Friday, April 5, 2019

Makenzie in Malta!

Hi everyone! I’m Makenzie and I’m a sophomore at UNCG double majoring in Women’s and Gender Studies and History. I’m currently studying History at the University of Malta which is a small country in the Mediterranean Sea that actually consists of three islands: Malta, Gozo, and Comino. The University of Malta is the only public university on the islands and is located in a town called Msida. It is a commuter campus so I live in Lija at the University Residence for international students.  The university provides a free shuttle to and from campus every day. One of my favorite classes is History of the Mediterranean since World War II. The Mediterranean region is quite large and has so much history, so I find this class fascinating. I have never studied Mediterranean history before, so I didn’t realize how important the region was. I also really like my Sociology of Social Welfare class - I am learning about the welfare system in Malta and how it compares to the U.S.
Malta’s pace of life (also known as “Island Time”) is much slower than what I’m used to in the United States. It is typical for classes to start late and for buses to run behind schedule due to this. No one is ever in a rush, which is slightly relaxing but can be frustrating for me as an American since we always seem to be in a rush. The official languages of Malta are Maltese and English and the country is very English-friendly. This is especially helpful because I do not know any Maltese. It is a very difficult language to pick up because it has both Arabic and Sicilian origins.
Living in Malta has a lot of positives including the beautiful weather. It can get chilly and rainy here but it is usually sunny and gorgeous. Since I’ve been here, I’ve experienced two really intense Mediterranean storms. One storm basically lasted an entire weekend and was as bad as a lower category hurricane. Another one of my favorite things about this country is a food called pastizzi. This is a warm, flaky pastry, typically filled with either cheese or smushed peas. I prefer the cheese flavor but I did give the pea one a try, just to see. Study abroad is all about new experiences, so why not? Aside from the great taste, pastizzi is awesome because it can be found for really cheap at any pastizzeria, which is a street food restaurant.
Upper Barrakka Gardens, Valleta, Malta

St. Pauls Cathedral, Mdina, Malta

Two of my favorite experiences so far have been visiting the cities of Mdina and Valletta. Mdina, a medieval fortress city, was the capital of Malta until the Knights of St. John arrived in the 16th century. Malta is a predominantly Catholic country so Christianity is everywhere (which means I visit a lot of churches). The biggest church in Mdina is St. Paul’s Cathedral. The cathedral was built in 1696 and has a beautiful painted ceiling and dome. One fun fact that I learned while visiting the Cathedral and the attached museum is that Napoleon once came to Malta. The clergy of the churches painted all of their silver black so Napoleon wouldn’t steal it. As a fortress city, Mdina has a beautiful view of Malta through the view of the Mediterranean from Valletta is even more beautiful. Valletta is the current capital city of Malta and is home to the St. John’s Co-Cathedral. The outside of the church was not as unique as I expected but the inside was astounding. There was so much detail in each of the nine Chapels, the main nave, and the Oratory. Like many churches across Europe, the Cathedrals in Malta are built in the Baroque style of architecture and art. The floors in the Cathedrals in Mdina and Valletta are quite unique as they are actually a collection of tombstones honoring knights and bishops. In Valletta, I also visited the Upper Barrakka gardens which are situated above a 16th-century gun battery. These gardens have an amazing view of the coastline of Valletta and the Mediterranean Sea.

St. John's Co-Cathedral, Valleta, Malta

My dragon, Margertia, and the Mediterranean Sea

Recently, I had the opportunity to celebrate Karnival in Valletta, which was an amazing experience. Karnival is a five-day celebration that precedes Ash Wednesday and is full of parades, performances, and parties. I viewed a performance of something called Il-Qarcilla, which is a reenactment of a traditional Maltese wedding. Through song and script, the performers presented the bride with gifts. The performance was entirely in Maltese so I couldn’t understand a word of what was happening, but it was still entertaining. The Karnival parades actually take a few hours because each float leaves the departure area about half an hour apart. The floats are accompanied by people dressed up in elaborate costumes that relate to the theme. Some of these, for example, was a German beer float with beer wenches, a Wild West float with cowboys and Indians, and a Circus float with clowns and other circus performers.
I have also celebrated two public holidays since I arrived in Malta. The first was the Feast of St. Paul’s Shipwreck on 10th February, which was actually my first weekend in Malta. The second was the Feast of St. Joseph on 19th March and the university was closed for the day. On these Feast days, the Maltese go to Mass and then carry a statue of the saint through the street. In total, Malta has fifteen official Feast days although many localities have their own feast days during the summer.

I have been in Malta for a month and a half visited lots of churches and towns, and have taken a weekend trip to Rome. I have more exciting trips planned for the remainder of my time in Malta and I’m really looking forward to new experiences! I have blogged about my experience so far and will continue to do so at