Saturday, 25 July 2020

Successful Diaspora Returnee Stories: Daniel Cavka, from Australia to Split

July 25, 2020 - Continuing our look as successful returnees from the Croatian diaspora, meet Daniel Cavka, who swapped life in Australia for Split.  

So many Croatians abroad dream of moving back to the Homeland, but concerns about corruption, low wages, job availability and a host of other concerns deter many. But more and more are taking the plunge, and succeeding. In the latest in our series of successful returnees, meet Daniel Cavka.  

daniel-cavka (2).jpg

Born in Australia, returned to Croatia, something that many diaspora dream of doing. Tell us briefly about your journey.

I was born on the East Coast of Australia in a regional city called Gold Coast. It's where I lived most of my life with the exception of a couple of years in Sydney. I never really found myself comfortable in the city and after living there for about two years I decided it wasn't for me so I moved back to the Gold Coast where I worked alongside my dad on a rendering business we own. After being back home for about 12 months I came to the conclusion I needed something more and was hungry for a new challenge. This all happened around the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, after Croatia beat Russia I decided to head over and watch the games in person. After the grand final loss to France I decided to head over to Split and visit family for a week. A few days before I was due to head back to Australia, two friends visited Croatia. They were heading over to Hvar and asked if I'd fancy coming along for the trip to which I couldn't say no. I started making my way to Split Ferry Port, only to be told that I in fact had to meet at the airport because the boat was leaving from the beach below Zračna Luka. I made my way over there and met them where I was then guided to a speedboat, I said what's this to which my friends told me was our mode of transport to Hvar. The rest is history, my brain started working overtime thinking about the possibilities of starting my own transfer service, and here I am....

daniel-cavka (3).jpg

Looking back, what were your hopes, expectations and fears about moving to Croatia?

I knew what I wanted, a Nautical Tourism business operating out of Split and servicing the entire Croatian coast through both company-owned and partner vessels. I love Croatia, the old towns and crystal clear waters had me jumping at the idea of knowing I could actually live in such an incredible part of the world, so my expectations had already been realised through my desire to be here. I'm now 26 but the decision to start the business came to me at 23, so my fear was focused more on what if I don't go and what could have come from it had I moved to Croatia. I would be left wondering and when I played that scenario in my head I didn't like it one bit. So as far as I was concerned I had no real fear, I was just ready to embrace the risk of moving to Croatia and hungry to see my goal become a reality.

daniel-cavka (4).jpg

How supportive was your Croatian community back home at the time?

The people I knew in the Croatian community were not so supportive of the idea. However, I couldn't have asked for a more encouraging family, they threw all of their support behind me. 

What were the main differences in what you expected to find in Croatia and the reality of living in Croatia?

I used to visit my family who live close to Split yearly, hence I was quite aware of the living conditions so from that aspect there were no major shocks for me. There were definitely major shocks when it came to starting a business, which I don't want to comment on too much as every country has its own sovereignty and therefore right to operate how they wish. All I will say on this point is that there is a need for reform and action to make starting a business in Croatia a simpler and more efficient process. So that more and more Croatians take it upon themselves to get out there and really give life a go rather than live with the perceptions that they have no opportunity to succeed if they stay in Croatia.

daniel-cavka (5).jpg

Many diaspora think of returning but few do. In truth, there is little information out there about real-life stories and help/info about the process. What advice do you have for those who are thinking about making the move?

There was close to no relevant information available online for diaspora wanting to start a business in Croatia. The information that was out there was basic and not relevant to the issues faced when trying to get up and running. I'm in the process of working on a very visually descriptive site for diaspora wanting to start a business in Croatia, to help them through the hurdles. All in all, my view was and still is just do it! For me as I've mentioned it was only a case of what if I don't do it, what could have come from it! Yes, it's been incredibly challenging when you throw the coronavirus pandemic in the mix, but it's testing me and building me up to be a better version of myself every day.

daniel-cavka (6).jpg

How were you perceived in Split as foreigners/diaspora moving back - was the welcome warm?

Are you crazy? You've lost the plot? Why did you decide to work here for a few months, oh wait what you opened a business here? How did you manage that, it's impossible to do that? - These were the main questions I received from people who were simply shocked out of their minds that I would lift my life up in Australia and open a business in Croatia. Yes, the quality of life from a work perspective is different, and the typical relaxed Dalmatian response to anything that happens takes some getting used to. However, the quality of life in Croatia isn't as bad as Croatians make it out to be! It all comes back to how motivated you are to achieve the goals you set for yourself. Croatia is the best playground for Nautical tourism in the world, nobody can deny that, and if they do they've clearly never been to the Croatian Coast and experienced it for themself. So for me the question was more like... why would you not start a business in Croatia?

daniel-cavka (7).jpg

What are the keys to success in doing business in Croatia in your opinion?

Well, for me it was quite simple - I love to embrace risk and know how to keep focus on the original goal I set for myself. So to get there I quickly found out I had to remind myself that if it's attainable through persistence and resilience I can't settle for a mundane reality. This is a motto you have to stick to through the whole process, because no day and sometimes even no minute is the same. Quite literally blood, sweat, and tears will be a part of your day when trying to set up a business in Croatia, especially the Dalmatian coast. I can't offer any other way to get through the issues you'll face in starting a business in Croatia other than embracing the challenges and making it your mission to be able to say I did it.

daniel-cavka (8).jpg

What is the diaspora community like in Split and how integrated is it with locals?

Since arriving, I've been head down and focused on getting Nautical Croatia & Nautical Adriatic up and running. So I haven't actually taken the time to reach out to the diaspora community. I'll definitely be making an effort to integrate myself more with the community.

The struggles of Coronavirus?

Well, where do I start? The business is now at a standstill and because of such a high drop in tourist numbers, the risk of border closure, and the risk of contracting Coronavirus from tourists and infecting my family I made the extremely difficult and gut-wrenching decision to not operate in 2020 and rather resume in mid-May of 2021. So I'm using this year to update everything from my website(which has just gone live!) right through to altering the specifications on the boat so that in 2021 I can bounce back stronger than ever and provide the best experience out of any other Nautical tourism business operating on the Adriatic Coast.

daniel-cavka (1).jpg

To learn more about Daniel's services and to contact him, check out his Nautical Croatia website.

For more on the Croatian diaspora, check out the TCN dedicated section

Are you a returnee who has moved back to Croatia and would like to be featured in this series? Please contact us on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  Subject Successful Returnee

Sunday, 19 July 2020

A Croatian International Educational Expert about Teaching Civic Culture

July 19, 2020 - Srećko Mavrek, a Croatian international educational expert based in New York, attended the 2020 Sphere Summit: Teaching Civic Culture Together, July 13-15, hosted by the CATO Institute, Washington DC (

Given the concerns related to COVID-19, the 2020 Sphere Summit was held as an online public policy and professional development seminar exclusive to educators and administrators.

“The most important goal of the Sphere Summit was to restore a spirit of civil, constructive, and respectful discourse and engagement. To that end, the Summit emphasized on the common values and objectives we hold as citizens. It is necessary to return facts, objective analysis, and independent research to primacy as the vehicles for discussion and academic, public and political debate. Discussing shared values is essential to a restoration of civic culture,” said Mavrek.

Sphere Summit 2020 Logo 2.jpg

“The objectives of the Sphere Summit included civic culture, foundations, applications, understanding each other, and policy discussions. Participants explored and addressed the current state of public discourse, partisanship, and tribalism in America. They also shared tools and approaches for the classroom on current public policy issues from diverse viewpoints. Other topics included the U.S. Constitution, the rule of law, and freedom of expression. While some speakers were struggling with their own political biases during examination of the various political philosophies and understanding the viewpoints of audiences with diverse perspectives, it was really valuable to analyze key policy issues from diverse perspectives with an emphasis on shared values and common objectives,” concluded Mavrek.

