A LOT of Croatian diaspora are curious about the lives of those returnees who have made their way back to the motherland, Croatia. Everyone knows about the headaches involving the Croatian bureaucracy, the rhetoric revolving the economic and political state of the country and how “everyone” is leaving where the grass is greener. I know, it’s a very odd, even the diaspora living in Croatia wonder why the hell they are even here half the time. Trust me, we do.
I often get asked for advice on how one just packs their bags and returns to the motherland. My story isn’t much different from any other returnee to Croatia. I, like many others, felt at home only in the perimeters of these Croatian borders. Nowhere else but here in Croatia. It’s a feeling money can’t buy and nothing gives me more anxiety than even contemplating a life back in Sydney, Australia. No, thank you. Even though I have a job waiting for me the second I land in Sydney, it’s secure and one I know like the back of my hand, I’d still feel lost and depressed. I’m a tourist in every single other country in the world except for Croatia. Croatia is home.
LIVING IN CROATIA FULL TIME IS NOT GOING TO LOOK LIKE YOUR 3 MONTH SUMMER HOLIDAY IN CROATIA
“I’m here for the summer, I’ll see how things go and make my mind up from there…” or “I’ll try for 2-3 months,” is what I often hear. Croatia is great in summer. No, Croatia is fucking excellent in the summertime, especially at your holiday house in Dalmatia. Would you be able to survive in that same holiday house in the dead of winter when the bura is blowing, a random snowfall has been forecast and three-quarters of the city have disappeared to Zagreb or are hibernating in their homes?
Let me put in out there right now, Zagreb is THE PLACE to be during cooler months in Croatia. No other city compares. Zagreb caters for the crowds with their annual Advent Christmas Market that they’ve now won as the best in Europe 3 years in a row, it’s a magical time to be in Zagreb. Very cold, but very social. If you can somehow manage to base your life in Zagreb and a holiday home in Dalmatia to get away to during warmer months or long weekends, you’re winning. Zagreb is most definitely the motherboard and where it’s all happening. You may have some allegiance to your mother’s/father’s/baka’s/dido’s selo or city but think long term and think about winter, could you really survive there?
Perhaps use this holiday to get your paperwork in order too. If you can handle a trip to your local MUP, you can handle anything.
MOVE HERE & SPEND AT LEAST 6 MONTHS DOING NOTHING, YES NOTHING.
Firstly, if you’re planning on calling Croatia home full time, you should already know that being here for a year isn’t enough to fully integrate into Croatian society. While in your first year you’ll have many moments of, “Ahh, I think I want to go back to Australia,” you’ll be very glad you stuck through the tough times.
I spent my first 5 months in Zagreb doing nothing. I was actively looking for a job but I didn’t find one till around the 5-month mark. I had already been away from Australia for 3 years and needed a routine and purpose, so I was fortunate to be involved in a fashion start-up at the beginning of 2017. If you plan to move to Croatia and settle in a 9-5 job, you’re better off staying where you are and making 5times the amount you’d get here. This point is irrelevant if your job is highly skilled eg. Doctor.
In my quest for normality in Croatia, I spent all my time with Croatian people from Croatia only, not diaspora. We’ll touch on this later in this post & how it’s a very stupid move. I met with other bloggers, made friends with entrepreneurs and anyone else who indicated they were far from the usual Croatian mentality aka communist mentality- Yes, it’s everywhere. Side note, Zagreb is the most international city in Croatia and you’ll find people are more open-minded than in smaller cities. People in Zagreb are more receptive to new and “foreign” people. Yes, Croatian diaspora reading this, you’re basically a foreigner to a local Croatian- get used to it.
You will never feel less Croatian than when you decide to live in Croatia and tell a local Croatian person that you’re also Croatian.
I remember at the beginning where I met with a few local Croatian people who said that I was very “ambitious” and after a few months here “I’ll figure out how things work here or don’t.” I never let anyone discourage me but as months passed by I too became pessimistic, with a sense of humour, of course. How else do you survive in beautiful Croatia?
Spend at least 6 months to a year doing nothing but hanging out in Croatia, with Croatian people, with diaspora, travel around to different regions and speak to everyone with an open heart and open mind. Observe the lifestyle, embrace it, for once in your life you won’t spend an hour+ in traffic getting to and from work. Just chill and learn how Croatians live. Fjaka. You’ll find gaps and opportunities in your observations, if you’re meant to be here the universe will show you your way. Trust.
Yes, it’s possible to buy up properties in Croatia and live a very comfortable life renting them out to tourists. There are soo many business opportunities in Croatia that we are able to bring in from countries like Australia, Canada etc. I’m kind of tired of hearing Croatian diaspora say, “Croatia needs that diaspora money…” No, it doesn’t. It needs your presence, skill set and work ethic. Croatia needs your vision on improving the country for the better and you need to be here to make that happen. It needs you to create opportunities and set a benchmark business and standard such as in customer service. Customer service in Croatia deserves its own post, we won’t get into that today.
