"I'm Not Here for Vacation!" A Semester in Malta

Laura Peper leaves behind the cold, snowy weather of Germany for a study abroad in the warm and rainy island of Malta. She writes from this small, Mediterranean island about her experience, the good and the parts of Malta that seem more of a curse than a blessing. Read more!

international student voice magazine germany to maltaWinter has always been that time of the year year which I never liked. Snow,rain and cold wind – a typical winter in Germany. Wearing thick jackets and a scarf, drinking tea while watching children play in the snow. Awful.

This year, everything should be different this year. In September, I packed my suitcase filled with shirts; shorts and dresses, ready to leave my home country for the next half a year. Destination Malta: a small island in the Mediterranean Sea. Inhabitants: 418,000. Rainy days per year: 70. Wonderful.

My first few days were confusing, something all international students can probably relate to. Countless orientation events, too much information and many new faces all at the same time. Every building looked the same and I was thankful for every sign-posting.

But the University of Malta is well prepared and also well known for their international students program. Every year thousands of students from all over the world come for a semester to L-Università ta’Malta. The good support from the University might be the reason why I got along quite fast. And then I started to recognize step by step the huge differences to my studies in Germany.

Already in the first week I got an impression of Maltese punctuality. It is a huge and important topic at my home university, but what else would you expect from Germany. In Malta, it is handled differently. It was a big shock to see that students and lecturers are always very late. Sometimes just five minutes. Sometimes half an hour. A short sorry on the lips of the lecturer and the two hour lecture begins like nothing happened.

Me at the Blue Azurre, Gozo
Me at the Blue Azurre, Gozo

A typical Maltese lecture would end at least ten minutes earlier. If not, the students will get anxious. Whispering starts, bags are getting packed while the lecturer is still talking. Overrunning the time – unimaginable. Something I needed to get used to. Same with my schedule: twelve hours of lecture every week – sounds manageable. So there was enough time for getting to know the island and the Maltese culture.

During the first few weeks the weather was too nice to stay inside. So I spend most of the time at the beach and in the sun. 28°C in October is nothing unusual. My friends in Germany were jealous as they began wearing their sweaters and sunny days became rare.

In November the weather changed rapidly. It was still warm, but the Maltese “winter” is well known for its heavy rain. I always thought I was used to rain because I was raised near the coast. However, I have never seen so much rain in my entire life. There are not just two or three drops falling from the sky. A lecturer said: “When it rains, the country simply stops.” And it really does. The rain is so dense, it won’t let you see anything. Chaos on the streets and – as a result of a lack of sewage water system- there is water knee-deep everywhere. For days.

So what can an International student with plenty of free time do during the winter months? Of course -sightseeing.

Fish Market Marsaxlokk
Fish Market Marsaxlokk

The capital Valletta, the famous fisher village in Marxalokk and its infamous fish market, the Dingli-Cliffs, the neighbor island; Gozo, countless churches and temples- I have seen it all. Really. All. The island is so small that you can visit every main tourist attraction in nearly two weekends. After a while, every city and every little village started to look the same. Always the same colors of walls and always the same buildings. The island’s lack of size was nevertheless an advantage: you can reach everything with the bus. Additionally, the peak season of tourism was over. I could see all the touristic highlights in peace and take pictures without compatriots in the background.

Taking a Maltese bus is definitely more of a curse than a blessing. There is one rule which you should obey. Always! Never trust the bus nor the schedule. You cannot be sure when and even if the bus is coming at all. Sometimes the buses come 15 minutes too early, sometimes half an hour too late. And sometimes the bus is not even coming because something happened on the route. Waving with both arms is the common way to make the bus stop at your station. If the driver is in a bad mood, he will just drive by with a sinister smile on his lips. Occasionally the bus is too full, so you have to wait for the next one. If you still manage to catch one of the buses, there is second rule you should always stick to. Hold onto something, fast and strong.

Maltese traffic is a huge contest. Only the bravest win the right of way, those who hesitate, even for a second, lose instantly. Everyone drives like they won their license. Car drivers honk to make it clear who is the boss and you should better wait then. And always check twice if a road is free.

The mentality of the Maltese people is completely different to their driving style: Always friendly and in a good mood. They are so open minded to strangers and foreigners. I really like that they just start talking to strangers in a bus or on a bench. The subject can be anything: the weather, the children at home or the countries they traveled to – as long as you have something you can talk about for hours. Sometimes I wish this was possible in Germany. Unfortunately, you would just receive a strange glance if you start a conversation with a stranger out of nowhere.

During the last three months here I have met new people from all over the world and have learned to get along with the Maltese punctuality and work flow. Even if there are some things which I did not like at all, I enjoyed my time on this small island. And as usual, time flies when you enjoy something. Just three more weeks are left. The bad news first: I still have to write a couple of assignments. But the good news: Still three more weeks with my new friends, the good weather and the Maltese lifestyle. Then I have to go back to Germany, where the winter; with its cold wind, snow and 0°C degrees is waiting for me. Awful. But wonderful to be finally home.

St. Julien

 

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Article written by Laura Peper for International Student Voice Magazine.

 

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