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Fulbright to Malta

One Year Journey, Life Long Friends

June 10, 2012 - by Gina


A Typical Gozitan Lunch

I have been really lucky to be welcomed by a great group of teachers at my secondary school placement.  They have gone out of their way to make me feel comfortable and included.  On a bi-weekly basis the teachers in my staff room take up a small collection and organize small gatherings during the afternoon break between lessons.  One of my favorite times this spring was the day our Gozitan teachers put together a spread of foods that are typical to the island of Gozo, just north of Malta.  Some of the foods we had were: 

Bigilla (bean paste)

Galletti (water biscuits)

Helluja (sweets made from ground sesame seeds)

Hobz bil-kunserva (tomato paste on bread)

Fazola bit-tewm (basically white butter beans with crushed garlic and fresh flat leaf parsley)

Zebbug Mimli (stuffed olives)


Celebrating Easter in Malta

I don't know where to begin.  Since coming to Malta I have become very close with a Maltese family.   Spending time with their family reminded me of my own. Their hospitality, kind spirits, and generosity towards me has really helped get me through the year, especially during times I would normally be celebrating with family.  This past April my friend Laura visited me during her school break and we were invited to spend Easter with the DeMicolis. 


I plan to keep in touch with the DeMicoli family and expect to see them in the United States next time they visit. This is what being a Fulbright cultural ambassador is about. It is about showing respect for the people and beliefs Fulbrighters encounter and acting in an open and culturally curious manner. It is also about appreciating the identities of those we meet while expressing our unique American identities so that stereotypes and assumptions can be transformed by a more nuanced understanding of nations and cultures.



Second Semester Teaching in Malta

June 09, 2012 - by Gina


Marsa Open Centre

Since I was a young girl I've always wanted to go to Africa and volunteer.  Although I haven't quite gotten that far yet, I did have an amazing opportunity to work with Sub-Saharan African refugees, in conjunction with two non-profits: the Foundation for Shelter and Support to Migrants and GetUpStandUp.  Inside the refugee centre I taught English and life skills to asylum seekers who are currently residing in Malta.  Some of the men  here have suffered severe psychological conditions; traumatized by a conflict in the country of origin, a terrible journey to arrive to Malta and the previous experience in the close detention centres upon arrival. The Marsa Open Centre focuses on ways in which to motivate people to regain their agency through self and group empowerment.


7169465301_0ee74f7a64_n  I've been touched by the many stories of my students, now friends.   It was the most humbling experience to be able to connect with those men who want so much to better themselves and their lives; those men who risk it all and sacrifice everything in order to make a positive change for themselves and their families.

Every Friday night while most people are off to start their weekends, I still have one more commitment to adhere to.  Teaching at the refugee centre has been a time for caring, sharing, and empowering those who are so committed and eager to succeed.  Most nights we completed worksheets and practiced listening, reading, writing, and speaking.  As my students grew more comfortable, they were no longer afraid to express themselves and give myself and the other teachers feedback.  Adapting to their expressed needs, we began designing more creative and interactive lessons.

 7354675118_c530f23d43_n      7169462039_46890f535d_n

Dressing for the weather: After learning about the different seasons and months, I brought in a suitcase of clothes and had the men dress for the weather forecast that was read to them for each particular time of year.

A visit to the hospital: My students informed me that they needed to rehearse more practical dialogue such as interacting with the staff at the local hospital.  So a role play scenario was set up in which each student was required to choose and describe one ailment that they had learned about, and then express themselves to a nurse/doctor in order to obtain proper treatment.

Finding a job:  Since the main goal of most of the men at the centre is to find work, the other teachers and myself created a career event.  We set up stations such as a food store, a cleaning business, and a construction site, and had our students review dialogues that were appropriate for more formal conversations between an employer and employee.  They then had the opportunity to visit each station of choice and explain to each employer (teacher) what skills they had and why they would be interested in working for that particular company.  



Recently, we organized and held our final graduation ceremony.  Students who proved a commitment through attending  a certain amount of classes, for the basic English language course, received certificates.  My job here has been to help provide a better quality of life for residents through self-empowerment. By enabling participants to communicate more effectively in English it is my hope that they can now better integrate into society and eventually go through the resettlement process with more ease.


