Even the palm trees waved at me welcomingly as I walked out of Luqa Airport. Coming back to Malta was like sliding into a warm bath after a month in the freezing rain.
I came back to Europe after a semester (turned into eight months) abroad. Melbourne was more than 15-year-old me could have dreamt of. It made me feel alive. Walking around on campus, knowing we are the ones that will change the world. Dancing for hours on end with the sun shining down on me and my friends. Talking about life in a skyscraper overlooking the city we called home.
China and New Zealand adventures aside, I spent the summer on dreamy islands. Scuba diving with thresher sharks in the Philippines, followed by a month with Malaysian family on Tioman Island. The simplicity and happiness of island life is something I’ll have to devote an entire blog post (if not lifetime) to.
So the contrast between sunny days and daily diving and the grey, rainy airport of Berlin Tegel could not have been bigger. It was the end of August when I landed in Germany, about to spend some quality time with my best friends from Malta.
While I had the best time with them, Europe was a smack in my face. People are stoic as always. Nobody smiles for no reason. Everyone minds their own business. We Europeans are always in a rush. The piled up frustration of trying to fit into a hyper efficient but inhumane system only comes out when the train is two minutes late.
I spent a week in the Netherlands with family, after which I made my way to Lyon. I would spend another semester on exchange. It was bound to be amazing. I speak French, I’d be living close to all my European friends, and it was going to be another semester of a lifetime.
But France and I never managed to get along. Since the moment I got there I felt drained, exhausted, and straight-up miserable. Moments that should have been amazing felt like an obligation. Even despite my amazing bunch of friends (you know who you are & I miss you), Erasmus was terrible.
After weeks of doubt, calling my mom on a daily basis, consulting the international office, and talking to my great Maltese Erasmus coordinator, I decided to quit. I called Malta and told them I was coming back.
But I was never sure. What if it wasn’t just France? What if I was just going through a bad phase, and anything would be bad right now? I’ve never been the one to attach meaning to places. I believe life is all in your perceptions. Anything can be good, it’s just the way you look at it.
But coming back to my warm island was the perfect antidote to France. I have never been so happy to be somewhere. The yellow brick buildings invited me in and the Maltese seemed even friendlier than ever.
Whereas France was the ultimate European country, Malta is nothing like that. It’s like a little Mediterranean version of Australia. No efficiency, no stress, no organisation, no worries. It’s tough to get used to but easy to love.
A friend told me maybe places are like friends. You meet hundreds of people in your lifetime. But how many of those become your best friends? Just like that, you can live anywhere, just like you can spend time with anyone. But out of all these places, just a few will become your home.
Apart from the homesickness and aimlessly wandering around a city that seemed to hate me and I sincerely hated back, this is what I do this for. It's exactly what I wanted when I was still stuck in high school in my tiny village in the Netherlands.
I knew there was way more to life than the town I was coincidentally born. And I don’t believe in any god, belief system, or faith to guide me to where I’m supposed to be. I figured that to find the place I could genuinely call home, I would have to try living everywhere.
So I never considered staying in Malta after my bachelors. On Google Maps it’s the tiniest spot in the Mediterranean sea, an island not even represented on most maps due to its size. I feared three years would even be too long on this little rock. I was sure I couldn’t stay here for long, aware that my craving for experiencing everything would surely pop up soon enough.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been gone for so long that I appreciate Malta even more. And maybe I’ll change my mind in a year – that’s more likely than not. So don’t pin me down. Life has its ways of completely, unexpectedly changing course within a split second.
But for now I can see myself stay. Malta has become home.