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Jack Gunn, BA History student, shares his travels to Malta, reflecting on his journey to Malta and accomplishments he has made since the start of his year abroad.

‘The road goes ever on and on…  and I will follow if I can.’ These words from the Fellowship of the Ring could be an epithet to a year abroad. There is perhaps a melancholy element to this statement as it conjures up a trudging undertaking, but this is only part of the rich tapestry which this challenge entails.

On a walk with the Chaplaincy along Il-Hafra z-Zghira Bay

Let me take you along the ever-going road. My accommodation in Malta is, somewhat uncoventially, a hotel. It sits near the top of a hill which overlooks the Wied Ghollieqa Nature Reserve through which it is necessary to pass in order to reach the university (if you can avoid the Zeppelin-like wasps!) When standing on the hotel’s roof, one can see much of the south part of Malta, from Manoel Island to Mdina, the Silent City (where parts of the first series of Game of Thrones were filmed). 

1. Sunset over St. Paul’s Bay, Buggiba

Initially, and for quite a bit of time, I experienced, for the first time in my life, what can only be described as Anxiety; that bubbling nervousness which sits just behind a thin veil of confidence, ready to break forth into God knows what. I realised immediately that my hotel room would not provide me with succour and made me question the odyssey which I had willingly embarked upon. This became so bad that I skipped meals, and I have the appetite of Augustus Gloop! However, the morning of the first full day, I ventured onto campus in the thirty-degree heat and headed pointedly for the Chaplaincy. They had advertised themselves on an online orientation session a few days before so I thought that if anywhere could provide me with the comfortability longed for, it was the place. Incidentally, it is the Chapel of St. Thomas More – the Tudors are seemingly inescapable! It swiftly developed into my sanctuary and I can count on one hand the days which I have not popped in for a cup of char! Through it I have met a multitude of Maltese who brought me under their welcoming wings. This was complemented by the espousal of a group of friends within the hotel, a group which was solidified by a visit to a karaoke bar in which I gave a rousing rendition of New York, New York and us Brits led the whole pub in Bohemian Rhapsody. It didn’t take long to expand our horizons as every weekend we would catch the bus to somewhere, including the wreck of HMS Maori around which we went scuba-diving! There is indeed much fun to be had on a year abroad! From this I give the following advice: try and find a place of comfortability (especially a local one!), it will stand you in good stead. 

2. Boat ride across the Grand Harbour of Valletta with Fort Sant Angelo in the background

I have also taken to writing letters on a constant basis, sending at least two a week to various people. At only €0.59 I cannot begrudge the cost of a stamp! ‘Letters more than kisses mingle souls’, as John Donne says. If abroad, I urge you to become a man/woman of letters, like the Humanists of old.  

Watchtower of Ghajn Tuffieta, Marikata, Golden Bay

Academically, my life is very different from Birmingham. Because of the difference between British and European credit values, I must take up to eight modules per term in order to reach the required minimum of 60 credits across the year. Therefore, it’s all rather pick ‘n’ mix, with modules ranging from the History of Costume to Baroque Architecture; from the Sociology of Religion to Human Evolution. I feel in some way that this polymathic approach is essential at university because it forces you to read, understand and discuss as wide a range of subjects as possible. It does, however, leave you wondering which lecture you’re supposed to be attending as you try to remember which module comes next! Assessment and the lectures themselves seem to be looser than in Britain, with each lecturer setting his or her own forms of examination with very little influence from the top brass. This certainly creates more flexibility, but often means that most modules have up to three separate pieces of assessment transforming the calendar into a swamp of deadlines! Nevertheless, it is more than doable if good time is taken to prepare (and you find a productive place to study.) 

Sunset over Xlendi, Gozo

What have I learnt? Having barely completed first term I feel a little premature answering this. I certainly know that being aware of one’s comfort zone is not something to be dismissed, it is vital to understand your limits. But it is equally important to dip your feet into the unknown, else how would the comfort zone be expanded? Importantly, I managed to hit my objective of taking Sundays off; to let it be the end-of-the-week day of rest. This I indulge in by attending Church, before walking to a busy, artisanal café in Msida called Coffee Circus. There, I while away the next four hours or more but painting or writing whilst indulging in my guilty pleasure: The Archers. I download the Radio 4 Sunday Omnibus from BBC Sounds and am transported to the fictional realm of Ambridge.  

3. Traditional Maltese Luzzu boat in Xlendi, Gozo

It remains for me to say that so far the year abroad has been a remarkable experience. Any opportunity to meet a vast array of good people of every sort should be taken. One more step along the world I go indeed. 

4. The Watchtower of Ghajn Tuffieta, Marikata, Golden Bay

Blog post written by: Jack Gunn