I opened the front door today to find a wizened old man in rough farmer’s clothing, who smiled kindly at me and then immediately proceeded to dump a plastic bag full of dead rabbit into my hands. He told me to put the meat in a dish, wouldn’t wait till I called someone else in my family (someone who might know the man, because he was a stranger to me), and left me a minute later with a bloody, still-warm carcass in my hands, and a bemused look on my face.
And then I had to laugh. I laughed because the old man was so very Maltese, and the situation so very typical, and because I couldn’t imagine what my English friend would have done if she suddenly found herself holding the bloody remains of a bunny which had been very much alive less than an hour ago. Knowing her, she’d probably be horrified at the pet-uicide. I was delighted at the prospect of a delicious, traditional Maltese meal.
Why am I bothering writing this down in a blog for medical students? Well, mainly because my preoccupation with the differences between Malta and the UK is one of the reasons why my blogs have been scarce this last month. This October will forever be branded in my mind as Applications Month. I have spent the last weeks filling in forms, polishing up my CV, racking my brain for all the things I’ve done in the past few years that could be somehow significant to my career (a slightly depressing exercise, because it made me feel as though all the things I’ve done for fun or purely humanitarian reasons were suddenly being exploited for some kind of material gain).
And of course, answering those UKFPO questions. Anyone else who applied to the UK foundation programme this year will probably understand the frustration of answering that series of questions in two hundred words or less. Especially that crowning moment when you’ve given a pretty decent answer, only to realise that you are sixty words over the limit. So you’re forced to sieve through your answer with a fine-toothed comb, taking out adjectives and adverbs and anything else which you felt gave your answer that extra oomph. Because who needs oomphs, and turns of phrase, and metaphors, when you have the delightful world of nouns and verbs and word limits at your disposal?
And in the meantime: the wondering, the obsession, the weighing of pros and cons. And the knowledge that I will have only one day, when the selection process is over, to make my decision. Do I stay in Malta, where I know the training is pretty good, where the working hours are long, but where I will have the advantages of starting a new, and slightly scary job, on home soil, in a familiar culture and language, and with all the support that friends and family can give me? Or do I take the chance and head out to British soil, where the training may vary, where things will be new, and solitary and doubly scary, where most of my pay will go towards rent and utilities, but where I will have the advantages of being in a bigger country, with more opportunities, and more adventure?
And the biggest question of all, am I ready to leave my home country, knowing that it will probably be at least another decade before I may venture back?
I honestly do not know. I always thought that when the time came, the decision would be easy, that I would immediately opt for the adventurous option. But there were issues I hadn’t considered – some financial, others of a more practical nature. And of course, the countless small things I will miss; like loud voices, and sunshine, and rabbit stews.
I do not believe that I will spend my entire working life on this small Mediterranean island. I have always known that I would leave eventually. But the option of leaving in two years’ time, when I will be more experienced, more mature, and have some extra savings to fall back on in my bank account, is a tempting one. Leaving then, however, may not be so easy.
So my brain continues to be at war with itself, and the old Clash song repeats over and over in my head....Should I stay or should I go?