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A letter to the disheartened…

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Firstly, my heartfelt congratulations to all those who passed their exams and have moved up a year higher, or even graduated. Your work has come to a fruition, and a new challenge awaits you. And yet, you are not the only person being addressed at the moment… sorry.

No, I am talking about a select number of people who are not in the best of situations right now: All their dreams seem to have imploded, their self-confidence vanished into thin air, like a personal Exxon-Valdez which has just run aground and destroyed your short-term plans for good. Being unable to achieve the marks needed to pass to the next year is a torrid experience for everyone, no need to sugar coat it.

I have been there, done that… another chapter in my imaginary scrap book, if you would like. And now that I have finally managed to tie up loose, delayed ends, I would like to share some pointers for all of you that might help you…

 

Move Along Quickly…

I remember the day I received my results: I was talking to my course mate on Facebook when he gave me the news that results came out (Mind you, he had failed too). When I saw the published results, my mind went blank, and I stood immobile for a period of time. A rush of questions come flooding through your head: How to tell your parents? How to break it out to your friends? How to manage to face those classmates of yours who were promoted? And what to do?

Well, the first priority is to not panic and break down: Alcohol and narcotics is NEVER a good idea in such a scenario, for an already emotionally unstable student with an unclear mind is an undoubted concoction for disaster. Work out, read, write, or divulge yourself completely in your work, just get that Esims page temporarily out of your head. (No, you will not completely forget what happened…) When this happens, you will eventually get a better taste of the bitter pill and move on to the next stage…

 

Plan Ahead, Both Short-Term and Long-Term…

Receiving bad news is never an excuse to either become a recluse, or let things slide down a slippery slope towards Chaos-ville. While I immediately started long-term planning (like re-printing out timetables and sorting my notes again) I totally abandoned the short-term stuff: It took a phone call from my faculty to remind me that I needed to register for First Year (on the final day, mind you), my study looked more like an abandoned asylum than a place for studying, and my unread email account reached an all-time high.

Sit down, clear up your mind, and make a list of things that you need to do in order to start on the right track, then get them done, one by one. The less rocky the introduction to the year is, the better things will turn out. But before said year starts…

 

Take some time to re-evaluate your past year’s decisions…

Take this as analogically and widespread as possible: Start from how much time you spend in the library (if it was too much or too little), and end with the optional subjects you had the past year, and what are you going to choose the forthcoming year. This is a self-evaluation, and not an excuse to play the blame-game on any particular incidents or people; rather, take some time to decide whether you need to change (not necessarily revolutionize) some of your habits…

One mistake I personally made was that I automatically chose the same subjects that I had the previous year: Although it was comfortable to a point, I soon realized that it did not help me keep myself passionate about the course at all…

As a last resort, if you are completely sure that your heart is no longer in it, do not be afraid to change your direction and course completely, even if this entails taking a gap year to get your requirements up to scratch. It could possibly be the best thing that has ever happened to you, a total miracle in disguise.

 

Never take a “Same sh*t, different day” attitude….

I am taking the leaf out a cheesy Internet quote here, but your path is a step into the unknown: No year is the same as the previous year; new people, (maybe) some new subjects and new lecturers, and whole new opportunities for you to explore. If you want to indulge in your hobbies, do so moderately as an accompaniment, but not as a replacement, for your frequent portions of study.

Yes, sometimes it is plain hard to find interest in stuff you already heard and know by heart from the past year: Nonetheless, neglect is a grave, unforgiving state of mind which will bite you in the backside later on, so always try to stay put.

 

No student is an island…

Exclusion from the world around you may seem convenient for a short period of time, but in the long run it will produce a lot more harm than good. If you feel you should limit yourself from such extra-academic activities, don’t be afraid to do so… but total social exclusion is very rarely the best solution.

 

And finally… Have it your way…

It is YOUR plan, YOUR re-evaluation, YOUR forthcoming exams. Take pointers from other people if you want to (it makes me look less like I have wasted my time writing this article), but in the end, taking charge of your academic year is the ultimate combo breaker… your ticket to achieving what you want the second time around is yourself… your hard working, confident and unafraid self. You will be back stronger than ever, and if you are lucky enough, this year could turn out to be a blessing, rather than a curse.

I know others did, so why not you?

Posted in Opinion, Opinion

L’amour est dans l’air

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Presumably, everyone believes in love and its strength, well except for those out there who are all skeptical about the whole concept and belief. Trying to find ways to describe love can be rather challenging and universal. Love is different to each of us. To start off with, the strongest love we ever experience in life is the connection between children and their parents. We very often refer to this bond as the unconditional love. The philosophy behind such name is very much effortless to understand; anything that comes between the parent and the child is not strong enough to survive the link between these two. Problems usually succumb to this. Paradoxically, there are instances when love seizes to exist because this is broken and replaced by hate, its immortal enemy. It is in such cases where human beings, subject to sins, withhold their feelings and shut their parents out.

