Mela*, don’t worry! - Why studying in Malta still confuses me

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Sun, sea, study. Perfect combination for an unforgettable Erasmus semester, right? I’m Swiss, therefore sunny Malta is the ‘place-to-be’ in winter. No question that I had to adapt my clothes. Gloves? Not needed! But: Can I possibly adapt? As a typical Swiss, two of my disciplines are punctuality and structure. Going to a Mediterranean island with this kind of baggage, my struggle to stick to these standards seemed inevitable.

“Malta? Are you going on holiday?” I look a bit confused. “Um… no? I will be studying there.” This is how literally every conversation started when I was telling people I was going to Malta for my semester abroad. Departure day. Time to say goodbye. Time to say hello. I arrived in Malta on the September 20, 2017. The Orientation Day was two days later. Be punctual they said. At this time, I had no idea how confusing this semester was going to be for me.

Winter in Malta (Photo by Miguel Zammit)

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Winter in Malta (Photo by Miguel Zammit)

Back home at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences we also have a canteen (which, by the way, does not exclusively sell cheese or chocolate). Students who want to order something stand in line. Behind the last person, of course! If you don’t want to get killed with looks, you better follow this rule. In Malta, it’s different. You want to get coffee without wasting time? No problem, just build a new line from the other side trying to look as innocent as you can. If someone shames you, simply smile and move on.

Another huge difference between my home University and UoM? Better check everything twice here. You receive the confirmation of payment for your application fees and think everything is OK, yes? How dare you! What really confuses me is that often you get different answers from, no not from different, but from the same people! Or simply: “Don’t worry.” Well, how couldn’t I?

Students on UOM quad (Photo by Claudia Schmid)

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Students on UOM quad (Photo by Claudia Schmid)

I started wondering whether one can name the differences between Maltese culture and my own. After some research I found out about Universalism and Particularism. Following this approach, societies which are rule-based like Switzerland are classified as Universal whilst societies like Malta are Particular –this means that their focus is more on relationships and circumstances. This helped me a lot to understand the “Maltese way of life” better. I have to admit that I am still very much confused though.

Studying outside in December (Photo by Elena Giacomoni)

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Studying outside in December (Photo by Elena Giacomoni)

At the end of the day, the opportunity to experience another culture opens your mind. One really needs to be willing to dive into it which means a lot of effort. Did I go this extra mile? No, I didn’t. Still, I am always worried about everything long in advance, but Maltese people helped me to be (at least a little bit) more relaxed. So, I will leave this country in February bearing in mind this Maltese sliver of wisdom: Ħu ħassa Claudia. Take a break and relax.

PS: Pastizzi – the greasy pastries filled with peas or ricotta often accompanied by tea or coffee – are scrumptious!

Pastizzi

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Pastizzi

*Mela is one of those words you hear frequently in conversation by Maltese people which takes a variety of meanings depending on the tone and agitation or otherwise of the speaker/s. In this case it means ‘if things are so’

Written by

Claudia Schmid

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Mela*, don’t worry! - Why studying in Malta still confuses me

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