University of Malta

In addition to my work at the refugee centre, I have also been teaching an English Proficiency course at the University here.

Core targets included:

  • Exposure to a variety of texts
  • Introduce and hone organizational skills
  • Coaching in reading and writing critically
  • Instruction in editing written work


Visit to the Hypogeum: the only prehistoric underground temple in the world

May 27, 2012 - by Gina

The Hypogeum, an underground cemetery used by Malta's prehistoric society, is an exceptional monument testifying to the artistic and architectural accomplishments of this prehistoric culture.  The temple was used from around 4000BC to 2500BC.  It was discovered accidentally in 1902 by a stone mason who was laying the foundations of some houses. 

The complex consists of a series of rock-cut oval chambers set on three different levels, one lying below the other.  Walls and ceilings hold unique wall-paintings in red ochre depicting spiral and honey-comb designs; the only prehistoric wall paintings found on the Maltese Islands.  The Hypogeum was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1980, as a site that "bears unique testimony to a civilization which has disappeared."  The Maltese Government has committed itself to safeguard this site for the enjoyment of present and future generations; only a limited amount of visitors are permitted to enter each day.  Today we were lucky to have the opportunity to explore these underground temples. 

Not all dreams are significant or worth remembering, but this one is.

May 21, 2012 - by Gina

These past three months have been filled with so many great experiences and enjoyable memories.  I recently thought to myself, "How will I be able to explain this to everyone?"  Quickly, I realized that I've been spending so much time in the present moment that I've failed to reflect and share my happenings here.  For this, I believe my experience in Malta has been a success. 


Land Rover Half Marathon 2012

Paulina, one of the other Fulbright grantees, and myself trained for and completed our first half marathon this year.  It was a great way to see the entire island.  The streets were filled with live bands and crowds of cheering people.

Land Rover Half Marathon 2012


Carnival 2012 Malta

Once a year, in mid February, traditional carnivals are held in Valletta and Nadur on Gozo Island.  Colorful parades take place in the streets; trucks carry giant colorful dolls, playing bands, and children and adults in costumes.  The main events are held in the city of Valletta, but smaller events are held in nearby towns and villages.  The island is filled with children dressed in colorful costumes and uplifting music, all which creates a joyful, carnival atmosphere.

Carnival 1Carnival 2Carnival 3


I've always liked this quote by one of my favorite authors, Paulo Coelho:

 “The Secret of Happiness lies in looking at all the wonders of the world and never forgetting the two drops of oil in the spoon.”  (For the full exert click here: The two drops of oil)

I believe this applies to my situation; as continue to complete my work here in Malta, it is important to record and reflect, but never to get too caught up in doing so.    


My Fulbright Proposal Goals

January 31, 2012 - by Gina

My first goal was to conduct a comparative folktale analysis, through a multicultural perspective, using folktales from Malta and from the United States.  This was to be done in the classroom with my students in Malta.  Furthermore, to look at the works of Manwel Magri, a well-known folktale writer who composed stories and comic books that have preserved some of the ancient core of the society's culture.

Status: The literature analysis was conducted with three of my classes.  Various elements of literature were reviewed and or introduced during this process.  Most students seemed to be very interested in the stories and found their assignments interesting.  During my research for this project I came across a collection of Maltese folktales that were accompanied by a fantastic audio cd, which narrated the tales along with music.  This served as a good resource for several listening comprehension activities.  I am in the process of compiling the lessons for future use in my teaching, if met with appropriate age and level classroom students.

I also had my students complete a week long thematic unit about the United States and Malta.  We talked about the use of symbolism in both countries, specific monuments, our flags, and our different traditions.  Furthermore, my students wrote friendly letters on post cards, which have been sent to another class in New York City.  The boys are anxiously awaiting a reply!

Secondly, I proposed to study Italian at the University of Malta, outside of my teaching responsibilities.  I also expressed my desire to come to Malta to learn about my own family's heritage.

Status: The University of Malta offers an exciting program (Degree Plus) aimed at providing all students at the University with the opportunity to enrich their academic studies with extra skills and experiences that can add value to their knowledge base. I recently completed the Italian for beginners course and will receive a certificate, which serves as official recognition to my efforts and participation in this program.  Although it was a very basic beginner class, I am excited to have at least gotten started on this process; to further develop and work on another second language.