If you want to see a better Croatia then help build a better Croatia!
Life isn’t easy in Croatia, it isn’t easier than living in Australia. This is the biggest misconception the diaspora have, it’s fucking hard and requires your utmost patience and problem-solving skills. I have lived in Australia and I have lived in the United Kingdom, Croatia is by far the most difficult country I have ever lived in. Everything is slow, the only thing you’ll get fast is your burek at the pekara. I have no time for anyone who thinks their opinion of life in Croatia is valid, yet don’t even have their domovnica, they’ve never stepped inside an MUP, have never lived or worked in Croatia and have only visited for 2 months 6 times during their entire lives. Give me a break! When you have lived in Croatia consecutively for 12 or more months, your opinion is valid, otherwise, keep your “wisdom” to yourself.
On this note, I’d like to add that I didn’t come to Croatia to “try,” I came here to live. Towards the end of 2017 when that fashion startup was failing and I didn’t want to take over the business officially, I was shit scared of what I’d do with myself in Croatia. Sure, I had this blog and numerous freelance jobs on the side but they were always scattered and unpredictable, it was nothing different from running a blog outside of Croatia. Regardless, I knew that going back to Australia was an option but it NEVER crossed my mind. My life and future were here in Croatia, rain, hail or shine. I had no other thought pattern run through my mind but to make it work in Croatia which thankfully it did.
CROATIAN PEOPLE DON’T GIVE TWO F%CKS ABOUT YOU, WHY YOU RETURNED AND THEY THINK YOU’RE STUPID.
You know all those Croatians you avoided at your local shopping centre or at The Ivy in Sydney? Do you know how they packed their bags and had the balls to move to Croatia? Yeah, all those people, they will be your only friends in Croatia, so maybe start being nicer to each other now because you’ll inevitably have to start being friends somewhere down the line.
I was very naive when I first moved to Croatia. Not only were people confused by my arrival but I refused to see Croatia through their eyes. To me Croatia was the land of gold and opportunity, it still is. I was referred to as diaspora but I didn’t even know what that meant. Considering I was actually born in Croatia, there was no other word that coincided to who I was here, I was Croatian in my blood and heart. What the hell was diaspora and why did that make me so different? I often came across people who were ignorant and rude towards me, they just couldn’t grasp that I could make anything of myself here and why I would even try.
Those who were aware of my abilities posed as friends and worked as spies. Everybody wants to be your friend when you’re the fresh fish in town but mostly to suss you out. I learned within my first year in Croatia that I couldn’t rely on or trust 80% of the Croatian people that I encountered. They’re NOT all bad but a great majority will arrive in your life with an ulterior motive. Croatia can be cruel.
I started meeting and integrating with the diaspora more towards the end of the year 2017 and let me tell you now, I achieved more in 6 months with the diaspora than I did in the year prior with local Croatian people. Diaspora will help you, it’s embedded in our nature to, local Croatian people not so much. I never saw the difference until I started actually making progress in this country recently.
I met Jozo around May 2017, he hit me up on Facebook after hearing another Aussie was living in Zagreb. I’ll admit, back then I was very reluctant to meet with other Croatian Australians, my philosophy was, “I didn’t come to live in Croatia to be friends with the Croatian community from Australia.” VERY BAD MOVE. If you’re diaspora considering moving to Croatia, your strongest source for survival and getting things done here is the with diaspora community. Jozo and I became really good friends and still are, he opened up about his struggles to “fit in” here and how un-Croatian he was made to feel by Croatian locals. “I’ve spent my whole life dreaming about moving to Croatia and I come here and everyone treats me like an outsider, I’m more Croatian than them, they don’t even love their country as much as I do…” he said.
Yes, living in Croatia opens up your eyes to the reality that there are many self-hating Croats living here and that you’re more than likely more passionate about Croatia than they are. Remember that sense of humour you need to survive? Use it in these circumstances. It’s okay, let them go on their journey- you’re here for your own so focus on that. Alternatively, you could remind them that with their EU passport they are now free to find happier land to call home.
Last year I sent some questions to Josip Konyit, a Croatian diaspora who was in Zagreb but has moved back to Melbourne with his lovely fiance. I asked him about life in Croatia as diaspora and I was faced with some hard-hitting facts. “Be prepared, psychologically and financially,” he mentioned. He also noted it was far easier for him to make friends and build relationships because he came here to play football and it was an essential part of the team’s success. Following many ones on one catch ups with Josip, he frequently stated that it was very difficult to make real friends in Croatia. Croatian people are very “cliquey” and this is one country where nepotism rules. Being a country of just under 4 million people, Croatian society is very small, it’s not that difficult to find someone who knows someone that you need… to stamp a piece of paper or something. The 6 degrees of separation theory is more than halved in Croatia.