The Sphere Summit featured presentations by leading policymakers, scholars, and academics, who discussed key public policy issues facing the US and Western countries today. The Summit also featured professional development workshops conducted by leaders in civic education. Featured speakers included: Anne Applebaum, Staff writer for The Atlantic and a Pulitzer‐​prize winning historian, Gary Colletti, Senior Manager, Teacher and Student Programs, Bill of Rights Institute, Chelsea Follett, Policy Analyst and Managing Editor of Human​Progress​.org, Cato Institute, Caroline Fredrickson, Senior Fellow, Brennan Center for Justice, Peter Goettler, President and CEO, Cato Institute, Jonathan Haidt, Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership, Stern School of Business, New York University; and Cofounder, Heterodox Academy, Michael A. Lewis, Professor, Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College, CUNY, and others. Two House Representatives participated in the Keynote Address on July 14 - Rep. Kelly Armstrong (Republican-ND) and Rep. Ro Khanna (Democrat-CA).

Thursday, 16 July 2020

Nadean Stone: 40 Year Journey To Find Her Croatian Birth Parents

July 16, 2020 - We bring you an uplifting story about a recently published book titled "No Stone Unturned: A Remarkable Journey to Identity" by Nadean Stone, a member of the National Federation of Croatian Americans, about her decades-long search for her birth parents.

I first talked with the author in March, when she emailed me to share her amazing story that led to the discovery of her Croatian ancestry. Her story begins in Canada, where between 1945 and 1973, almost 350,000 unmarried Canadian mothers were persuaded, coerced, or forced into giving their babies up for adoption. (Andrews, Valerie: White Unwed Mother: The Adoption Mandate in Postwar Canada, Demeter Press, Toronto 2018.) Many babies were illegally given away, like a puppy at the pound, for a nominal donation to the church. Nadean shared with me that, “On Christmas Eve, 1952 I became one of those babies. From the moment my grandmother disclosed the story of my adoption, my birthday wish every year was to find my mother.” Nadean started her search in 1973 when she was 20.

Nadean and Great Uncle Mon      Oncle.jpg
Nadean with her Great-Uncle 

In 2008, the Province of Ontario changed its law, enabling legally adopted persons to access their birth registration records. That document usually contained the birth mother’s name at the time of the child’s birth, her home address, age, religion, nationality, and professional occupation. Armed with that information, the adoptee could then search Ontario databases, telephone directories and in time locate their birth parent. Birth father names were seldom placed on this document as it was not a requirement. After many communication exchanges with the provincial government, the hospital where Nadean was born and the Children’s Aid Society, she discovered that adoption had never taken place. Nadean was simply given away by Mother Superior at the hospital. This resulted in denial of her access to any birth records.

In 2013, Nadean increased her search efforts with an intense focus on DNA. She had concluded that “DNA became my only source of hope. In December 2013, I tested with 23andMe but didn’t know how to proceed with a search. However, the DNA indicated that I was of Eastern European descent, with one Croatian parent. A DNA genetic genealogist, Olivia, found my post on a Canadian adoption website in February 2017 and offered to assist. Olivia had me test on Ancestry to ensure we covered all possibilities and Olivia downloaded my DNA info to GEDmatch, a website designed to assist adoptees.”

Olivia and Nadean divided their responsibilities. Nadean sent messages through both Ancestry and 23andMe portals to all her new cousins asking them to share their DNA, family surnames, residences in Europe, the US, and Canada, family trees. They explained the mission to find her birth mother. Nadean messaged more than 150 cousins at numerous times during the journey. As the months progressed, many of the “cousins” became invested in her search. They exchanged personal email addresses and telephone numbers, creating a “Village of Cousins” desperate to help “the baby find its mother.”

Ancestry DNA found Nadean’s birth father’s family in June 2017 when his daughter tested. I asked Nadean how it felt to hear the news and she exclaimed that "I never thought I would find my birth father. I thought the chances of finding my mother were slim and even if she was alive, she might not be well or have the mental capacity or desire to share his identity. I must say that finding him first through DNA, was truly a miracle." It turned out that Nadean’s father, Vinko Tatarević died in 2000. Vinko was a Croatian fighter pilot during World War II, a Croatian Ace who was featured in a book called Croatian Aces of World War II. Vinko is considered to be a hero in his home town of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Nadean as a 2 year old on the farm .jpg
2-year-old Nadean on the farm

In finding Vinko, Nadean and Olivia zeroed in on the remote town he immigrated to in Canada in the early 1950s. Nadean and her husband Bill traveled there in August 2017, set up in the town’s library and texted addresses of names and addresses of possible family members from 1951, 1952, and 1953 telephone directories to Olivia who compared them to her spreadsheets. On their last day in town, they abandoned the library and utilized detective skills. They sought out elderly Croatians who might have known her birth parents in 1952. Nadean shared her story and explained that finding her mother was her only remaining wish in life. Nadean shared that “We found the house where Vinko lived during the 1950s and took photos and we found Peterson Electric where he had worked." The ownership had changed and they no longer had his employment records. They visited the Croatian Hall, the Croatian Catholic Parish, and the Multicultural Association sharing all around the purpose of their visit. Bill found a listing that day as well for the Croatian Recreational Center. Nadean called and left a message with their departure imminent.

There was a big break when Leonard, an elderly Croatian man called with the news later that evening. Leonard said he knew Vinko very well. They had both worked initially at the bush camps upon arrival in Canada. Although Vinko was older than Leonard, Vinko had been very good to him and had taken care of him. He told Nadean that Vinko was very handsome and all the women in North Bay were in love with him. Leonard did add that he did not know any of Vinko’s girlfriends. 

Although not successful on that trip, Nadean continued in her dogged efforts to find her mother, resulting in an astonishing journey with a miraculous ending. Nadean started a memoir in 2017 as her life was already replete with unbelievably daunting life challenges, including a harrowing escape from a Caribbean island. As one reviewer noted, “This book is a MUST READ. Never judge a book by its cover. Don’t let the beauty and softness of Nadean fool you. She is tough as stone. No Stone Unturned is a real-life story that contains all the elements for a great movie: Real-life drama, pain, suspense, romance, royalty, politics, and more. You will cry, laugh, and get angry. Thank you Nadean for being transparent and opening up your soul to share such personal details.”

Her goal in writing the memoir is to use it as a platform for change. Nadean hopes to bring attention to the issue and to petition the Province of Ontario to amend the law enabling non-adoptees equal rights to their records. She has consulted with a leading civil rights attorney in Toronto who is interested in this precedent-setting case. In July 2018, Nadean filed a petition with the UN Commission on the Rights of the Child illuminating numerous Articles of the UN Convention that the Province of Ontario has violated in its treatment of illegally adopted children.

It was over several conversations with the author that the objective of her lifelong journey and her book became clear and Nadean said it best last week with her quote that, "My goal is to inspire readers to find faith, hope and the courage to persevere, despite the odds and to never give up." Her memoir, No Stone Unturned – A Remarkable Journey to Identity is available on Amazon. She also created a Birth Search Directory on her website to assist adoptees in their search,

Nadean's book is a riveting story that I highly recommend to all readers who want to be inspired at this time of a pandemic. It is a triumphant memoir of courage and perseverance, a story of love on many levels, and proves the miraculous and joyous ending we can achieve when we never give up!


If you want to learn more about Croatian diaspora, follow our dedicated section.

Sunday, 12 July 2020

A Croatian International Expert on Safely Reopening America’s Schools

July 12, 2020 - On Tuesday, July 7, the White House hosted a half-day Summit on Safely Reopening America’s Schools focusing on reopening America’s schools in safe ways that respect the holistic health and learning needs of America’s students. The Summit included state and local leaders, health professionals, teachers, administrators, parents, and higher education institution leaders from across the USA. The live broadcast of this event was attended by nearly 700 attendees. Among them was Srećko Mavrek, a Croatian educational expert based in New York, who has officially represented Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education at the UN Department of Global Communications. Communications since 2016.

Srecko Mavrek - UN.jpg

“In the weeks ahead, educators and government officials at the state and local level will have to make important decisions about when and how to safely reopen America’s schools. Therefore, it was very important to initiate the national dialogue about safe reopening. Everyone agrees that students should return to the classrooms as soon as possible, but there are also several main disagreements regarding the safety concerns, learning models and financial issues. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released detailed guidance to ensure school officials understand how to prepare for, prevent transmission of, and react quickly to coronavirus cases within an education system,” said Mavrek.

