saying goodbye to malta

These are my shoes. I bought them for the great adventure of 2015, I started to wear them on January 1 when we left the USA. According to the health app on my iPhone they now have 647 miles on them. Much of that has been accumulated during our time in Malta and our travels around the Mediterranean with Angel, Ben, Emma, Erika, Ethan, Jenna, Katie, Meredith, Meredith, Olivia, Rachel, and Tricia, hereafter known as our kids, or our Malta students. What started out as a funny offhand comment, referring to Jane and I as Mom and Dad has come to feel more true over the few months.

I’m starting this post on our penultimate weekend with our group, I am in Rome with Jane and Josh to take in an AS Roma football game tonight. Some of our students are in Florence for the Nordic choir concert, and some of them are back on Malta (behaving themselves). Its good to have a bit of physical distance to help put things in perspective.

I have also been reading each student’s final journal or blog entries, and I must be turning into an old softie (good thing I have the summer to fix that) but I find myself choking up about something that each student has written. It is true that these past few months of living and traveling together have turned us into an odd sort of family. I’d be happy to adopt them all if I could get that guy in Marrakesh to make good on his offer of 20 camels apiece. I’ve spent a bit of time lately looking back over all the pictures we have taken. I put together this gallery of our group photos. If you look at the first group photo in Malta and in Rome, and compare that to the last group photo this week, can you see the difference? Look at the group in front of the pantheon, this group was just getting to know each other, barely acclimated to the Mediterranean time zone. Now look at the later photos, photographic evidence that we have come together as a family.

So, what have I learned about myself this semester? What are my own conclusions? This heretofore unpublished entry written in Cambodia sheds a bit of light on the recurrent theme of living simply.

Conclusion number one: I can live a more simple lifestyle and live “in the moment”.

As I read over my early posts, and remember back to the end of January when we first arrived on Malta, I am going to admit that the following thought crossed my mind: Leave this flat NOW, and check-in to the Meridien until it is time to fly home (business class). I am very glad that I did not do that. Living in the cold, damp, drafty, loud, and then warm, humid, dusty, loud, almost-but-not-quite-a-place-I-call-home has been an important experience. Now that the end is in sight, I am glad that I had the experience of these last four months.

The elves at must be worried about me, as I haven’t ordered anything from them since December! I have lived with the same ten shirts and six pairs of pants for the same period. Other than going out to eat the material expenditures we have made so far this year are extremely minimal. OK, I am not totally reformed as I have a new Apple Watch waiting for me back home. But it was a good experience for me to not consume for a while. Hopefully this will carry over back home where the temptation of Amazon Prime second day delivery makes the accumulation of stuff all too easy.

What does it mean to “live in the moment?” For me it means accepting life as it happens. It means taking the time to enjoy each moment as it comes along, rather than always thinking about what is coming next. Because I have not had daily class responsibilities, I really have been able to live in the moment for most of the last four months. OK, I am still a worrier; I am always thinking about the worst case scenario, and what to do if said scenario becomes reality. I am a planner, and a goal setter, I am always thinking about next week, next month, When will my next exam be? What do I need to do for class next week? But this semester I haven’t really had any of that to think about. I did worry about some parts of our travel (Morocco, Istanbul…) But, our evening meals were typically planned at about 15:00 when I walked to Meats and Eats to buy whatever we were going to make for dinner.

My time during the day was spent walking back and forth to the University. I have subscribed to several podcasts and am now a regular listener to them. I’ve never had time for podcasts before. I don’t know why. I spent time in class, listening and soaking up lectures on Maltese history and current issues. I spent time in our flat, and in my office at the IT Faculty building sending countless organizational emails and working on projects and hacking.

Conclusion number two: Follow your passion.

While this may not be a discovery of the semester, it was certainly a strong affirmation of this oft espoused philosophy. I like to tell the students in Senior Project that: “If you don’t wake up in the morning thinking about what you want to accomplish during the day, you ought to be thinking about finding a new job.” Now, showers aside, I think that every day in Malta I did wake up and have a great excitement about what I wanted to accomplish during the day. Some days it was the excitement of a field trip, other days it was waking up in Morocco or Istanbul know that a day of discovery was in store, but even on the rainy days of February I had research and thinking to do that was very exciting.

