John is a final year student on the London MBBS and is undertaking an elective at Gozo General Hospital in Gozo. Hear what he has to say about living in Malta when we asked him a few questions.
What’s it like being a student in Malta?
I have greatly enjoyed being a student in Gozo. It has been quite different to London in a way that I personally prefer. Most notably, the island is much smaller and quieter than London. This is apparent at the hospital with less time pressure on the wards allowing longer teaching periods and discussion about patients from doctors at every level with greater staff friendliness. It also allows freedom to see and get involved with interesting procedures across the hospital with doctors being able to arrange things informally between them easily. Outside of the hospital, Gozo offers two really nice, easy to get to beaches I enjoyed spending a lot of time on and a great very quiet coastal walk with lovely views. There are plenty of cafés and restaurants serving good seafood and some excellent local bakeries too along with a number of bars and pubs. A cinema plays a selection of the latest films and there is a film club showing foreign arthouse movies. I felt Malta was close enough such that if I wanted bigger events I could get there and I greatly enjoyed the International Firework Festival in Valletta.
Do you find it safe to live?
Yes very. Gozo in particular is very small and friendly. As far as I am aware there is minimal crime to the point where locking car doors is optional. I have never felt threatened or worried even slightly at any point during my time here. The local people are always willing to stop for a chat or offer lifts if needed. Malta, although larger in size also felt safe. I had no concerns at ‘feasts’ (festivals) or street celebrations around Malta and Gozo, and walking back from fireworks at Valletta to Msida at midnight felt safe. There are also often families and children around most events and it feels much safer than any part of London.
I have yet to go to St. Julian’s or Paceville in Malta (a European party destination) where a lot of summer party tourism arrives.
What do you spend your time doing when you are not studying?
Most of my free time during my elective has been spent seeing the historic sights of both Gozo and Malta at the weekends. I have enjoyed an array of Neolithic sites, the citadel of Victoria, forts built by the Knights of St John, a Roman house and World War II exhibits. I have also enjoyed seeing many fireworks too, both at the Malta International Firework festival which was spectacular, and at the various feasts (festivals) around the country at different towns depending on religious saint days, all of which seem to have fireworks! Starting from the end of May there are almost weekly festivals across Malta and Gozo which are characterized by marching bands, banners and the entire town population out in the streets enjoying the spectacle.
I personally have also greatly enjoyed walking around the coastal path of Gozo. It holds great views of the cliffs of Gozo and across the sea to the islands of Comino and Malta. I also followed a nice path across rural countryside of Malta passing more Roman remains. I also sat on the beaches and have been on a number of small boat trips around the caves on both the Gozo and Comino coastline.
How easy do you find using the transportation and getting around?
Transport has generally been good. I have extensively used the bus network that covers almost everywhere across the islands. In Gozo, the main bus terminus in Victoria is less than 5 minutes from the hospital and the buses radiate outwards from Victoria to the other towns and port. They start early and finish relatively late in Gozo. The last bus from the Gozo port is 11pm. Buses in Malta are reasonable although certain routes at certain times can be very busy – standing room only or even turning people away from the bus. The frequency is variable. Most buses in Gozo are hourly but in Malta they can range from every 10 minutes to hourly.
I personally think they are very cheap. In Winter (Sep – June) they are €1.50 for a 2 hour ticket allowing you to make any journey and connections within a 2 hour window (rising to €2 in Summer). Night buses are present on some routes in Malta (after 11pm until about 2am) for €3. There are discount tickets available for either a set number of journeys, weekly pass, or student / local population discounts. I found they ran on time or a little early in general although I avoided travelling in morning rush hour. There is a journey planner and timetables on the Malta Public Transport website that is useful to plan trips.
Obviously to get across to Malta from Gozo the ferry has to be taken. This runs every 45 minutes from and to Cirkewwa, taking about 20 minutes to get across. The timings correlate to the bus to and from Victoria in Gozo until 11pm. The ferry runs throughout the night at 1-2 hourly timeslots. The ferry is €4.65 for passengers only paid on leaving Gozo. It has great views of Gozo, Comino and Malta, but can be a bit tedious if used regularly. Many Gozitans do commute across in the car daily though to Valletta. In high winds it either does not run or takes a longer route around the far side of the island Comino depending on wind direction. If everything fell into place exactly it takes two hours to get from capital Victoria on Gozo island to capital Valletta on Malta island.
How have you found communicating with people in Gozo and Malta using English?
The language barrier has not been a problem for the majority of the time here. Most people in Malta are bilingual in Maltese and English and in fact a few Maltese people only speak English. In general, I found most people start talking to me in Maltese (partly because I look Maltese) but if you reply in English or say you only speak English they will switch language. Day to day conversation though is largely in Maltese both around Gozo and in the hospital amongst Maltese speaking staff. A number of the doctors are English and Eastern European speaking English and they manage well. I found there was more of a problem with older Gozitans, many of whom no longer speak much English and getting detailed clinical histories was harder because of the language barrier. However, this was good practice for conversing through a translator, often a family member. Furthermore, if both the consultant and patient are Maltese, most discussion happens in Maltese requiring a translation from the consultant afterwards. Documentation of clinical notes in the hospital though is in English as is most paperwork which was helpful.
What do you enjoy the most about being in Gozo? Malta?
Three things about the place stand out for me (mostly covered in other questions too). I have most enjoyed the weather, being surrounded by history and architecture (there are attractive churches, old citadels and forts everywhere), and the scenery overlooking the sea that can be seen from almost anywhere in Gozo. For me these combine to create a very pleasant and peaceful place with the ability to attend bigger events when wanted in Malta.
How do you find the weather?
The weather during my time here (April – June) was great. Almost every day was sunny with temperatures between 20 and 30oC along with a cool breeze making being outside very pleasant. The breeze made it slightly too cool on the beach except in the middle of the day though. However, the staff at the hospital said this was surprisingly cool for this time of year here and in summer it can get much hotter. I had two days of rain in my six weeks.
Why did you choose to study with QMUL?
A number of factors guided my selection of Queen Mary, University of London. Firstly, Queen Mary and Barts and the London Medical School were well known to me as a good medical school and I found other contacts I knew and have made since know of the Barts name. I also found Barts and the London Medical School welcoming both at open days, but more importantly at the GEP program interviews. Having been to a few interviews, I felt Barts was both friendly and fun, and lacked the arrogance that seemed to come across elsewhere.
(John was interviewed – May 2016)