President Donald Trump and the federal government demand that schools must reopen, and they must be fully operational, i.e. five days of classes per week. He added that America’s Coronavirus mortality rate is down tenfold from the peak of the crisis.  Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said the Administration expects children to be back in their learning environments this Fall and urged decision-makers to think practically about the consequences if children do not return to the classroom this year. She added that is best to leave to education and community leaders to determine how the schools will reopen.”

“Their opponents argue that premature full school reopening could lead to further spread of the coronavirus. They therefore support different models of blended learning, i.e. a few days at school plus a certain number of distance learning days. On Wednesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza unveiled their "Blended Learning" plan for the city's 1.1 million public school students. The mayor noted that most schools will not be able to have all students in school at the same time. Classrooms will be limited to about nine to 12 students. That's instead of the average class size of 30 students. Chancellor Carranza said that the plan to bring students back into school buildings requires the use of PPE and social distancing. He added that parents can choose only distance learning and that later in the year they will be able to request a transition to combined teaching. Parents will have opportunities throughout the year to transition their child into one of the in-person models. If any family wants to switch from the "Blended Learning" to "All Remote Learning" they may do so at any time.That doesn't necessarily mean that schools will reopen because Governor Andrew M. Cuomo also announced on Wednesday that New York State will decide during the first week of August whether schools will reopen in the Fall. "

 “Distance learning was introduced because of the extraordinary circumstances and it was a big shock for students, teachers and parents to adapt to such a sudden hard situation. I think that students with learning difficulties lose the most because many of them cannot cope with distance learning or stay behind because of various factors. On the other hand, distance learning can be beneficial for students who can learn at their own pace. Some of my college students did very well last semester. In addition, the question is how further social isolation and lack of social interaction will affect students’ mental and social health. The situation is uncertain for now, but it is quite certain that the federal states and some large school districts will independently decide on the safe reopening of schools and learning models. I think there will be a lot of complications with the organization of the blended schedule because there are many unresolved issues, e.g. how to learn and teach while wearing face masks, how to effectively plan scheduling for the Fall, how will school districts handle the question of student transportation, and if there will be enough teachers needed for reduced classes," said Mavrek.

To read more about lifestyle in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Annual National Federation of Croatian Americans Cultural Foundation Meeting Held

July 2, 2020 - If you're surprised to hear that the Annual Assembly of Delegates of The National Federation of Croatian Americans Cultural Foundation took place over Zoom, one has to wonder what you've been doing for the past six months! 

The National Federation of Croatian Americans Cultural Foundation celebrated its 27th Annual Assembly of Delegates meeting, and not in Philadelphia as planned, but with three virtual zoom events. This year within a COVID-19 pandemic, the weekend opened with a virtual "Happy Hour" zoom celebration on Friday, June 5th, and a fundraiser for Croatia's Special Olympics. We were honored to have specials guests including world-famous winemaker Miljenko Grgich, filmmaker Nikola Knez and singer, Tony Butala of The Lettermen all zoomed in and spoke to our sixty participants.

The virtual guests were first entertained by the Croatian Fraternal Union's 354, The St. George Combo consisting of Derek Hohn, Marlene Luketich-Kochis, Bernadette Luketich-Sikaras, Marko Kochis and Dan Kochis got the party started with two Croatian songs: "Zdigni Casu." and "Jabuke." Annie Bosko, 2019 NFCACF "40 Under 40” winner closed as a featured entertainer and spoke to explain how her song "The Fighter" became her tribute to the COVID-19 front line workers! Annie's song was a big hit and as her powerful video played on the screen, a few tears were shed by several Croatian Americans.

Author Nadean Stone discussed her book "No Stone Unturned: A Remarkable Journey to Identity" which has been called "riveting" and received an Amazon 5-star review. Nadean's 44-year emotional roller coaster search for her identity brought over 100 Croatian cousins into her life. Nadean was finally able to finally track down her birth parents though she was thwarted for years by Canadian adoption laws. Nikola Knez, the filmmaker spoke about his recent film "Operation Storm" which the NFCACF showcased on Capitol Hill in October 2019. Mirena Bagur, representing Premium Wines of Boston shared her lifelong respect to Miljenko Grgich with a few stories. Mirena’s firm sells wonderful Croatian wines including Plavac Mali, Pošip, Plavac Mali Rose, and Saints Hill Dingač too.

Tony Butala, the founder and singer of The Lettermen made a guest appearance and shared a few career highlights about his illustrious career which included nine gold albums. It was discussed too how the song "The Way You Look Tonight” was a hit by The Lettermen in 1962 and two years before Frank Sinatra ever recorded it. Tony Butala won an NFCACF Lifetime achievement award in 2016 and has been active over the years within the Croatian American community and has headlined over fifteen successful Croatian fundraisers.

Andrea Novak Neumann was the executive producer of the sixty-minute NFCACF Croatian Happy Hour production and Eric Gregrich, managed the auction bids and items throughout the program. The auction winners and top bidders were Joe Brajevich, Marko Buljan, Carol Gartland, Mirena Bagur, Sanja Newman, Vedran Joseph Nazor and Dr. Damira Caric.

NFCACF thanks all the sponsors for the night: Grgich Hills Winery; Croatian Premium Wines (Boston); National Croatian Fraternal Union office; Herman Mihalich with his PA Dad's Hat Rye Whiskey, Nikola Knez (DVD films); Nena Komarica with her donation of Katunar Zlahtina wine. Andrea Novak Neumann introduced to attendees, the NFCA Clothing line which can be found at the website:

On Saturday morning, June 6th, the 27th Annual Assembly of Delegates meeting commenced and with thirty delegates on line for the private meeting. President Steve Rukavina opened up the morning proceedings with his annual State of the Union address with a focus on many of the past year’s priority activities. He mentioned that the organization is involved now with the management of two Catholic Church restoration projects in Croatia. He discussed: partnering with American Airlines and Croatia's Tourism Ministry regarding non-stop flights to Dubrovnik; raising $21,000 for the MUO-Arts and Craft Museum in Zagreb for restoration after the earthquake; arranging six "40 Under 40” award events; the on-going DTT and the Visa Waiver program activities and an October Croatian Congressional Caucus event. The NFCACF President stressed the significance of our continued dialogue with both the US and Croatian ambassadors and with the US State Department. He mentioned his very successful trip to Croatia, the summer of 2019 which included two dinners with the US Ambassador, a major Special Olympics event in Gospić, and meetings in Dubrovnik. He concluded with thanking the Board Members for all their volunteer time, keeping the organization very active and making a difference on a shoestring budget.

Next, the NFCACF National Treasurer, Eric Gregrich presented all the financial balances, listed all the group’s physical assets, and predicted a "budget neutral" year of 2020. The NFCACF committees gave their virtual reports live to all the delegates. The first one was about by-laws by John Kraljic with a few new clauses especially dealing with virtual-telephonic conferences. The BiH Croat Task Force with Zvonko Labas and Biljana Lovrinovic Abel shared a few updates about projects in motion and the recent controversy about a Mass in Sarajevo to honor the victims of the Tito Communist regime. The Special Projects committee members, Steve Rukavina and Vedran Nazor presented details about two new Catholic Church Restoration projects in Jelsa (Hvar) and in Racisce (Korcula) that the NFCACF are partnering with. The Social Media Chair Adam Radman outlined new developments with Facebook, social media and with the website. The Sports Hall of Fame Chair, Vedran Nazor highlighted the plans and process over the next 12-15 months for this exciting initiative. Dr. Dinko Podrug, Chair of the Art Committee shared updates about our collaboration with the MUO-Arts and Craft Museum and about our three NFCACF paintings there. He was very pleased that we were able to raise $21,000 for the relief fund for the Museum.

