My name is Lyna and I am 22 years old. I am half Algerian, half Iraqi, but I have Algerian nationality.
I came to Malta four years ago to study at the University of Malta, where I am studying Architecture.
When I first came to Malta I was very shy and not very sociable. Moving here I had a fixed idea that I had to change completely everything I had been doing until then and try to better myself. I gained a lot of self-confidence. I am an adventurous and curious person, I like to try new things. Moving to a different country brought me the opportunity to open to the world and engage more with others.
My first impression of Malta was literally thinking ‘oh my God I am home!’. I did not feel like I was somewhere very different from my environment. The language is so similar, the culture, their lifestyle, the daily interactions… Maybe it is also because the climate and the culture across the Mediterranean are very similar, but I always felt like it was somewhat at home. And in fact, Malta and Algeria have a lot in common, even their problems and politics are not so different from ours. However, coming here as a tourist or for just a few months is very different from moving here.
When I really moved to Malta I saw the real face of Malta and it was a bit difficult to adapt to it at first. On social media you face a lot of unwelcoming speech towards third country nationals, there people show that they do not want anyone other than themselves here. I understand Malta is a very small and densely populated country but…
I must say that the interaction with the Maltese students at University was crucial for my integration. You understand how they perceive things, their opinions… they are very opinionated when it comes to the issue of migration in Malta. There is a significant difference between the new and the old generation of Maltese. The Maltese youth welcomes immigrants because they see how they contribute to society.
In general, the University plays a very important role in the integration of international students. For instance, it supports a lot of initiatives of cultural exchange that mostly associations of students of minority nationalities put forward. But then there are aspects where we do not feel so supported.
One of the main difficulties for any non-European Union full-time student is to find a job. Legally we as full-time students can work up to, I believe, 15 hours a week. But employers ask us for a work permit that we cannot provide because, if we do, that would change our legal status in the country. We explain to them our entitlements as full-time students, but they are seldom aware of this.
I am not here to work, I am here to study. At this moment, to me work is simply a part-time necessity because we have no stipends to support us from the side of the University. The University could be more mindful of this and provide us with at least a declaration to confirm our full-time student status. Unfortunately, it is assumed that the employer will know of our right to work and comply. In reality, though, it is not like that.
For international students it is hard to access information about academic or professionalising issues that are also relevant to us. There are practical things that I only hear from the Maltese colleagues, essential information that was otherwise not shared with us by an official party. This incomplete flow of information sometimes hinders our effective integration, and this is where I think there is room for improvement on the part of the University. Other than that, we do receive from their side a lot of support regarding acquiring documentation for our visa renewals and all that bureaucratic hassle.
This year I will hopefully finish my Bachelor’s degree and continue with my Master’s degree right after, also in Architecture. I am hoping I will get the chance to work as well. I have been trying to apply for internships and even volunteering in related areas in order to be able to understand better how the system works. You cannot be granted the warrant to actually work as an architect until you have worked in this field in Malta for at least one year.
Malta is not my final destination. There are not so many job opportunities here for non-European Union citizens and the ones that exist are of a lower profile than what I am looking for and have studied for. But it has been an important step in my career path. I want my job to be something that takes me to different places, travelling around the world. I do not know where I head to next but definitely I am not going back home. Even though I miss it a lot, my country is not made for someone who is aiming for bigger things.