When all you have are two suitcases, a carryon, and an open mind, there is no telling what a semester in another country has in store for you. After many days of anticipation, I said goodbye to my family and took off for Malta.
There are not to many situations in life where you find yourself constantly occupied with new tasks and different circumstances. Malta had plenty of these for me, as I truly never found myself in a dull moment. As a sociology major, my first interest was in the people of the island-nation. To aid my immersion into the common "Maltese" lifestyle, I quickly got involved with on campus activities such as open basketball tournaments and joining the campus gym. I also did some research and found myself taking Shotokan karate courses within a month or so and also happened to make friends with a local thespian. In doing these activities, I found myself learning how people react, speak, drive automobiles, what they consider an insult/compliment and family traditions. Due to my involvement in these functions, I made friends with many Maltese, played ball and became good buddies with Scott, from Ireland, and Julien, from France. However, I consider my self extremely lucky to have been placed in a University Residence with people from all over the world.
Due to my living area, I now have friends dotted throughout the globe, mostly in Europe. Ironically enough, I also spread out my connections here in the United States as many students from across our very own homeland were also studying abroad at the University of Malta. Personally, I think that this is one of the best aspects of the abroad experience. Now, if I ever choose to take a trip somewhere, within the U.S. or outside of it, I can contact friends I made during my semester abroad and try to meet up with them to reminisce on our good old times in Malta.
Living in a Mediterranean climate for the first time in my life, I took advantage of it by taking time out to recognize the beauty of the beaches, hiking trails and cliff jumping/diving.
Traveling abroad also allows you some time to see more of the world, as I was able to organize a trip to Rome for Easter Break, which gave me the chance to see some of Sicily and Italy, as we took ferries and trains to get to our destination. Wherever one goes, one learns quickly how to manage in that particular countries economy and language. Sometimes this can be tough; trying to find an electrical converter was a chore and a half, learn from my mistakes and get one before you go. Stores often were not open 24/7 as they are in the U.S.; this was mainly due to the relaxed lifestyle of the island and perhaps an influence from the fact that religion still holds a large portion of power in Malta. So Sunday shopping sprees were pretty much out of the question. However, no matter where you are you adopt to the living conditions around you eventually and the lifestyle becomes enjoyable. This was especially true in my travels, as I see now how nice it is to live in a country where perhaps capitalism is not the overall objective.
Prior to leaving the U.S., I often wondered if my life would change drastically while in Malta, and would I bring the changes back with my when I returned to the states? The answer I have come up with is both yes and no. College students remain similar in Malta as they are in the U.S. We hung out; we went clubbing/partying until the early hours of the morning or went to festivals to enjoy the cultural change. Zmerc was a common hang out for most of us at the University Residence mainly because it was within walking distance, but still had that sports bar look and atmosphere.
All generalities set aside, allow me to respond to the constantly asked question of study abroad returnees; "What did you get out of it?"
I found myself loving the fruits and vegetables the diet offered. I gained and still retain confidence in the way that all I need is a map and I can get anywhere. Improvement upon my physical shape as I walked lots and had martial arts tell me more about my body than perhaps I wished to know. The true experience of emotional heartache was and is recognized still as I often think of those friends I met and wonder what they are doing at this very moment. And finally, in a weird philosophical sort of sense, I saw abilities in myself that I didn't know I had when I traveled overseas. I did things I thought I could not do, such as cliff diving, and things I would not do in the states, such as giving up alcohol in every way, shape, and form for lent. Best part of that one is I'm not even Catholic! I guess the culture got to me on that one, but it was a great feeling that it did. The trip made me realize in multiple ways, my true potential and I feel more comfortable with the person I am than I was prior to leaving.
If someone were to ask me what advice to give anyone about ready to leave to study abroad I would tell him or her simply this, "It is what you make of it." I often question when the next time will be when I return to Malta or even Europe in general. It matters little, as memories from a trip abroad will last a lifetime.