Friendship is another word for love. As the old saying goes ‘’No man is an island’’ and almost everyone has at least one friend in their life. From a young age, we seek other people who we very often find ourselves in. Some people put friends before anything and anyone else in their life, yet some do not fully appreciate this relationship and only realize it once it’s too late to undo the mistakes. Friends are very much needed and important in life. There is really more to it than just to have a friend. Friends are responsible (strongly used) for an interesting life, to help you out, and give you advice. Very often we need to share sensitive issues with some people, and who do we turn to if not our friends? We are social beings and friendship is a way of life. Friends die, but friendship lives through both lives.

Waiting in line is the intimate relationship which is the most diversified relationship in history. I often hear people who confess their disbelief in love. I guess these are people who weren’t yet lucky enough to experience it, or maybe past experience failed them. When I was younger I think I was one of those who thought love is overrated. I thought the interpretation of love in movies was just an exaggeration and deceiving. This hunch was completely upended when I met my partner a couple of years back. I consider myself to be the luckiest guy in the world to have her in my life. Besides being my rock, my sword, and my shield she is also a friend and family. With our ups and downs, our journey so far has been one I will cherish forever. I think everyone in the world deserves this kind of love and a chance in life.

And to bring this post to an end, I would like to share the following quote by Pablo Neruda, whose meaning is so powerful and true.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close.”

 

Posted in Opinion, Opinion

A symbolic and positive change in attitude

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I’ve always thought that we need to take baby steps when it comes to changing attitudes. I believe that changing the disability accessibility icon to one that is more dynamic is a small step in the right direction and will ultimately result in a huge splash.

The Maltese people, especially those who have never met disabled people, might have the impression that disability marks the end of the world for the person experiencing it and for his/her family. From my experience as a disability rights activist and as a 24 year old who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth, I have found that those who do not reach their full potential are often surrounded by people who have a very narrow and limited perspective of people with a disability. Unfortunately, some people with a disability who find themselves in this situation lack the empowerment to overcome such limited perspectives and therefore to do what they believe is right for them, notwithstanding what those around them might say.

Some might see staying idle as the best option; that way you will always feel safe, and few will be able to accuse you of making any mistakes or miscalculations. But what about trying and failing, to retry time and time again until you finally succeed, and to learn from any mistakes you make? Doesn’t this apply to non-disabled people as much as it does to people with disability?

Reverting back to the new accessibility icon, this represents a step towards being able to achieve all of what I have said through a more progressive way of thinking that will bring a change in attitude towards both people with a disability and the disability itself. In fact, this icon represents a more realistic re-branding of disabled people. Through symbols, images, and various other media, we have learned to view disabled people as tragic and charitable cases. We now have to learn to view them more realistically as proactive people, capable of enjoying life and reaching their own goals through their own abilities. I’m sure that the new accessibility icon as well as the President’s decision not to show TV spots which portray the lives of disabled people as tragic in order to attract the sympathy of tele-viewers during  Istrina will help improve things in this regard.

Posted in Comment, Opinion, Opinion

What freedom of religion?

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In the city of Mosul, northern Iraq, the greatest abuse of freedom of religion has been conducted. A ‘cleansing’ of around 3,000 Christians has been conducted by the Islamist extremist group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). Broadcasted from the loudspeakers on the city’s mosques, Christians in the city were given three choices that were to determine whether they would live in the city or not. The announcement said:

We offer them three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment of jizyah; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword.

The rules were simple: convert to Islam, pay a religious tax known as a jizyah, a historical practice which would protect non-Muslims in a Muslim land, or die by the sword, decrees which are found in the Qur’ān.

Families were forced to leave their own homes with barely anything but the clothes that they wore and a few belongings. Houses were marked in red spray paint with the Arabic letter ‘N’ for Nasara (Christian), identifying the residence as a Christian home. For the first time in 1,600 years, Mass was not said in this ancient city were Christians have lived for centuries. Churches of new and old are now void and abandoned, left to the destruction of the intolerant and violent. Statues of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary are destroyed and smashed, a sombre reminder of the iconoclast movement of the past.

Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, a Syriac Catholic patriarch has recently said in an interview:

There is no more room for Christians in Mosul. What happened, it’s really a kind of ‘cleansing’ based on religion… It’s tragic because that city, second largest city in Iraq, was the nucleus of Christian presence for many centuries. We have at least 25 churches in that city. All are abandoned. No more prayers, service, no more Masses on Sundays in Mosul.