As I wrote in my grant purpose, my father's family is from Palermo in Sicily, but the knowledge of my origin stops there.  The Maltese Islands are thought to first have been settled in 5200 BC by hunters and farmers who arrived from Sicily.  Having never been to Europe before, I thought it would be great for me to experience and embrace my Sicilian origin.  This is one of the reasons I chose to come to Malta.

This December I had the opportunity to take a trip to Palermo, Sicily during my Christmas break.  I had the chance to meet relatives of mine from my father's side. We shared several really nice meals together and I got to see old time cards of my great grandfather when he worked in construction, along with pictures of my father when he visited Palermo over 30 years ago.  It was a really nice experience for me to see the many places that were visited and occupied by my relative’s years ago, and to hear stories about my family as well as enjoy their company.

Two friends and I went on to celebrate my Christmas holiday in Rome, Italy.  We spent Christmas Eve in enjoying a delicious dinner, and wandered back to St. Peter’s Square to catch the Pope giving Christmas mass being broadcasted live right outside the doors of St. Peter’s Basilica.  In the following days I saw the Trevi Fountain, the amazing Pantheon, and enjoyed some of the best pizza, wine, and gelato.  I wondered through the forum on a beautiful day, and spent time visiting the Colosseum; a monument attached to stories of gory battles between gladiators, slaves, prisoners and wild animals.

I headed to Prague to ring in the New Year in Old Town Square.  Many of the Christmas markets were still set up and I had the chance to walk around and enjoy Czech food.  I wouldn’t describe it as healthy but it's certainly pretty unique to the Czech Republic.   Walking over the Charles Bridge up to the 1,000 year old Prague Castle, which dominates the city’s skyline, allows for great pictures and views. 

My last stop was London, where I saw Big Ben and Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, and the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace.

The British Museum was my favorite attraction in London.  It is considered to be one of the world’s greatest museums in history and culture.  When I was there, Hokusai’s Great Wave, my favorite painting and most famous of all Japanese prints, was on display.  The museum’s permanent collection, of some eight million works, originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present.

After returning to Malta, I was required to complete a midterm report, which states my progress of my projects and my plans for the rest of my term.  In my proposal I planned on organizing an after school program or club that incorporates English language learning and American culture, with activities relating to the mind, body, and soul. Ex. Yoga, total body fitness, meditation, ect.

Status: This project idea coincides with the work of AYA (are you active) Malta.  This non-profit organization is set up to encourage more participation in physical activities across all ages. My role will specifically deal with elderly people and young girls. One of the main goals of this collaboration is to build self-esteem in woman in order to counteract the domestic violence issues here in Malta. We are in the initial stages of planning a low cost class I came up with called MBS (mind, body, soul) for the elderly population and also for 8 to10 year old girls, once a week.  Elderly people will be given an opportunity to stay healthy and connected with others.    In additional, our hopes of offering these sort of affordable activities to a targeted population allows young girls to be introduced to opportunities that can help them to grow both socially, physically and emotionally.   There is a high rate of teenage pregnancy here and due to lack of guidance, young mothers rarely do anything for the well being of their children, which leads to a continuous vicious cycle of early teen pregnancy, increasing poverty rates, and continued physical/emotional abuse.  This is a project I will be pushing for in the New Year in conjunction with AYA Malta and the local council here.

Initially I began working in the field of ESL after previously working at St. Rita’s Center for Immigrants and Refugees as a volunteer language teacher.  Shortly after hearing I was awarded a Fulbright grant, I was also informed about the opportunity to work at the refugee center where I would be providing English instruction for refugees from sub-Saharan Africa.

Status:  Since returning from holiday break, I had my first three classes at the Marsa Open Center.  The students are filled with personality and a desire to learn English in order to open the doors for greater work opportunity and a brighter future.  I feel that this work is very important, and in just a few, two-hour classes, I left feeling accomplished and helpful.  I am looking forward to the upcoming months of instruction and classes at the center.