The delegates heard from Anna Maria Sicenica regarding the 2019 minutes from the Pittsburgh annual meeting. Also, a Croatian Fraternal Union report came from CFU President Ed Pazo with many highlights especially about the 125th Anniversary weekend in September 2019 in Pittsburgh. The Washington Report was next from NFCACF Public Affairs consultant, Joe Foley, which included Visa Waiver and Double Taxation Treaty updates and details about a Capitol Hill Croatian Congressional Caucus event in October 2019. The delegates heard a Medical Tourism and ACAP update from Dr. Steve Pavletic and a report by Nena Komarica about some proposed collaboration with the Archeological Institute of America and their commitment to support Zagreb's Archaeology Museum.
Next, the delegates elected the 2020-2021 Officers and Board members first re-electing all officers from the previous year including Steve Rukavina-President (PA), Andrea Novak Neumann-Executive Vice President (MN), Frank Jerbich-1st VP (IL), Mario Spalatin-2nd VP (FL), John Kraljic-3rd VP (NY) and Eric Gregrich-National Treasurer (MD). Finally, the Executive Committee was finalized with the election of officers-at-large: Bernadette Luketich-Sikaras (PA), Biljana Lovrinovic Abel (OH), Carolyn Bruno (MN), Zvonko Labas (MD). The election of Anna Maria Sicenica (PA) as the National Secretary, completed all the positions on the Executive Committee.

Annie Bosko

Also, the following delegates were elected to the NFCACF Board including Lydia Antoncic (NY), Vido Artukovich (CA), Marko Buljan (CA), Marko Kirn (MN), Nena Komarica (NJ), Jim Kresnik (NE), Tatjana Mustac (NY), Tom Mustac (NY), Vedran Nazor (PA), Sanja Newman (MD), Dr. Steve Pavletic (MD), Mark Plavetic (MD), Adam Radman (DC), Jelena Rudela (NY), Tom Steich (MD) and Ron Zivic (OH). The CFU delegation of President Ed Pazo, Franjo Bertovic, Derek Hohn, and Michael Ricci were delegates at this meeting.

The Saturday afternoon public webinar with sixty participants first featured the US Ambassador to Croatia, Bob Kohorst. The US Ambassador gave a detailed report on several major issues of interest and first saluted the 27 years of US-Croatia relations. He cited the overall significance of US-Croatia NATO relationship. He discussed the many obstacles facing the efforts to secure the Avoidance of a Double Taxation Treaty (DTT) and why it's more complicated for a small country. He outlined the many other priority issues that keep the U.S. Treasury Department from negotiating with Croatia at this time and with over 100 countries already on their DTT list. There’s better news with the VISA waiver program which may be possible this year with hopes Croatia will achieve a less than 3% refusal rate and complete all the Department of Homeland Security protocols and requirements by September 30th. Ambassador Kohorst was very positive about how Croatia handled the COVID-19 health challenge. Finally, he spoke positively about Croatia's recent success securing contracts for their floating Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal, near the island of Krk and which in his estimation has become an important security issue and the existence should result with less energy reliance on Russia, for all of Southeast Europe.

Ambassador Pjer Šimunović spoke about currently holding the seat of Presidency of the European Council and unfortunately so many events had to be postponed due to the pandemic. He explained how Croatia's EU Presidency then became more "crisis" management than the planned focus on future programs and policies for the EU. He detailed how the EU intends support to help the economy and tourism of Croatia and all EU countries to offshoot the expected losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Croatian Ambassador shared that the Washington, DC Embassy will continue all their work with the on-going DTT and VISA waiver projects.

The former US Senator Mark Begich of Alaska spoke about his official role in Alaska with COVID-19 economic development initiatives, especially about dynamic supply chain links. Mark is very proud that his father was the first Croatian American Congressman and mentioned his nephew Nick, a NFCACF "40 Under 40” winner, has a successful business located in Zagreb. The former Mayor of Anchorage mentioned he would welcome the chance to get involved with a Croatian project in the future.

Former US Senator Mark Begich 

National CFU President Ed Pazo spoke next and shared some wonderful highlights from the 125th anniversary. Brother Pazo was very pleased that Madam President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic attended the September 2019 banquet with 675 others, including Pittsburgh's Mayor Bill Peduto, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, and prominent Congressman Mike Doyle. The CFU President cited how proud he was of the CFU Earthquake relief fund which raised $150,000 kuna and was sent recently to the Croatian Red Cross.

The public webinar finished with three brief presentations. First, from Joe Foley, the NFCACF Public Affairs Consultant shared details and updates about Capitol Hill activities. Then two partnering organizations based in Zagreb spoke next: Sladjana Tatic, from Croatia's Special Olympics, talked about their successful six-year partnering relationship with the NFCACF and their great appreciation of all the NFCACF financial support; Miroslav Gasparovic, from the MUO-Arts and Crafts Museum, shared details about the earthquake cleanup and their appreciation for our relief donation and for showcasing a few leased NFCACF paintings housed there.

There was no closing dinner this year during this pandemic crisis and there are plans for the 28th Annual Assembly of Delegates to be held in Philadelphia, in June of 2021. The NFCACF organization thanks everyone whose energy, support, and virtual vision made this annual meeting a unique success at a surreally challenging time for all of us.


To read more about Croatian diaspora (and the Croatian Americans), visit our dedicated Diaspora section.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Interview with Ruza Studer Babic: Croatian Diaspora Also Wants Croatia 2.0

June 20 - In addition to strong support from parties from across the political spectrum, the Glas Poduzetnika Association received clear support of the Diaspora's new list, led by Ruza Studer Babic. Josip Hrgetic, one of the founders and the director of the conference Meeting G2 for Croatians from the Diaspora, intended for all business people who wish to connect their homeland and the expatriated Croatia better, is also on the list led by Ruza Studer Babic.

The conference has taken place for five years already, and Ruza was the regular guest. The impression from these conferences is that Croats living in the Diaspora think in a very entrepreneurial way, having the same values which the Glas Poduzetnika Association points out in their postulates. For these reasons we also wanted to do a short interview with Ruza:

How did you come up with creating a new list that will offer an option in the electoral division for the Diaspora?

Emigrants, returnees, and immigrants face many problems and are often left on their own in these situations. I have been actively engaged in issues and challenges of emigration for the last seven years. Many ex-pat congresses and conferences I participated in and met many expatriates signal that many are ready to invest in their homeland. All this, along with the ineffectiveness of political structures concerning emigration, is the reason why we started a list, the goal of which is to reach the emigrants and encourage them to go to polls.

You very quickly agreed with the UGP Pledge that we also sent to all the critical parties, how much does it match your goals?

The UGP overview is similar to our reasoning and goals. The fact that our list includes people who came from emigration to Croatia or Bosnia and Herzegovina says that we have people who have chosen their homeland. They recognized the obstacles that hinder new investors and can, with their experience, be of great help to new investors. We want to launch an entrepreneurship incubator for expatriates, wherewith the support of the state, and together with entrepreneurs, we would initiate economic projects through which they would gain access to foreign markets. We would stimulate the foreign investors to invest and the expatriated entrepreneurs' return and create work opportunities in the homeland. As an example, we would keep young people in the country.

You managed to gather Croatians from all parts of the world. What is the one thing that unites you, and do you think this will increase your chances of entering the parliament?

Keeping in mind that we did not have much time, the ex-pats' readiness to be a part of this is admirable. The love for the country unites us, and we all have the same goal — to stimulate the return of ex-pats, to top the trend of emigration, and to encourage foreign investors to invest in Croatia.

How are Croatian media treating this initiative so far?

Upon sending a press release to all the media, we received four responses expressing the willingness to donate space for our initiative. For major media, such initiatives do not seem to be of interest.

To read more breaking news in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Saturday, 6 June 2020

National Federation of Croatian Americans Relief Fund For MUO-Art Museum in Zagreb

June 6, 2020 - The 140th-anniversary celebrations for The Museum of Arts and Crafts, (MUO, Muzej za Umjetnost i Obrt), which started on 17th February were interrupted by a strong 5.5 magnitude earthquake. Croatian Americans decided to help.

The MUO Museum sustained considerable damages from the March 22nd Zagreb earthquake on that Sunday morning. The series of aftershocks caused considerable damages to the building and its artwork. The building has three severely damaged zones: the south wing corridor in the first and second floors, the extension along the north wall of the south wing, and the southwest corner of the mezzanine on the main staircase between the ground and the first floor. The MUO Museum sustained architectural damages but also many objects and artifacts of value and importance for the cultural heritage of Zagreb, Croatia, and beyond were also damaged. In the efforts on deciding to help Zagreb with the earthquake damages, the National Federation of Croatian Americans Cultural Foundation leadership decided it was best to focus on our group's contribution to MUO. Our strong relationship with MUO Museum dates back to December 2017, in a ceremony, where the museum put on display "Madonna and Child", a major work by Dalmatian-Venetian painter Andrea Schiavone (also known as Andrija Medulić), which was donated to the NFCACF by Dr. Dinko Podrug, and is now leased to the museum. Fortunately, the painting and two other NFCACF-donated items remained undamaged. 

