Thursday, March 9, 2017

Katie in beautiful Malta!


My name is Katie, and I am currently studying abroad in Malta.

Malta is a tiny island of about 200 square miles located in the Mediterranean Sea, almost directly south of Sicily. And yes, it is its own country. Despite Malta’s small size, it is one of the most densely populated countries in Europe with a population of about 420,000. Living with this many people packed together is quite different from living in North Carolina. While the national language is Maltese, the official languages are both English and Maltese. This makes is quite easy to communicate and get around. The only things that don’t have at least some English on them are food labels.
Valletta Street: The capital of Malta, Valletta, decorated and crowded for the Feast of St. Paul's Shipwreck

I am studying at the University of Malta (the only university on the island) and am in the Dance Studies Course. I am here to take dance classes at the university, which makes my experience a bit unique. I am in class from 9 am to 4 pm Monday through Friday. In the mornings we have technique classes, and in the afternoon we have theory classes. Even with long class time, I still have as much reading as someone with ‘normal’ classes.

Gateway building: A building on the university campus on the first day of classes

Registering for classes at the University of Malta is very different than UNCG. Here you do not register for classes until after the first week. You get to sample different lectures, and then actually register during the second week of classes. This way you know you will be taking classes you enjoy, and you don’t have to stare at your computer screen until 12:01 and hurry to type in your CRNs.

Life on an island is very different from living in the states. Everything is very close, but it can still be difficult to get somewhere. To me, Malta is one big city on a rock in the middle of the ocean. There are always people around, and you can always get where you want to go, but it’s going to take a while. It is awesome to always have water near by! I have learned that no matter where you are, if you go downhill you will eventually reach the coast.

Gzira Boats: Boats docked in one of Malta's many inlets

I was excited when I first arrived in Malta, but was faced with many challenges too. Luckily, I have a friend from UNCG who is studying here with me, so we are able to conquer the obstacles together. After my 38 hours of travel to arrive on the island, we took a taxi to our hotel. And that taxi ride was probably the craziest ride I have ever been on! Maltese drive on the left side of the road, which we did not know beforehand. The driving is also just crazy in general. There aren’t really stop signs or lights, you just kind of swerve around other cars. There are a lot of two way streets that only have enough room for one car to fit down, so sometimes you have to backup and try again. But with time you get used to the driving, and learn how to be very aware as a pedestrian.

Bugibba overlook: The view from one of the amazing cliffs located in Bugibba

Along with the crazy driving comes crazy public transportation. For people who are not from Malta there are two options of how to get around: walk or take the bus. People walk a lot, and I walk 20 minutes to class every day. But others prefer the bus. However the buses are usually packed and unreliable. If they show up at all and take the time to actually stop for you, they will probably be late.

Iklin overlook: The view from our balcony showing the closely packed buildings
Other random things I’ve learned while in Malta...
  • You can’t drink the tap water. The internet might say it is okay, but it is not. My friends and I walk to the market on the corner every week to buy a 6 pack of 2 liter bottles of water. Then we have to lug them up two flights of stairs to our apartment, but at least then we have something safe to drink.
  • People here don’t use clothes dryers. Instead, we hang our clothes on a clothesline on our balcony. Which is kind of cool, except you have to wait two days for your clothes to dry.
  • It is funny to see the cultural differences of how people react to the weather. I think the weather here is quite mild for the middle of winter for someone used to a NC winter. We even went to the beach already and waded in the Mediterranean. But the Maltese find it cold.
  • The wind here is pretty insane, so I always have an extra layer or two on me. And bring a scarf for the big wind gusts.
  • One of my favorite things about my study abroad is being surrounded by so many cultures. It is easy to make friends with other international students from all over the world. Most of my classmates and professors are not from Malta either. So this university is a meeting place for many people from all over who have a common interest to come together.
  • Malta is 98% Catholic and the Catholics here love to celebrate with frequent festivals.  Valletta, the capital, hosts numerous festivals throughout the year celebrating many religious holidays.  So far we have participated in celebrating the Shipwreck of St. Paul (who brought religion to the island) and Karnival. For only being here a few short weeks in the quieter Festa season, I can only imagine what prime time would be!

St. George's Bay: St. George's Bay is one of the few sandy beaches on the island. Most of the are just rock.

I have only been here for a little over a month, and still have four more to go, but I have already had many wonderful and crazy experiences. Living in a new culture will bring many unexpected obstacles, but the unique opportunities and the new experiences will outweigh the struggles. I am honored that I have the opportunity to study in Malta, and am so excited for the rest of my time here!

Katie Allison
University of Malta
Spring 2017