CROATIAN PEOPLE LOOK AFTER PEOPLE THEY KNOW PERSONALLY
If a Croatian person doesn’t know you personally they are less likely to help you, unless you have something spectacular to offer at the table which is usually a lot of money. Money talks in Croatia, you either have it or like many, pretend to have it. But what this country thrives off the most is nepotism, that’s how it functions. It’s a very “I’ll scratch your back if your scratch mine” type of mentality. When I worked this out it changed the way I looked at absolutely everything and I saw it across every single industry. This is why soo many people in good positions in Croatia firstly, have a job and secondly, have the job that they have. They knew someone to get them there or have a well connected family member (usually politically aligned). It’s also the reason why many people who don’t have the right contacts but perhaps a better work ethic are out of a job and end up leaving the country. Your resume means nothing here unless you know someone or are politically aligned. I have nothing against anyone who is politically aligned, I totally respect that this is one of the few ways to survive in Croatia.
Since proving myself and how I work last year with the fashion start-up, do you know how many people have offered me jobs in fields that I have absolutely no direct experience in? It’s ridiculous. All because they now know me and know how I work and yes, the diaspora has a VERY different work ethic compared to local Croatians. I have heard, “If you’re ever looking for a job, I’ll hire you on the spot,” too many times.
My husband and best friend were having difficulty with some paperwork. We had lunch at a high end restaurant with someone extremely high-up and influential in the current Government, someone who knew all of our parents back in Australia. We expressed the issues we were having, that person made one phone call and we had an appointment at 2 pm at the round table of the top Director’s office the following day. Had we walked into that building and asked for help the more “difficult” way, we wouldn’t have achieved anything. That’s how Croatia works. It’s who you know and who gets you to that round table. When you are referred to by someone of influence and higher-up in the Government, everybody looks at you and walks around you differently.
Keep in mind that just because somebody helped me doesn’t necessarily mean they will also help you in the same way too. Unless someone knows you personally and likes you, they’ll be rather reluctant to do a random favour for a stranger. Not always the case but if it does happen to you, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
It doesn’t matter how connected you are in Australia and how much money your family sent here during the war, in Croatia unless you know the right people in the right places, you’re going to have a rather difficult time getting things done.
Mind you, every time we walk past that restaurant in Zagreb now, a staff member comes to the door to say hello to us and wish us a great day.
TO REALLY SURVIVE IN CROATIA, YOU’LL NEED AN ENTREPRENEURIAL MINDSET
It takes a certain type of person, or character to pack their bags and make life happen in Croatia. Consider yourself living in a real-life start-up while setting up your life here. You’ll need to be resilient and patient to persevere. Your network will be your net worth in Croatia and you’ll quickly learn who to keep around and who to keep at a distance. There’s a good chance you’ll have an idea of how you’d want your life to look in Croatia and whatever that vision, let me keep it simple… it isn’t unattainable. You can make it happen, you’ve just got to be here and get started.
Your net quality of life is of higher value in Croatia as is the work/life balance. Although many of us don’t look like we’re working, trust me we are. I make my life look all fun and easy but the reality is that I don’t show any of the hustle and stress behind the scenes even though I probably should. To live in Croatia means to struggle sometimes, you’ve got to learn to adjust and roll with the punches. While the average diaspora may make it look like it’s all cafes and beaches, this couldn’t be further from the truth. You know why? Because doing nothing in Croatia after a while becomes boring. You need a purpose in this country, it just may take time to figure out so just be patient.
I highly recommend NOT working for a Croatian employer as a diaspora, by that I mean someone who has never operated a business outside of these borders. Learn from my mistake, I’ll touch on this in greater detail in another post.
Another Croatian diaspora, Mate Paškanović Pavković who is from Canada, now living in Zagreb embodies the entrepreneurial spirit needed to survive and succeed in this country. He is also one of the founders of Tree of Knowledge (Stablo Znanja) in Zagreb, an organisation that provides the basic tools and conditions necessary for realising the creative potential of Croatian Youth and Students.
His words of advice to succeed living in Croatia are as follows, “Prepare for the political shitstorm and don’t listen to the negativity. Be optimistic and remember that anywhere you live in the world, if you want to be successful, you have to do things for yourself, even when people discourage and laugh at you. Croatia will turn around, we just need more people like us who have the perseverance to get back up again.“
That basically sums up what living in Croatia is like. It’s getting back up each time you fall or think you’ve failed and tried again. It’s sticking by one another to help each other grow and prosper. There are so many loopholes and grey areas in this country, there isn’t any reason for you not to succeed with the right vision, ethic and mindset. Everything Australia, Canada or even America has taught you about working through the obstacles in life, bring it here in Croatia. There are many of us waiting to help you achieve your dream life in the motherland.
By the way, if you’re still reading this let conclude with one fact. I’ve never come across a Croatian diaspora living in Croatia who has regretted their return.