Andrija Medulic Schiavone Painting: Bogorodica S Djetetom

On April 2nd, the NFCACF started a modest fundraising drive to promptly gather and send to MUO, by appealing to NFCACF members to send a tax-deductible donation to NFCACF, with a note for the “MUO Earthquake Fund”. It was good news that one NFCACF supporter extended $5,000 of matching funds to jumpstart our effort on April 4th. The NFCACF raised funds from the group's quarterly newsletter that was sent to all our members, 300 personal emails, and through Facebook outreach. It was recognized that the MUO Art Museum had urgent needs for these funds to prevent further damage and to start with the needed restoration.

The NFCACF President Steve Rukavina proudly stated that "We are pleased to announce that we raised $21,000 US dollars for our NFCACF-MUO Relief Fund." It should be noted that all funds will be spent to clean, repair, and perform maintenance to protect and enhance the Museum’s art collections. We would like to acknowledge that major donations for this MUO Art Museum relief fund were received from Dr. Dinko Podrug, from Peter and Jessica Frankopan and The Staples Trust and from Kresimir Penavic and his AIC Foundation and from one anonymous donor.

The NFCACF will host it 27th Annual Assembly of Delegates June 5-6 and the public webinar session on June 6th will include featured guest speakers: US Ambassador Bob Kohorst, Croatian Ambassador Pjer Simunovic, former US Senator Mark Begich and Croatian Fraternal Union President Ed Pazo and MUO Art Museum Director Miroslav Gasparovic. This year's assembly will be all virtual meetings and on June 5th, Croatian Americans will host a "Happy Hour" as a fundraiser for Croatia's Special Olympics.

Mark Plavetic, the NFCACF 2020 Rudy Perpich Summer Fellow is a co-author of this article.


To find out more about the Croatian diaspora, follow our dedicated section. 

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Corona Voices in the Croatian Diaspora: Arijana from Ferdinandovac in Vietnam

April 18, 2020 - With as many Croatians living abroad as in the Homeland, what are the diaspora experiences of self-isolation? In the 8th of a new series, Corona Voices in the Croatian Diaspora, here is Arijana Tkalcec in Vietnam and originally from Ferdinandovac. 

Last week TCN started a feature series called Foreigner Self-Isolation In Croatia: Do You Feel Safer? I can honestly say we have never had such a response or so many incredible contributions. The countries of origin of these expats in Croatia literally from all over the world. So far we have had submissions from expats from Romania, USA, Ireland, UK, Mexico, Argentina, Spain, Singapore, Holland, Canada, India, Hong Kong, Venezuela, Latvia, China, Honduras, Hungary, Moldova, New Zealand, Japan and Germany. You can see all their stories here

Given the success of the series (still going strong) and large interest, it made sense to expand it to look at this from another angle - how Croatians abroad are coping where they are. If you would like to contribute your story to Corona Voices in the Croatian Diaspora, please find the submission guidelines below. Next up, Arijana Tkalcec in Vietnam and originally from Ferdinandovac.

I'm Arijana, a full-time traveler in the making. I got my masters in journalism but decided to go in a bit different direction from traditional journalism. Coming from Ferdinandovac, a small village in Croatia, I've always dreamt about exploring the world. My itchy travel feet don't let me stay in one location too long. Traveling is my passion, and I'm always on the lookout for new adventures (I especially love treks, waterfalls and van life). I'm a fan of slow travel, which enables me to experience the best of the country I'm in. I love learning about other cultures, getting to know locals, and visiting places without a need to rush.

If you want to follow my adventures, here is my Instagram page: @arijana.tkalcec (

My website:

Firstly, how are you? Are you alone/with someone? Tell us a little about your situation and sanity levels.

Hello from Da Nang, a beautiful coastal city in Central Vietnam known for its sandy beaches. The city is also popular amongst digital nomads as it has everything needed for a normal life.

At the moment, I'm great, trying to make the most out of the current situation. It took some time to process what's actually happening, but it's all good now. However, I miss the adventure so much! I hate being closed inside.

I'm here with my boyfriend Matej (he's Slovenian), and our plan was to travel around South East Asia for seven months. First, we were in Bali for a month, and now we're willingly 'stuck' in Vietnam. I guess our trip is put on hold for a while. We're still sad about that as we had big plans, but we still hope the situation will get better soon so we can continue traveling.

arijana-tkalcec (3).jpg

When did you realise that corona was going to be a big issue?

When we started our journey in January, the coronavirus was already well known. But nobody saw it as a huge threat as it was still mainly in China. When we entered Vietnam on February 26th, there were 0 active cases (16 were reported previously, but all of them were cured). For about two weeks, we explored freely, and everything was normal. We were leaving Can Tho in Mekong Delta, heading towards a small coastal town Mui Ne, when the situation started to change. The cases in Europe began to rise insanely, and there were already reported cases in Croatia too. Vietnam right away started putting some restrictions on foreigners coming from high-risk areas.

arijana-tkalcec (7).jpg

When did you realise that corona was going to be a big issue in Vietnam in particular?

Around March 19th our hotel in Mui Ne put the notice about the new case reported 17 kilometers away from our town. That's when the situation here slowly started to change. Restaurants began closing down, hotels closed or had limitations about the number of tourists they were taking in, etc. But those were small changes, and we (as well as other tourists) weren't bothered with that. We continued our trip to Dalat, and there's where we realized that situation is way more serious than we thought. First of all, locals were scared of us as many new cases in Vietnam came from abroad (whether it's through foreigners or Vietnamese coming back from overseas). They would pull up the mask when we were passing by, we even got denied entry to one local restaurant, etc. It wasn't the most comfortable situation. Then masks became mandatory, Vietnam started closing borders, there was a massive cancellation of flights to Europe – it was evident that in the next few weeks/months won't be the most pleasant ones.

arijana-tkalcec (5).jpg

Give us a timeline on when and how life changed.

Considering the situation, in Dalat we had to make one of our most significant decisions yet: should we stay here or go home. It wasn't an easy decision for sure, and it took us the whole week to make the final decision to stay. Our families support that decision 100%, and they actually think we're safer here, so they wanted us to stay.

Why did we decide to stay? Firstly, flying in this situation didn't sound appealing to us. Many confirmed cases in Vietnam were connected to flights. Secondly, we already have our ticket back to Zagreb in September from Bali. This would be an additional financial cost that we couldn't afford. The tickets were too expensive, flights were getting canceled, many people got 'stuck' at airports, they had to buy multiple tickets because of the cancelations. It was too risky. Thirdly, if we did come back to Croatia, self-isolation of 14 days was mandatory. The only place we could go to was my parents' house, and that way we could put them at risk too. Lastly, the fact that my boyfriend is from Slovenia, which was already completely closed, made even more problems.

After our final decision to stay, we had to act fast. It was a matter of time when the country would go on lockdown, so we had to choose the place we want to 'get stuck in.' We chose Da Nang. To get there, we took a 6 hours bus to Nha Trang, where we stopped for a few days. The situation there was much different than Dalat. Everything was full of tourists (mostly Russians), many people didn't wear masks, the beach was full of people. We weren't sure what to think about that because the rest of the country was in a full-on panic, while here everything was so relaxed.

It took another 10 hours to reach Da Nang with the train. There was a shocking scene when we entered the Da Nang train station. People in full-on blue suits accompanied by police were waiting at the entrance. One guy held an English sign just for us as we were the only tourists on the train. I was so scared when I saw them as I didn't know what's going on. My first question was: 'What will they do to us?'. But I have to mention how kind and understanding they were. It made me much calmer. All of us went through a temperature check and hand disinfection (two times). As foreigners, we had to fill in some documents. There were questions about which places we visited, where we are staying, when did we enter Vietnam and how, etc.

arijana-tkalcec (4).jpg

We also had to download their Health Declaration app and fill in our information. Every day the app asks us if we're feeling well or have any symptoms. That way, they can track how we are feeling. If anyone needs any help, they can react much faster than in other countries. Each person is identified with a certain number, which can be scanned through a QR code.

