Victoria Cervantes '14
Victoria Cervantes is an Anthropology major from Elmwood Park, IL. She used her Johnson Opportunity Grant to go to cultural anthropology field school in Malta.
This summer I spent three weeks on the island of Gozo doing a cultural anthropology field school with the University of Leuven in Belgium. Gozo is a part of the archipelago that makes up the Maltese islands. Six islands make up the country of Malta, but I only visited three of them--Gozo, Malta, and Comino. The only way to get from island to island is by boats or ferries. Gozo is smaller than Malta, and it is also less busy and slightly less touristy in comparison. The field school students stayed in apartments in Xlendi Bay, which is a small town on the southwestern part of the island. Malta is the main island with the airport and the larger hotels for tourists. A great deal of Malta's economy is supported by tourists--people love to buy their lace and eat all of the delicious foods that they produce. Rabbit is a specialty dish. Comino is the smallest of the islands that I visited, and I went there to see its rocky but beautiful beach.
The point of my cultural field school was to study an aspect of Maltese culture, find different avenues to gain information about that topic, and be exposed to a different way of life. One great part of field school was getting to meet new people--making connections with them and being invited to spend time with them in their everyday lives. The cultural aspect that I chose to focus on was traditional Maltese games, which turned out to be a very interesting topic. I ended up meeting one of my fellow participants' contacts, whose brother had written a paper about traditional Maltese games when he was in grade school. One obstacle that came with reading the school paper was that it was written in Maltese. Finding ways to accurately translate the paper was a challenge. While a lot of people in Malta know English, the official language is Maltese, which is a very different language to hear, try to speak, or see written.
I gathered more information about my topic by talking to a wonderful woman who worked in the Toy Museum in the town of Xaghra. After I visited the first time, whenever I went into the field I stopped at Xaghra to talk to people. There is not much for a tourist to see in Xaghra except for the toy museum and a few restaurants, but I really enjoyed my time their and found it a valuable place.
A key to doing fieldwork in Gozo is timing. In Malta, everyone takes siestas, and if you do not start your day early enough you have to wait until the afternoon to talk to people again. Businesses shut down while the sun is the hottest, and people don't generally sit outside during this time period either. It is also important to know the bus schedule, and be ready with your supplies and bus pass when you hear it pull up at the stop outside of the apartments.
The other 13 participants and I were encouraged by the staff and our supervisors to go sightseeing and enjoy our time at the beaches, which we took full advantage of. There would have been no way to focus in such a beautiful place if we were not allowed to enjoy our surroundings. It was a great way to meet people in casual settings. I visited the citadel in Victoria, the Azure Window, towers built by the knights of Malta, the Ggantija temples, the Museum of Archaeology, festas, and many other wonderful sights. My time in Gozo was too short and went by too quickly, but I will always remember the lessons that I learned, and I will keep the bonds that I made there for a long time.