The Start of my Fulbright

December 13, 2011 - by Gina

I spent the first month in Malta settling in, and the second month building a life here.  So far Malta has been great.  When  I say great, I mean it has been a great experience.  Great does not necessarily mean easy.  As a foreigner everything is new.  We must investigate, ask a lot of questions, and be very persistent.  With all of this change, I am forced to adapt.  As an outsider I realized that things take time here.  If you want to sit, you need to seat yourself.  Want to order? Track down your waitress.  Care to pay? Go up to the register and take care of it yourself.  In Malta, the rules don't bend here because you are a foreigner or have a good story.  When the line is cut off at 11:30 that means you come back tomorrow, no questions asked.  I've learned, especially here, it helps to know someone.  For example a local or someone familiar with Malta.  I am very fortunate to have met many great people here who have played an integral part in my adjustment and contributed to my satisfaction with my life here in Malta.  It has taken me a while to get my blog started simply because I was unsure of where to start and how I would choose to organize my thoughts. As I challenged myself to think about what I like most about being in Malta, I couldn't help to think about the people who make up this experience.  I realized, like so many before, that it's not where you are, but who you're with that really matters.  For this, I couldn't think of a better way to start this blog, than to introduce the people I spend most of my time with here in Malta.

First off, I am here with two other Fulbright grantees.   These two Americans are just as enthusiastic about work and enjoying a new culture, as I am.  We share adventures and trips, but also obstacles and hard days.  I am grateful to have them here.  We live separately and have different work assignments, aside from the University, but share many of the same responsibilities.  We make it a point to have Sunday dinner each week, and it is always refreshing to catch up and bounce ideas around.  Like I said, I am fortunate to have two great colleagues and friends here working in Malta with me.

On Mondays and Tuesdays I work at the San Gorg Preca Boy's Junior Lyceum in Hamrun where I assist three other teachers.  Although the role of a teacher's assistant is to collaborate with the main classroom teacher, I have been trusted to take over the language lessons on the days that I am present.  I have learned a lot in this role.  I've spent countless hours putting together lessons plans only to realize that the boys respond best to basic traditional instruction.  In fact, they prefer this way of learning.  I have come to accept that there is no such day as a perfect day, and no matter how much effort you put into a lesson, it is as important to put the same amount of effort into disciplining and setting the tone of the class.  I have three great teachers who I work with on a daily basis.  They have been a priceless resource for my teaching instruction, introducing me to the Maltese education system, and helping me adjust and assimilate into my new role as an English teacher at the boy's school.

Most days I am either at the Junior Lyceum or at the University of Malta, either teaching English proficiency or studying Italian.  However, in the evenings you can find me on the soccer field, or "pitch" as we say in Malta.  I play for the Tarxien Rainbows.  I have played for them since the first week I arrived.  This is a Women's soccer team which is made up of players anywhere from ages 14 to 35.  We compete in the second division.  I found out about this team from one of last year's Fulbright grantees.  From day one my coach and teammates have been there for me like family.  On this team it's not just about winning, but about being good people.  Prior to this season the girls had only won two games.  For this, we receive a free dinner every time we win a game.  However, we now hold the fourth place standing and have won 6 games so far, and we are only half way through play.  I am thinking the president of the club is going to have to revoke his offer now that we are a winning team.  I am currently working with a non-profit organization trying to organize a trip to Bologna, Italy to play a friendly tournament.  It will be part of my second Fulbright project.

As a Fulbright Scholar I work under the umbrella of the United States Embassy.  I have to say that this has brought me great exposure to the workings and intricacies of our state department.  Our bosses have made it a point to include us in all of the happenings and events that take place for the U.S. Embassy.  So far we had the opportunity to be guests at the annual Halloween party and United States Marine Corp Ball.  In addition, we were recently honored at the ambassador's residence with two other Fulbright Scholars who are here on different grants.  I recently attended the Charge d'Affaire's holiday reception and spent Thanksgiving at the Marine house on the U.S. Embassy grounds.  The U.S. Embassy staff, U.S. Marines, and their families have been sort of a family away from home and it is nice to know there are always people here for me if I am looking for insight to Malta, some career advice, or just to simply borrow a hammer to hang some pictures.  