And now we're here. We came to Da Nang at the very last minute. The next day the city was closing down. We got lucky with finding accommodation because many didn't accept foreigners anymore. It was the government's order, so they stop the unnecessary movement.

Tell us about your day. Do you/can you leave your apartment?

The official lockdown (or social distancing measures - the official name they use) was from April 1st until the 15th, but now they extended it for another week. Although there's a huge possibility it will be extended again. We're advised to go out only if necessary, but you can go for a walk, exercise, etc. However, there are many restrictions, especially in the area where we are as it is considered a bit more touristic. The beach is closed. It's not possible to get near it as the police and lifeguards are patrolling the area.

arijana-tkalcec (6).jpg

We don't go out much during the day as it's a bit annoying with all the restrictions, and it can be quite busy. That's why we go for night walks around 11 pm. Then we go to the beach because there's no police patrolling the area, and not that many people. Although more and more people started doing the same.

Other than that, we try to make some kind of routine. I finally started working out. This is also the perfect time for learning something new as there are many free webinars and courses about everything. I'm using this situation to improve my skills. There's always something to do. We're not bored at all.

How are the authorities doing at handling the situation?

I think they are doing pretty well. Many police officers are patrolling the area. You know what the rules are, and if you break them, they start whistling right away, letting you know you did something wrong. Other than that, there are fines too, so people are respecting the rules. Vietnam reacted very fast, put strict measures, and they are sticking to it. At the moment, they have only 67 active cases and 0 deaths. For now, we feel safe here.

arijana-tkalcec (1).jpg

You obviously keep an eye on your homeland. What is your impression of the way Croatia is dealing with the crisis?

Honestly, I don't watch the news that much anymore. I quickly check the situation in Vietnam, so we stay up to date with any new regulations. It was stressing me too much, so I decided to cut that. :D

But when I still watched the news, the only thing I saw was people breaking self-isolation and putting others in danger. If the measures against that were stricter or people were better educated about the situation, I'm sure those cases would be rarer.

Compare and contrast the responses of Croatia and Vietnam. Who is doing what better?

I'm not that familiar with all the measures from both countries. Considering Croatia, I know what I hear from my family, and the thing I dislike a lot is not being able to move from one municipality to another. We know that Croatia has way too many municipalities aka 'općine', and now it is clear that they are entirely useless (it was clear even before but…). For example, my parents are living in the village, which is an 'općina' for itself, and they don't have any big grocery store there. Where to make that 'big shopping' then? The small local stores are so expensive (now even more), and they don't have fresh products. Sometimes, you can also find expired products (without a discount). They're not allowed to go to the small town nearby without a pass (I don't even want to comment on that), so many people in the same situation are having issues. Vietnam also has restricted movement across provinces, but those are much bigger areas, and that makes much more sense.

Also, I don't get how limited the working hours of the stores help. The workers are still exposed to people coming, so what difference does it make. Here the grocery stores work regular hours, which I find better as people spread more equally during those working hours. And people don't stack up on the groceries.

What about official communications from the authorities, compared to your home country?

I'm not sure how it is in Croatia, but here there are signs everywhere explaining social distancing measures. They even have audio coming from the speakers close to the beach explaining the rules. Signs and audio are both in English and Vietnamese. Every day they are sending messages reminding you to wash your hands and stay inside. Online taxi apps (like Grab, which is similar to our Uber) sends you notifications about measures and precautions too. Vietnam even made a viral song about coronavirus intending to educate its citizens. There is also a choreography with dances moves that show the right way of washing your hands. The conclusion is, both locals and foreigners are well informed about everything that's going on.

What's the one thing you wish you had taken with you into self-isolation?

This is a hard question. I don't feel like I miss anything at the moment. However, I wouldn't complain if we had a pool. I'm losing my tan and starting to look like a ghost again (I am very pale). Also, I wish I had more money for all the excellent tools, courses, etc. on huge discounts now. But there's just too many.

One thing you have learned about yourself and one thing you have learned about others during this crisis.

Once again, I learned how much I hate being stuck inside. I was a lot inside before this trip as I worked from home, and the reason we started this trip is for adventure and exploring. And now we're back doing the same. :D 

I learned stressing too much about the situations you can't control won't be of any help. You'll just end up being unhappy. The best thing is going with the flow, solve one problem at a time, and adapt to the situation. The faster you adapt, the easier it gets.

In this crisis, you could see the worst and the best in people. Those two extremes were really seen now.

I also learned how bad situations connect people and how many are ready to help. I made some friends in all this mess as we all reached out to one another, trying to make the right decisions.

If you could be self-isolating in Croatia, where would it be, and why?

I don't have any specific location in mind. My go-to place would be the same for any country: some mountain cabin with a lot of nature and a lake nearby, an isolated spot so I could go out in nature whenever I want, without many people around.

Thanks, Arijana. Stay safe and see you on the other side. You can see all the stories in both this diaspora series, and the one on expats in Croatia on this link

TCN is starting a new feature series on Croatian diaspora experiences of sitting out COVID-19 abroad and comparing your experiences to the situation in Croatia. If you would like to contribute, the questions are below. Please also include a para about yourself and where you are from, and a link to your website if you would like. Please also send 3-4 photos minimum to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject Corona Diaspora

If you would be interested to record a video version for our partners please let us know in the email. Thanks and stay safe. 

Self-Isolation Voices from the Diaspora 

Firstly, how are you? Are you alone/with someone? Tell us a little about your situation and sanity levels.

When did you realise that corona was going to be a big issue?

When did you realise that corona was going to be a big issue in New York in particular?

Give us a timeline on when and how life changed.

Tell us about your day. Do you/can you leave your apartment?

How are the authorities doing at handling the situation?

You obviously keep an eye on your homeland. What is your impression of the way Croatia is dealing with the crisis?

Compare and contrast the responses of Croatia and USA. Who is doing what better?

What about official communications from the authorities, compared to your home country?

What's the one thing you wish you had taken with you into self-isolation?

One thing you have learned about yourself, and one thing you have learned about others during this crisis.

If you could be self-isolating in Croatia, where would it be, and why?

TCN has recently become a partner in Robert Tomic Zuber's new R+ video channel, initially telling stories about corona experiences. You can see the first TCN contribution from this morning, my video from Jelsa talking about the realities of running a news portal in the corona era below. If you would like to also submit a video interview, please find Robert's guidelines below 


The video footage should be recorded so that the cell phone is turned horizontally (landscape mode).

There are several rules for television and video news:- length is not a virtue- a picture speaks more than a thousand words

In short, this would mean that your story should not last more than 90 seconds and that everything you say in the report should be shown by video (for example, if you talk about empty streets, we should see those empty streets, etc.).

How to do it with your cell phone? First, use a selfie camera to record yourself telling your story for about a minute and a half. Ideally, it would be taken in the exterior, except in situations where you are reporting on things in the interior (quarantine, hospital, self-isolation, etc.). Also, when shooting, move freely, make sure everything is not static.

After you have recorded your report, you should capture footage that will tell your story with a picture, such as an earlier example with empty streets.

One of the basic rules of TV journalism is that the story is told in the same way as a journalist with his text. Therefore, we ask you for additional effort. Because we work in a very specific situation, sometimes you may not be able to capture footage for each sentence of the report. In this case, record the details on the streets: people walking, the main features of the city where you live, inscriptions on the windows related to the virus, etc.

The same rules apply if you are shooting a story from your apartment, self-isolation, quarantine. We also need you to capture footage that describes your story.

When shooting frames to cover your reports, it is important that you change the angle of the shot (in other words, shoot that empty street from several angles). Also, when shooting a detail, count at least five seconds before removing the camera to another detail.

The material should be about 5 minutes long (90 seconds of your report + frames to cover your story).