In another similar story of Christian persecution, a Christian woman was thrown into prison on charges of ‘apostasy’, after the court declared her guilty for renouncing her Muslim faith and marrying a Christian man. According to the law, Muslim women cannot marry non-Muslim men, but a Muslim man can enter an inter-faith marriage. It is however obligatory for his future children to follow the doctrines and teachings of Islam.

Meriam Ibrahim stated that she was never a Muslim in the first place, so the charges put against her were unfounded. She was kept in prison while heavily pregnant, and gave birth with her feet chained, which meant that she could not give birth comfortably. After the birth of her child, what awaited her was the gibbet.

Fortunately, Sudan’s Supreme Court released Meriam, and after being detained for three days in Sudan on accusations that she falsified her travel documents, she has now arrived in Rome with her husband and children after a secretly organised flight took her away from any further imprisonment. She even met Pope Francis who praised her for the strength of her faith, and expressed his concern for persecuted Christians like her.

 

Whenever I read these stories, my thoughts immediately go to the Maltese people who identify themselves as ‘Catholic’ yet take their faith lightly and keep it on the shelf for the rest of the week. They bring it out only for Sunday Mass or the village feast, where people’s attitudes are more pagan than Christian. What you hear in the streets are not prayers but shouts and vulgar oaths and swears with God’s name or the patron saint’s used ever so lovingly.

In almost every Sunday Mass in my parish, the parish priest’s homily is centred on the importance of living a genuine faith. Meanwhile, the majority of the congregation either stares blankly or fiddles with their mobile phone behind the pew. The women in front of me would be enjoying a lively conversation in hushed tones, with more passing comments in other parts of the congregation. The parish priest ends up looking to me more like a school teacher with ungrateful children in front of him, completely disinterested in what he has to say.

As a Maltese population we greatly take for granted our religious freedom, and many others have a slack and lazy attitude with their faith, with little knowledge about its principles and teachings. Bibles are left on the bookshelves to accumulate dust and have silverfish eat away at the pages. At least they get some nourishment from the Bible.

To be clear, I am not priding myself as an exemplary Catholic or saint. I have my own sins to take care of and believe myself to be far from the ideals that adorn saints like Francis of Assisi or Thérèse of Lisieux. What I find disheartening is that most Maltese people do not even try to practice their faith more genuinely, or learn about what they believe and why. The priest’s homily is of no good if it falls upon deaf ears. It’s the same with school. The teacher must do his part, but so must the student.

We should thank our lucky stars that we have the liberty to go to a church and worship without worrying about being blasted by a car bomb. Christians in these persecuted areas risk their lives to try and attend Mass every Sunday, and because of their faith they now have no home or place of worship. Meriam Ibrahim, in my opinion, is a great role-model for the perseverance of faith.

Let us look at what is happening in the East and remember our persecuted brothers and sisters in prayer. Ultimately, we should be deeply grateful for our religious freedom and hopefully, with stories like these, we would try to live a more honest and real faith.

Posted in Opinion, Opinion

Smart card outsmarted

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Starting from the next academic year, students will no longer be provided with a smart card. The money which could previously only be withdrawn from the student smart card will now get sent straight to students’ bank accounts. Basically, what used to be smart card money will now be an addition to the stipend.

According to Education Minister Evarist Bartolo, this was done to reduce the administrative costs of the smart card system, thereby saving the government around 175,000 euros in expenses.

This change has generated debate among students. Those who disagree with the new system are arguing that students who want to inappropriately use money that is given to them by the Government specifically for educational purposes will now be able to do very easily. Although most are ready to admit that the old smart card system wasn’t fool proof against those who wanted to abuse the system, it was still something.

However, the question remains: is that ‘something’ worth 175,000 euros of administrative costs? According to Evarist Bartolo, it clearly is not. But what about the checks and balances that are needed to ensure that there will be at least some control over those students who are abusing the system? According to KSU president Gayle Lynn Callus, a possible solution could involve asking students to produce receipts for the things that they have bought with the money given to them to help further their studies.

I believe that another solution to this problem lies in reviewing the reading list of each study unit because, as things stand, many students are being asked to buy books and other reading material that they won’t be using during their course. When students are made aware of this, they refrain from buying those books and other reading material which they don’t need. After buying what they need for the academic year, they then end up spending that excess money on other stuff which is not necessarily related to their studies.