On December 20th I will travel for the holidays, making stops in Sicily, Rome, Prague and London.  When I return, I will once again adhere to my current teaching responsibilities as well as begin work in the Marsa Open Center (Refugee Camp) where I will be working with Sub-Saharan Africans as an English instructor. 

My First Month Traveling in Europe

October 26, 2011 - by Gina

Prior to making my way to Malta I decided to tour Western Europe for about one month. This was a very exciting and relaxing way to assimilate into my new life before taking on my year long assignment.  I met Paulina (one of the other Fulbright grantees) in Newark airport, and our trip began.  My first month spent traveling in Europe was incredible.  Each place that I visited was filled with an abundance of culture, and wonderful sites and people.

We arrived in Madrid on the 5th of September.  In every city I took advantage of the opportunity to fully discover the beauty and rich history of each place through a company that offers free walking tours.  Local expert guides share with you their personal stories and insights during their intriguing tours. Since they work for tips, every tour is consistently one of the best in Europe.

One of the highlights from Madrid was our visit to the Prado Museum, which is the second biggest museum in the world.  See Prado Museum for additional details.

Cafes and tapas bars line the streets of Madrid. Paulina and I actually went on a tapas tour one evening, which brought us through the city, introducing us to many different traditional foods of Madrid.   Each morning I ran through the beautiful Parque del Retiro. I was also fortunate enough to reconnect with a friend of mine named Luis, who I worked with at ELS this past summer on Adelphi Univeristy's campus.  He is a native of Madrid.  We met for lunch and he showed me to the famous Templo de Depod (an ancient Egyptian temple which was rebuilt in Madrid, Spain).

Later that week we took a train to Barcelona.  A close friend of mine was studying in Rome for the summer and decided to meet Paulina and I there with five other pharmacy students she had been studying with in Italy.  Again, we  explored the city on a walking tour, taking in much of the breathtaking architecture designed by Antoni Gaudi. His work is admired by architects around the world as being one of the most unique and distinctive architectural styles. We visited the famous Sagrada Familia and some of his other famous works dispersed around the city. 

Most of our evenings were spent eating at cafes trying foods such as paella and flan, which are quite popular in Spain.  One night we attended a flamenco show which consisted of singing, guitar playing, and hand claps (the three principal facets of flamenco). We also visited the Magic Fountain of Montjuic. It was once restored for the 1992 Olympic games, but is now used for public light shows.  During the summer evenings, when the fountain is activated, it attracts hundreds of visitors who watch the approx. 15 minute spectacular display of light, water and music.

During our time in Barcelona I spent some time relaxing at the beach in the sun, and of course making time to see the work of Pablo Picasso at his museum.   Barcelona is a very enjoyable city, but after five days I was looking forward to a quieter atmosphere in the south western part of France; Lourdes.

This part of our trip was a short, two day stop.  We arrived in the evening, relaxed, and spent the next full day exploring the village.  Lourdes is a small market town lying in the foothills of the Pyrenees.  It is famous for the Marian apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes which occurred in 1858.  Today Lourdes has a population of around 15,000 but is able to take in 5,000,000 pilgrims and tourists every season. 

After two days of rejuvenation, we headed to Paris. The city has great shopping with lots of second hand markets, and so much to see.  I took a walking tour of Paris for the first entire day, which was really great.  After wards I ate traditional French food at a cafe with a bunch of people I met on the tour, and I had frog legs!  They weren't the most delicious things I have ever tasted, but it was worth the try. I met a group of girls from New York who were a lot of fun, and I ended up spending most of my time with them. I returned to the Eiffel Tower at night, when it was lit up, and it was really pretty.  I took a lot of great pictures. My favorite part of Paris was looking closely at the railings of the Pont des Arts bridge over the Seine linking the Left Bank to the Louvre.  Padlocks of all shapes, colors and sizes are locked to the bridges and filled with messages of eternal love.  I thought it was very fitting, for this romantic city.

Our next stop was Belgium.  Here we had a much needed break from hosteling, and for once, stayed in a home.  We had a great friend to show us around, and we managed to see many places including Liege, Antwerp, Brugge, and Brussels.  We ate many traditional foods such as sweet meatballs, mussels, waterzooi, and chips with mayonnaise of course.  I also tried duck liver for the first time as well as a real Belgium waffle. Everything was delicious.