After recording everything, send us to Zagreb, preferably via WeTransfer to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Monday, 20 January 2020

Croatian Doctor Accepts Harvard Researcher Position: Alen Juginović Story

Croatian Doctor Alen Juginović, a recent graduate of the Faculty of Medicine in Split, will be leaving Croatia in two weeks to start a Postdoctoral Researcher position at the most prestigious college in the United States.

Dr. Juginović graduated from the Faculty of Medicine in Split in 2018. In September 2019, he was in Houston, Texas completing the second of two US observership programs. Then, he had an idea. Since he was in the US, why not visit the top universities with Neuroscience programs? So, he reached out to the Neuroscience departments at Stanford, MIT, Harvard and Columbia to arrange campus visits.

Harvard Campus Visit Leads to Instant Job Offer

He spent a day and a half in San Francisco and walked among the majestic red-roofed Romanesque sandstone buildings of Stanford University in perpetually sunny Palo Alto. Then he jetted across the country to Boston. After touring MIT, he set off for a visit of the Neuroscience Department at Harvard. With a name tag pinned to his lapel, he met Dr. Dragana Rogulja, an Assistant Professor of Neurobiology. Instead of leading him on a tour of the department, Rogulja, originally from Belgrade, brought Juginović to her office where she began inquiring about his academic background, interests and experience. Two hours later, she offered him a job in her lab.

“Everything was moving in slow motion,” the young medical school graduate recounts. He had a bus to catch to New York City for his planned visit to Columbia University, so he briefly toured his future employer’s lab. They parted ways, and Rogulja promised Juginović that she would give him all the time he needed to think about her job offer. “You’re not dreaming,” she assured him. Upon departing the Ivy League institution, however, the young Croatian doctor was in such a state of shock, that he sat motionless and in a daze while he rode the Boston Metro. Then he realized that he had missed his bus to New York.

Alen Juginović waited over a month to accept the Harvard professor's offer.

Three months later, Total Croatia News received a tip about Dr. Juginović’s job appointment at the most prestigious university in the United States, if not the world.

“I am reaching out to you with an exceptional success story about a young Croatian doctor who, as one of a very small number of Croatians in history, is leaving for the most prestigious university in the world – Harvard! I believe that this story, with all its successes, is very positive, incredibly unique and motivating for everyone in Croatia, especially the young. They will see how it is possible to reach the top of the world from tiny Croatia. I would ask you to consider this ultimate story of medical success for publication in your portal,” the source, overwhelmed with enthusiasm, wrote to us while insisting upon remaining anonymous.

Unique Story Follows Long-Lasting Croatian Tradition

Another story of a young talented Croatian leaving the county for better opportunities abroad; what makes this story so unique and motivating, I wondered. What’s the message for young people? Work hard for a future which only exists beyond your country? That scenario is so commonplace, so predictable – and has flourished without interruption since boatloads of young Croatian emigrants, housed in cramped steerage on majestic passenger steam ships, began making their way in masses across the Atlantic over 130 years ago. Croatian independence, secured in a hard-fought war 105 years later, was supposed to curb mass emigration, not accelerate it. It's worth noting that Alen Juginović was born just a year before the last war officially ended.

The doctor and I agreed to meet at Vincek at 6pm on Friday. I’d passed the dessert café on Ilica many times but had never been inside. Frankly, I could do without the extra calories. I knew that the young doctor would arrive on time, a policy which seems to be hit or miss in this country, so I entered the very bright crowded café right at 6pm. As I meandered past glass cases of cakes and tarts, a lean spry figure passed me on the left from behind. I recognized him immediately, so I quietly followed him to the corner empty table, and waited for him to turn around, so as not to surprise him.

We shook hands and laughed about our simultaneous on-time arrival. He insisted on paying for dessert and coffee, I protested but quickly capitulated, still not entirely confident in Croatian customs. Juginović is a bright, wiry and very energetic figure. We chose sumptuous chocolate desserts, both of which were packed with calories. However, the young doctor, who was comfortably draped in an Adriatic-blue sport coat, white pressed shirt and muted chinos, showed absolutely no evidence of caloric abuse.

Juginović Outlines ‘Hygiene’ of Healthy Sleep Habits

I was pleased to learn that Dr. Juginović’s area of interest is studying and treating sleep disorders, because I’ve read a little about the subject, and could ask a few informed questions. Somewhere during the onset of middle-age, I had become a finicky sleeper. Sleeping a consecutive 8 hours is no longer a given, it has become a much-valued gift. So, we launched into a discussion about “sleep hygiene” as he called it. Admittedly, I was amused by the word hygiene, especially as it relates to Croatia. Try riding a crowded Zagreb tram in July and you’ll immediately know what I’m talking about.

So the young doctor enthusiastically reviewed the necessary components for “sleep hygiene”, some of which I already knew: keep the same sleep schedule, afternoon naps are OK as long as they are shorter than 45 minutes, avoid computers and smartphones (blue light), the sleeping room should not house elements of daily awake life (work-related tools) etc. He then went on to review the stages of sleep, the mechanics of each stage and circadian rhythms. I mentioned that I had read, to my relief, that the concept of a consecutive 7 to 8-hour sleep pattern only came into existence at the turn of the 20th century. Before that, many societies thrived on segmented sleep, with an interim wake period, which was integrated into daily life. He emphasized that sleep cycles are adaptable but that humans are not nocturnal by nature.

Dr. Juginović struck me as someone who lives fully scheduled days where every minute is accounted for, so I steered our discussion toward his autobiography. It unfolds like a resume every job recruiter dreams about (undoubtedly during REM sleep): President of Student Union, founder of NeuroSplit and member of the organizing committee for ISABS conferences.


Practical Knowledge for Students | Alen Juginović

Organizer of World Class Medical Conferences in Split

Most notably, he was instrumental in organizing two Split-based world conferences. The first, Practical Knowledge for Students, is an annual event which provides medical, dental and pharmacy students the opportunity to practice key physical functions in their chosen professions: like suturing. Suturing, I thought, don’t students practice how to suture in medical school? Apparently, not enough. As the young doctor pointed out, students only know how to perform many of these tasks in theory. I immediately wondered if this was true for US medical schools too. The conference has been a smashing success and participation has ballooned to over 400 students, who arrive in Split from all corners of the world.

The second conference, Nobel Days, brought together four Nobel Prize winners in one auditorium for panel discussions, which were free and open to the public. The panel comprised of Biochemist Richard Roberts, who received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1993; Biophysicist Joachim Frank, who received it in Chemistry in 2017; Physicist Georg Bednorz, who won the prestigious award in 1987; and Harald zur Hausen, a Virologist who received it for the discovery of the HPV virus and its association with cervical cancer. The 500-person capacity auditorium in Split was packed; with standing room only.

He also organized several fundraiser concerts with popular Croatian musicians to upgrade a home for children with special needs and finance improvements to pediatric and other medical facilities.

We briefly touched upon his observerships in Milwaukee and Houston, where he was impressed and surprised by the level of student involvement in extracurricular activities. Juginović considers participation in extracurricular activities essential for students’ well-being. It also brings balance to student life and takes the focus away from just attending classes and studying for exams. There are a lot of students who just spend their free time drinking coffee, he lamented, when they could be engaging with others in areas of personal interest and public concern. He also emphasized that he did not consider high grades to the most important criteria for success and even admitted that he didn’t have a perfect grade point average.

So, Juginović’s autobiography is full of significant and impactful achievements, which he shared with enthusiasm, energy and passion. It wasn’t at all difficult to imagine how he wowed that Serbian professor in Boston, who runs a lab at the most prestigious university in the world. And, their partnership suggests a promising overseas Serbo-Croatian collaboration, which is still a rarity in the homeland.


Nobel Days | Alen Juginović

The Croatian Journey to America Spans Over a Century

My grandfather arrived at Ellis Island on the SS Slavonia, which had departed Rijeka on a 19-day journey to America. The trans-Atlantic journey, which he had most likely spent in steerage, was long and grueling, but the young nation was open to everyone who arrived. One hundred fifteen years later, getting into America has become much more complex. One way is to successfully and illegally traverse an increasingly fortified Southern border. Another way is to obtain a H-1B visa, and eventually a Green Card, which can be a complicated affair, and is only expedited by possessing vast financial resources, outstanding individual talent or powerful connections.

