Day 136: Big Things in Tiny Malta

Sometimes the littlest things can have a big impact.

A pawn can force a checkmate, the small keystone keeps the integrity of the bridge, and a small island in the Mediterranean can serve as a tactical and strategic bastion of war for over two millennia.

The tiny island of Malta is such a place. Inhabited as a neolithic site going back 7,000 years, it was eventually used a a stop by the Phoenicians that sailed from Tyre (modern day Lebanon) westward to trading ports in Cadiz and Carthage. Soon after, it became a staging post by which the armies of Hannibal sparred with the Roman empire back and forth through the ages in the time before Christ. The Knights Hospitaller beat back onslaughts from the Ottoman empire and turned the tide of Ottoman rule through their persistent gunnery from the fort ramparts in the 16th century in what was known as the ‘Great Siege of Malta‘. Control of the island was ceded to Napoleon en route to his Egypt campaign, and the island was bombed heavily in World War 2 as the allies and axis powers fought for control of north Africa. George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev would aspire to meet here following the fall of the Berlin wall. In short, this island has hosted some of history’s most historical events.

Showing signs of modernity, Malta has preserved its culture. Multimillion dollar yachts sit nestled in its harbors, protected by the elements from forts Angelo and Elmo. The whole island feels like an entire city was dropped in the coliseum of Rome and expected to function as usual and adapted by weaving roads under ancient arches, building adjacent to giant buttresses and building new buildings atop 50 foot protective city walls.

Because of its kaleidoscope of cultures through the years, Malta has a culture that is emblematic of everywhere. Maltese is the Sicilian infused dialect and French, English and Italian are widely spoken with whispers of Arabic from taxi drivers. Bar room conversations spill out onto the streets at night much like you’ll find in Portugal. Maltese cuisine has adopted the best parts of Europe with pizza and pasta readily available with a cheap wine not too far away.

Tips for Sightseeing in Malta

As we’ve been traveling for over 4 months now, the novelty of ‘making it count‘ is starting to wear off. I’ve read about long term travelers hitting a wall of travel fatigue and wanting to see less and less when they arrive at a destination and instead opt for doing whatever they feel like on any given day. In this sense, we’ve come to live more like locals, often waking up and going for walks around the harbor, scoping out cheap eats and free thrills. Another challenge with sight seeing in Malta is contending with the large number of tourists swarming out of cruise ships and snapping up limited tour times. Our Airbnb apartment in Senglea overlooked the harbor and any given day there would be 3 massive cruise ships moored up outside. (*Side note: On our last day, the ‘Azamara Pursuit’ which we’d board in January for Antarctica docked a stones throw from our flat) Because of this, certain tourist sights can fill up mid-day and if you’re keen on taking a tour, consider buying tickets in advance.

  • Strolling Valletta – This charming finger jutting out into the bay has a lot of sights to keep you busy for a whole day. Start with a visit to the ‘National Museum of Archeology’ and then head to St John’s Cathedral if you need a gilded church ceiling fix. Wind your way around the edge of the peninsula by visiting the ships of the Valletta waterfront, War Rooms and St. Elmo’s fort. Be sure to stop for lunch and craft beer at ’67 Kapitali’ which has fantastic sandwiches made with Maltese bread. We did twice.
  • Vittoriosa – This trip across the bay is definitely worth it. Fort St. Angelo was tremendous and commanded some amazing views of the island and harbor. The interpretive displays of its role over the ages were more than impressive and it gave us the opportunity to walk along multimillion dollar yachts along the wharf and day dream of opulent wealth.
  • Hal Saflini Hypogeum – This 5,000 year old underground burial chamber was only a 30 minute walk from our place and our high hopes of visiting were soon dashed when we learned that tickets were booked months in advance. C’est la vie mon ami. Apparently, you can get last minute tickets through cancellations through Fort St. Elmo in Valletta or the Gozo Museum of Archeology. If you’re near either of those two places, it pays to ask.
  • Transportation – The easiest and cheapest forms of transport we used were Bolts and water taxis. Since Uber is not available in Malta yet, Bolt is the other ride sharing platform we used in eastern Europe which came in handy. Water taxis between points were only 2-3 euros a ride and came every few minutes.