It is only a matter of time before students will be able to decide for themselves whether this new grant system will render them better or worse off. In the meantime, the debate continues…

Posted in Opinion, Opinion

Miyazaki – the filmmaker everyone should know

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(A beautiful soundtrack from Miyazaki’s ‘Castle in the Sky’)

Many consider him to be the Japanese equivalent to Walt Disney. But to fans of anime, and animated movies in general, prized director Hayao Miyazaki is in a league of his own.

He’s been revolutionizing animation since his early projects in the late 80s, including one of the films in the popular ‘Lupin the Third’ series. In 1985, he established Studio Ghibli; a collaborative effort with other renowned Japanese filmmakers.

Unfortunately, last year Miyazaki announced his retirement from the business aged 73, with the farewell piece ‘The Wind Rises’. It ended up being his third Oscar nominated picture, losing to Disney’s ‘Frozen’. His legacy will live on through his son Goro Miyazaki, who has already directed the critically acclaimed ‘From Up On Poppy Hill’, although it is doubtful whether his cinematography will come even remotely close to the quality of his father’s.

Through masterful English dubbing that remains faithful to the original Japanese screenplay, Miyazaki’s films have transpired into global phenomenons.

In other words, if you love cinema and have never heard of Miyazaki or his movies, you need to binge on them immediately.

If you cannot understand what all the fuss about Miyazaki is about, these are five of his masterpieces which you should definitely check out:

 

1. Castle In The Sky (1986):

One of Miyazaki’s first features was also one of his most imaginative, with mesmerising animation and a spine-tingling score.

Like many of his later projects, environmental themes of climate change and man’s destruction of nature play an important role in ‘Castle In The Sky’.

It follows a boy and a girl from different worlds but with a common mission; to find the long-lost magical land of Laputa.

Throughout their journey, the children encounter countless friends and foes, and come to appreciate the beauty of being adventurous and chasing their dreams.

Personal rating: 9/10

Castle in the Sky

Castle in the Sky (1986)

 

2. My Neighbor Totoro (1988):

Often misconceived as merely childish, this cartoon was revolutionary in more ways than one.

‘Totoro’ has arguably become one of the most recognisable anime characters, and eventually earned a place as Studio Ghibli’s mascot.

This movie is a particular favourite among those parents who want to show their children an animation that isn’t typically Western. However, this does not mean it is solely directed towards a younger audience.

As two sisters move out to the countryside with their father and discover mythical creatures, serious subject matters emerge including sibling rivalry and family sickness.

Despite being one of Miyazaki’s shortest films, it manages to let the imagination of viewers of all ages run wild.

After all, it doesn’t hurt to retain our childish wonder every once in a while.

Personal rating: 7/10

My Neighbour Totoro

My Neighbour Totoro (1988)

 

3. Princess Mononoke (1997):

Known as Miyazaki’s only animation that is unsuitable for the whole family, ‘Princess Mononoke’ evokes powerful environmental messages alongside stunning visuals and exciting action sequences.

Not afraid to be gory and dramatic, this movie has become one of Studio Ghibli’s most influential.

With strong-willed female protagonists and the recurring theme of man versus nature, an epic war film comes to life in cartoon form, and it’s just as entertaining as any other live-action picture.

Personal rating: 8/10

Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke (1997)

 

4. Spirited Away (2001):

Winning an Oscar and becoming Studio Ghibli’s biggest commercial success definitely contributed to the massive acclaim of ‘Spirited Away’.

Brimming with fantastic imagination and an utterly beautiful score, this is where any stranger to Miyazaki’s work should start.

Despite its extraordinary fantasy throughout, the film manages to remain relatable and touching.

The vast array of diverse characters distinguishes this animated film from all the others, and it is extremely interesting to see Chihiro, the female protagonist, develop from cowardly to brave.

Putting Studio Ghibli on the world map like never before, it is no wonder that fellow filmmakers have called this Miyazaki’s best work.

Personal rating: 10/10

Spirited Away

Spirited Away (2001)

 

5. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004):

Apart from its complex and slightly confusing plot, this relatively recent effort from the director offers a visual feast of animation, particularly with the titular mechanical castle.

Nominated for an Academy Award, and having Christian Bale as part of the English dubbing cast, resulted in yet another successful Ghibli movie, even if it lacks the resilient strength of its predecessors.

The gist of the storyline itself is quite out of the ordinary – main character Sophie, a teenage girl, is cursed with permanent old age, and seeks the help of renowned wizard Howl to break the spell.

Everything mystical and magical ensues, a love story unfolds and a heart-warming tale of bravery solidifies.

Basically, this film is so beautifully versatile that it can suit almost any taste.

Personal rating: 7/10

Howl's Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Posted in Cinema, Culture, Opinion, Opinion