We got the chance to see a professional Belgium basketball game one evening and also to attend a 50th birthday party of a friend of our host.  One of my favorite days in Belgium was spent at a festival in Namur which is very similar to the famous Oktoberfest in Munich.  The streets were filled with performers and men on stilts.  Live music and smells of great food filled the streets, and despite the rain everyone enjoyed themselves. I would have to say that Belgium was one of my favorite places visited during my trip because I appreciated the simplicity of life there.  In the mornings when we woke up, our host would bring fresh eggs from the next store neighbors farm that were just laid that day and we would cook them for breakfast with fresh squeezed orange juice.  On morning runs, the green fields looked like paintings, and the fresh air was invigorating. 

Our second to last stop was in Holland.  We stayed on a hostel boat in the harbor in Amsterdam.  Immediately, I met two girls my age who were from Italy.  I spent my first evening exploring the city with the two of them.  For the first time I was in a situation where both girls did not speak very good English and with this challenge, I gained a new perspective.  I really had to pay attention to their facial expressions and tone of voice in order to follow along with our conversations. 

Some of the highlights from Amsterdam were the Anne Frank House, living on a boat, and learning about the modernization of Amsterdam, as well as the way the government regulates the city and its laws.   I thought it was very interesting to learn that some of the houses which are slanting in one direction, are due to the fact that the entire city was built on a swamp.  Furthermore, 20,000 bicycles per year are removed from the canals, so that the boats can continue to pass through the waters.  This number was shocking.  

While in Amsterdam, I rented a bike and joined a tour group through the countryside.  We rode to see one of the only eight original remaining windmills in Holland. Our final destination was a cheese farm and clog factory, where we had the chance to taste many different kinds of aged cheese, and see how traditional Dutch clogs are made. 

Berlin was our final, and last stop before Malta.  I felt that of all the places I saw, this city was most similar to New York, but at the same time unique in its own way.  Here we also stayed with a host family who were very generous to us and welcoming.  In addition to everything we saw and did in Berlin, I really enjoyed spending time with the family and learning about Berlin through their personal stories and insights. 

One of our days in Berlin, we took a full day trip to a concentration camp; the Memorial and Museum Sachsenhausen

I really enjoyed going to the weekend flea markets on Straise des 17 Juni where you could find everything and anything.  Walking through the city was nice and there was a lot to see.  Berlin is filled with so much creative art and shops, however my favorite section was the Berlin Wall Memorial also known as the East Side Gallery.  For more information see Artists Initiative.

After about a month of an over stimulation of culture and travel, our holiday had to come to an end.   Fortunately, our end is in a beautiful country in the south of Europe, Malta.

About the Author

Fulbright to Malta is written by
Gina Giambanco

Gina Giambanco, M.A. ’11, is an Adelphi aluma who studied TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) at Adelphi University’s Ruth S. Ammon School of Education. Prior to attending Adelphi she obtained a B.S. in psychology and business from Fordham University, where she spent time teaching Adult ESL at St. Rita’s Center for Immigrant and Refugee Services in New York City. After taking a liking to this work, Gina decided to enroll at Adelphi to take courses to teach English as a second language while also playing for the Adelphi women’s basketball team. Gina has made the most of her time at Adelphi, earning academic honors and gaining professional experience through her employment at various on-campus departments. In October 2010, with the guidance of her Adelphi professors, she applied for, and was eventually awarded, the prestigious Fulbright scholarship. In September 2011, Gina will backpack through Europe before she begins working for the Republic of Malta in October 2011, where she will teach English and U.S. History at the University level as well as English as a second language at a secondary school. In addition to teaching, Gina’s Fulbright statement of grant purpose involves starting an afterschool program that will encompass three human components; body, mind, and soul. The program will include American sports, yoga, meditation, and of course, English. Outside of her Fulbright work, Gina hopes to participate in volunteer work with North African Refugees currently living in Malta.

The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author(s). The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by Adelphi University. The copyright and all related rights to original work posted via the blog service are owned by and are the sole responsibility of its author(s).


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