In fact maybe one of the best things about our time on the island was that it gave me time to think. I spend a lot of time doing back home, and it is hard to carve out time to really step back and rethink things. Good things happen when you take the time to think instead of do. I feel like all of the projects I have been working on Skulpt, Runestone Interactive, and the classes I will teach next semester have reaped the benefit of taking time to think.

Conclusion number three: Push yourself outside of your comfort zone, good things will happen.

I have written a lot about pushing myself beyond my comfort zone in the last six months, but it has been very exciting to see the students do likewise. They have all grown this semester, becoming more self confident, more self reliant, and maybe more willing to take a risk. Whether that be jumping off a rock into the Mediterranean, or immersing themselves in other cultures. For me it may have been simply embracing my part-time role as a student of history and current issues of Malta this semester that pushed me to a new appreciation of history and culture. It was also surely the experience of living in a flat that is much less luxurious than back home.

Conclusion number four: Be thankful for the people who support you.

Jane and I joke that we are excited to get back home so that we have more adults to talk to. Not that our students are not adults, but we don’t have the same conversations with twenty two year olds as we do with our fifty year old friends. In some ways this has been a bit of an isolating experience for the two of us. But we have grown used to it. The silences are OK, as we know we simply don’t have anything else to say at the moment.

But, through it all Jane has been a fantastic partner in keeping this program working smoothly. The work she has put in on our travel plans is, extremely detailed, thorough and time consuming. Planning a trip takes patience and hours of research. I know I appreciate it and so do the students. It always amazes me when we arrive somewhere and she knows exactly where to go and which direction to turn, while my head is swirling in confusion. My advice to Ethan and Ben is to follow my lead and “marry above your station.”

I would also like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Corby Preus and Jon Lund in the Center for Global Learning back at Luther for all of their support. Corby does an amazing job of helping with paperwork, and re-answering my questions about pretty much everything she has already explained to me at least once, and sometimes twice.

Here in Malta I would like to thank Dr. Emanuel Buttigieg for coordinating the History of Malta course, I know I have learned a lot this semester, and it takes a lot of coordination to organize all of the lecturers from many different departments on campus. And finally to Rachelle Mifsud for whom there is no request too large or too small for her to help out with. Scheduling transportation at the last minute, or helping with final exam schedules. Thanks!

Conclusion number five: Focus on the good

I think this is a nice one to save for last, and it is a fairly recent conclusion, and clearly one that will take some practice for me. The last Paideia lecture we did an exercise where we had to think about Malta from the perspective of each of our five senses. What stands out:

  • sight – yellow limestone buildings, dog poop on the sidewalk

  • sound – honking horns, the “angry” maltese language

  • smell – Pizza and the salt air

  • taste – Maltese wine, Wild Boar Pasta

  • touch – rough limestone, and cold tile

Many of us commented after class about how negative most of the things we came up with sounded. Even though the native Maltese professor came up with his own similar list. Familiarity breeds contempt as the saying goes?

But I think the important lesson was summed up by a couple of the students in their own final blog posts in which they said. “I do not want to remember Malta for the dog poop on the sidewalks or the horns honking outside my bedroom window” Rather they , and I, will choose to remember Malta for the good stuff: The crystal clear water, the blue waters of the Blue Lagoon, St. Peter’s Pool and Golden Bay, the majestic cliffs of Gozo as viewed from the Ocean or the cliffs of Dingli from the land. The Neolithic temples of Hagar Qim and the mysterious Hypogeum. The beauty of the Auzure Window. The brightly colored Maltese boats in Spinola bay. And, yes, the ever present yellow limestone of Sliema and Valletta. This is the way to remember Malta.

Don’t sweat the small stuff my dad used to tell me. Let the unpleasant annoying pet peeves fade away.

Not Goodbye

Although this will be my final post from Malta, this is not the end of the blog. In less than a week, the students will be on their way either home or to european travel for part of the summer. Meanwhile Jane and I will be finishing up our own Mediterranean experience with a few days in Lake Como and then a Cruise from Venice down the Dalmatian Coast and through the Greek Isles, ending in Istanbul. We planned this as a celebration of the end of our time in Malta, and I’m sure it will be, but right now we are both facing this last part of the journey with mixed emotions. The call of home is very strong, and I know that if we simply boarded a plane to Minneapolis we would be ecstatic. But the comfort zone of home will have to wait another twenty days. Its really not all that much when you consider we have been gone 159 days already, and more adventure awaits us, you can be sure I’ll continue to write about it here.