when I am home is: Eat a hamburger and then pack my bags right back up again.
After I leave, I want to: Go to graduate school and start building a more permanent life for myself.
This experience has taught me: I am stronger than I think I am but I have so much to learn. I want to be a student of the world forever.