Google Book Creator

Being in Malta gave us time to resume Ava’s studies. We started reading ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe‘, tested out of ‘Decimals’ and ‘Plane Figures’ in math, but the big news was Ava finishing her brochure (one of her writing pieces of the year) on the African safari. We settled on ‘Google Book Creator’ which allows one to publish the book online as a shareable link, download it as an iBook, or share it via social media platforms. This is a lead-in to her larger persuasive writing piece that she has started on “Why Rhinoceros Should be Protected” that we hope to finish in a couple weeks.

On the Job Hunt: GRC Fair

Speaking of being on safari, the GRC fair in Dubai is on the horizon for us and we’ll be showing up there in 11 days on the hunt for teaching positions for next year. Gone are the days where you could show up and get 6 offers with a valid pulse; the deteriorating state of education and slow pace reform is sending more US teachers abroad so it’s imperative to work hard in order to stand out from the pack.

Most international schools have their declaration dates as November 15th or December 1st, so we’re a bit early, but are having some nibbles on our candidacy and have had a handful of Skype interviews thus far. Here are some tips that have helped us with our searches in the past and will be invaluable when the fair starts:

  • Design a Killer CV – Browse through CVs online and find a format that is clean, scannable and a step above the typical Microsoft or Google doc templates. Most recruiters spend only a few seconds to decide whether a CV is a ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘maybe’ and some basic graphic design skills can give your profile a sparkle that can set you apart from the rest. I used ‘Adobe In-Design’ for ours.
  • Quantify your Accomplishments – In your work experience section, try to be as descriptive as possible. Instead of saying ‘Co-chaired XYZ Committee‘ instead say ‘Improved 30 units of study in our school’s IT innovation curriculum by teaching 10 staff members best practices.‘ This is more exemplary of leadership and shows results.
  • Have Multiple Cover Letters- This might sound like more work (and it is) but if you’re applying for 2-3 different positions, you want different cover letters to reflect your philosophy, experience and passion for each one. My wife and I have our sights on 2 different positions for each of us so we’ll have a dozen copies of each one for handing out in earnest.
  • Shortlist your Top Schools – Of the 76 schools attending the GRC fair, there are 10 schools with valid jobs for both of us, 6 schools that are our top choices and 2 unicorn schools. We’ve applied to all of their positions online and have emailed schools indicating our attendance, positions for which we’re interested and desire to set up an interview.
  • Research Schools– Take some time to research your top schools through their websites for upcoming initiatives, PD and information from their annual report so you know their history and culture of learning. Be sure to highlight how your own experience aligns with these programs and thus how your experience will be an asset to help this school achieve this vision over the next 2 years. Side note: I once sat in on an interview of a notable PhD candidate who was interviewing for a high school science position. When asked what they liked about our school, they said they ‘didn’t really know anything about‘ our school and thought their academic attainment would compensate. We passed on her.
  • Practice your ‘Elevator Pitch’ – You might get lucky in meeting an administrator in a lobby or elevator and have their ear for a minute. In that time, summarize your interest in their school and what job you and your spouse are well suited for. If you have your CV and cover letters on hand, this may lead to an interview.
  • Use your Professional Learning Network. As our digital footprint has grown and we have friends all over the world, we now have friends at many of the schools at which we are applying. When admin are facing a pile of hundreds a resumes, sometimes a kind note from a well respected colleague of a particular candidate can rocket their application to the top of the pile. Facebook has some groups to this effect as well.
  • Get Some Exercise on the Morning of Interviews- I recently had a Skype interview two hours after my morning cardio workout. The physical activity gave a rush of endorphins and I was much happier, focused, and much more well spoken than an interview two weeks ago when I was sick in bed.
  • Line Up Early and Strategize- The conference hall sign ups are a bit like a fire sale and you need to get in line an hour before the doors open. Other candidates will be doing the same and if you’re in line first, you’ll survive the stampede and can get to the tables for signups.
  • Be Open Minded– There may be schools in countries you’ve never considered, but don’t give up on them. We never thought of South Korea as a destination and chalked up our initial interview as mere ‘practice’. However, after meeting the administrators with whom we instantly connected, found the school to be a great fit and Korea having many recreational activities we would come to love.

The job hunt for international teachers is one of the most stressful things we’ve gone through in our lives. In most cases, you have to declare your intent not to return so your own school can change the vacancy from ‘tentative’ to ‘definite’ and the uncertainty of not having a job before leaving your current one can cause even the most seasoned educators to feel creeping self-doubt and insecurity. Have faith in your abilities, don’t settle, and take advantage of opportunities that such conferences can bring.

It’s your teaching career. If you’re not looking out for it, who will?

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Day 65: Old Friends, New Laughs in Budapest

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