In Dr. Juginović’s case, Dr. Rogulja and Harvard will likely process a H-1B visa application which allows a US employer to temporarily hire a foreign worker in a specialty occupation. For a world renown institution like Harvard, that process will likely be streamlined and accelerated, regardless of legal route. It’s worth noting that Croatia remains among just a handful of EU countries for which the US still requires a visa for entry, even as a tourist. However, US and Croatian efforts are now finally underway to abolish that requirement within the next few years.

So, in a little over two weeks the young Croatian doctor will board a plane bound for America. He’ll arrive in Boston in a matter of hours, not weeks, where he will immediately be taken under Harvard’s wing and will undoubtedly surpass their high-performance standards. His job offer comes with a three-year renewable contract, and from there the possibilities are boundless. In the meantime, he must pack for relocation to “The Hub of the Universe”. And HRT (Croatian Radio Television) has just contacted him for a news feature, which will be filmed at St. Catherine’s Hospital in Zagreb, where he remains employed until his departure.

No Long-Term Plans to Return to Croatia Permanently

For a young man who proceeds with such deliberate intention; like organizing significant world conferences with science visionaries and planning personal tours of America’s top universities, I wondered where Dr. Juginović saw himself in the future. Did he consider America a place to expand his knowledge, absorb her best practices, learn from her shortcomings, and return to his homeland to share that vision, knowledge and optimism? Or was America a more permanent destination?

“I don’t think that far ahead, and am open to all opportunities,” he responded, and emphasized that his focus was on the moment and never extended beyond the next day or two. One could not help but sense the empty space that someone, who had been such a daily inspiration to fellow students, would leave behind. Is he coming back to visit, I wondered. He replied that he’d be back during summer break. How does summer break work for a researcher at a university, I thought aloud. Does it follow the academic calendar? He’d probably come back for a week, he answered tentatively and emphasized that his primary passion is to motivate students. “Never underestimate the power of students,” he proclaimed with conviction.

Even if Alen Juginović’s return visits to Croatia are brief and rare, I’ll safely bet that a more refined version of his story, which he shared with me over coffee and dessert, will appear as a TED Talk on YouTube. It’s simply not even a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. And sure enough, it turns out that his future Serbian mentor has already given a TED Talk. Young Croatians seeking motivation will be able to locate inspirational footage of the soon-to-be former Split resident online by a Google search. Some will be enchanted by his fulfillment of the American Dream, a concept which has long ago achieved mythical proportions. Others, perhaps, might be inspired to stay and effect change in their homeland. Dr. Juginović emphasized that his parents and three close friends have been his main source of inspiration.

Saying Goodbye and Reaching Out for Something New

He admitted that the last few weeks have been emotional. Late one night he sat on a bench ten meters from the sea with a close friend and disclosed that he was leaving for America. Without saying a word, the friend simply hugged him. “Everglow” by Coldplay was playing on the car radio on their way home and that song will always commemorate the moment, he reveals. Then he showed me a stunning image of a sunset taken high up in the hills overlooking Split and the Adriatic Sea. The soft horizontal bars of deep blue and orange were broken up by the silhouette of a young man with mussed up hair and the roof of a car. Flickering lights of Croatia’s second largest city, a city that existed long before the arrival of Croatian tribes, dotted the lower right-hand corner of the image. These were among the reflections of a young man saying goodbye.

Near the end of our conversation, we spoke briefly about his favorite songs. In addition to “Everglow”, he mentioned “Purple Rain” by Prince. We immediately agreed that it was impossible to enjoy songs with meaningless lyrics. In that context, “Purple Rain” seemed like an improbable choice, not to mention that the song was a massive worldwide hit a decade before he was born.

Prince explained the meaning of his song to an interviewer as follows: “When there’s blood in the sky – red and blue = purple… purple rain pertains to the end of the world and being with the one you love and letting your faith/god guide you through the purple rain.”

At the beginning of the song, the late musician’s lyrics appear to be directed toward an individual and allude to the end of a friendship. Then he acknowledges that times are changing and “it’s time we all reach out for something new, that means you too.” Had the young Croatian doctor experienced the end of a friendship? We hadn’t gotten that personal, but I suspect that his affinity for this song hinted at a more collective, rather than personal experience. Near the end of the legendary anthem, Prince calls out to his audience:

You say you want a leader
But you can’t seem to make up your mind

If you know what I’m singing about up here
C’mon, raise your hand

Follow our Lifestyle page and Diaspora page for more information on Croatians and their successes abroad. For updates on Dr. Juginović’s pursuits and health advice, follow his Twitter page here.

Monday, 23 December 2019

Five Christmas Traditions from Croatia to California and Back

December 23, 2019 - A look at my family's Christmas traditions, from Croatia to California and back. 

Christmas is a holiday that my family has always placed on a pedestal a bit higher than the rest. It was that special day when 50 of our Croatian family members and closest friends gathered at our home in Fallbrook, California. It was a time when we’d run ourselves into the ground cleaning, cooking, and baking for the entire week before. We’d argue over seating arrangements and when my mother toyed with the idea of doing a buffet or switching up the always standard menu. Every detail had to be perfect, and more importantly, our traditions couldn’t stand to be tweaked. 

My family’s Christmas traditions are thanks to my grandmother and grandfather, who carried them from Croatia to New York and California. They were unique because they were unfamiliar to those held by the families we knew in the United States, but to us, it wouldn’t be Christmas without them. Over time, and as our dinner parties grew larger, we introduced new appetizers and desserts only to ensure everyone was adequately fed, so long as everything else remained the same. 

It didn’t take long for our American friends to adopt some of our traditions as their own, and today, more than 55 years later, I’m happy to say that though we may have moved back to Croatia and our famous Californian-Croatian Christmas parties have retired, we have not strayed away from what makes Christmas ours. 

A look at my family’s Christmas traditions, from Croatia to California and back. 

Bakalar: It wasn’t Christmas until that package arrived in the mail from my great aunt New York. Growing up, bakalar wasn’t the easiest to find in sunny San Diego, and going to great lengths to get it was our only option. Fortunately, we were lucky to have a core group of family members who ensured we wouldn’t spend Christmas without it. One of the smellier traditions we have, I often recall my brother and I running around the house with our shirts pulled over our noses to hide the stench. It didn’t help. Over the years, we discovered bakalar in the Little Italy district of San Diego and finding fish in the post became a thing of the past. My grandmother only ever prepared bakalar ‘bianco’, and we'd always pair it with a hot cup of our powerful tea punch (a rum and riesling punch that'll have you woozy after one glass). 


Lobster spaghetti: Bakalar isn’t the only star of our Christmas Eve -  because we must down for lobster spaghetti, too. I have many memories of my grandmother in the kitchen peacefully putting the live lobsters to sleep. The secret ingredient to the sauce is Dalmatia’s sweet dessert wine, prošek. Lobsters were a lot easier to find in California, so we’ve amended the recipe to scampi in Croatia instead. It tastes the same, though it’s a bit messier now. 


Fritule: Every Christmas morning, without fail, we’d wake up to my mother’s fritule. You could hardly escape the sweet smell permeating through the house, which would eventually lead us to our presents under the tree. My mother’s fritule have a tinge of tang thanks to a citrus zest, while the piles of powdered sugar on top are a dream for any child on Christmas morning. I have a feeling we'll be enjoying Christmas morning fritule for eternity.


Sarma: In true Croatian fashion, our Christmas table featured sarma. My grandmother would count enough to ensure each person had at least two. We’d serve these beloved sour cabbage rolls on oversized platters next to a pot of piping hot mashed potatoes. Perhaps equally as exciting is the smoked meat we’d serve alongside it that cooked in the sarma’s juices. While our Christmas dinners now don’t see as many, sarma still steals the show - and we're always guaranteed at least two.



Croatian Christmas sweets: Our dessert table was always stocked on Christmas Day thanks to my grandmother's steady hands that worked day and night for the week before. From vanilla roščići to krokant, linzer cookies, bobići, and rafioli, we had the delightful flavors of Dalmatia in our home for everyone to enjoy. Nothing has changed. 


To read more about lifestyle in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page

Page 8 of 15