Hello there! Thank you for taking the time to read this article.
I’m Ritienne, a Psychology student at the University of Malta – a small island in the middle of the Mediterranean. I studied abroad for 4 months in Canada, so it’s safe to say that culture shock was inevitable. The reason I chose to study in Canada was mainly curiosity. I wanted to see how other people lived, and I also hoped to see some wildlife that I could never see in Malta – squirrels, deer, racoons, crows. Let me tell you: they are ADORABLE.
On the 8th of January 2022, my friend Mireille and I took a 3-hour flight from Malta to England, and a subsequent 8-hour flight from England to Canada. When we arrived, it was around -20˚C, just slightly colder than Malta’s average 15˚C temperature in winter. Despite my brittle bones, shrivelled skin and frosty fingers, I had somehow arrived in this country, 8,350 km away from home. Somehow, I did not feel scared. Having my dear friend by my side gave me a sense of safety. The first thing I noticed was how, despite the cold, warm were Canadian hearts, and as soon as we arrived at university, we felt welcome. We had to spend a few days in quarantine until our precautionary Covid-19 tests were out, and we had food delivered to our door with supportive messages attached to keep us in good spirits.
I have learned a lot from this experience. Yes, I learned about psychology-related topics that we do not go over much in Malta, such as death, dying, and contemplation –and I was not aware that neuroscience literature was backing it up. Also, about cognition and motivation in sports, a subject that was not my first preference but ended up being a favourite of mine. That was just the tip of the iceberg though. For the first time, I was placed in a comfortable setting during class where I was able to truly express myself without fear of judgement. We cried during lectures about death when we talked about our loved ones and our past, we shared laughter and joy when we danced spontaneously during our contemplation classes, and we shared information which would be deemed too personal to share publicly at my home university. And guess what? The world didn’t end… In fact, the experience brought us closer together and made the learning experience more motivating. One of the exercises I remember fondly is having to look into a person’s eyes without speaking to them, for what first felt like ages, but soon became a comfortable 15-20 minute ordeal. I saw in front of me another person, who was sharing a room with me. I wondered what their life was like and realised that I could never understand,but that I can acknowledge them and their existence, and I can feel comfortable with their silent presence.
Something I really reflected on was the striking difference in the way the psychology course was taught abroad. In Malta, we usually have a single multiple choice/essay/short answer question exam at the end of the semester for each module covered. In Canada, the assessment was often split into different parts throughout the semester. For one subject, we had a reflective diary, and for another, we had multiple choice questions, and we had to design a board game study tool and make a portfolio for a potential job we were interested in. Multiple-choice exams were present too, but they were not the only assessment method, and for a psychology course, it made so much sense. A psychologist cannot do without being reflective and self-aware, without being able to discuss heavy topics in an intimate setting, without acknowledging the other, and without being creative. It was so interesting to see a system in place that taught me what I had to learn in the syllabus, but in such an engaging way – in a way which I was told was too idealistic to do back home.yet somehow, I was experiencing it, and I wanted to do anything I could to bring it back home with me.
I studied at Bishop’s University, well-known for its diverse international cohort. I met an Arab student, who showed me just how similar the Maltese and Arabic are. I met someone from Ecuador, who claimed that hugging your therapist is something that is encouraged in their culture, which is not something Maltese people usually do. I also met a student from Germany who took us indoor rock-climbing, and a student from Denmark, whose hoodie about cashews I can’t quite get out of my head. I was made aware of how language plays an essential role in our lives. Hearing people talk but not being able to understand them was both weird and wonderful. A part of me wanted to know what they were talking about, and another part of me admired the different sounds each language has, the changes in intonation and speed, and the harshness and softness of different languages.
I absolutely loved my experience in Canada, and this article almost makes it sound like in my home country, everything is worse. I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss Malta’s warm beaches and the Maltese language – especially when the air hostess told me Bonġu (Good Morning) as soon as we got on the plane. On the way back home, when I caught a glimpse of Malta, despite loving Canada so much, I shed a tear because it was nice to be back home. I was going to see my friends from Betapsi (Malta’s psychology student association) and my family soon. I couldn’t wait.
I want to finish off by saying this: If you are wondering whether studying abroad (and being away from your family and friends, going to a new country alone,and the uncertainty of a new culture) is worth it, he answer is a deafening YES. Meeting people from a different culture will broaden your perspective, and it will help you truly understand that not everyone is like you and that there are different ways of living the life that you might not be aware of. You will meet so many beautiful people.