Friday, 29 March 2019

Language, School and Friends - What Life is Like for Teen Expats in Zagreb

It's true Croatia may not pose the most favourable conditions for young adults looking to get out into the world and establish themselves.

As funny or unusual as my story may seem, it's met with confusion and shock for good reason. On the other hand, families and younger teens and children who move over here are generally supported and understood. It’s not so out of the blue or strange to want to bring and raise your family in Croatia, with playgrounds and green spaces a mass, low crime and a good school system. In an effort to combat the mass exodus of Croatian citizens, the Croatian government even grants allowances per newborn to encourage families which, in the town of Sali for example, can reach up to 10.000kn per newborn (feel free to read more here).

The short version is simply the fact that Croatia places a high priority on family life, but has this translated into the lives of the expats kids who move here with their family?  

Before me, my younger brother (we’ll call him Filip) was the first to move here. Plucked out of school in England at the start of Year 8, Filip had just begun high-school in the UK. After a difficult time and a lot of change since then, he now finds himself studying and socialising at a local Croatian school in a small town not far from my parents village. Here is what he has to say about the experience...

“It was a very stressful and difficult change to make, I had a little bit of excitement but was afraid of everything, of having to get to know this new country as I had no idea what to expect really”.

I asked him if he was most afraid of having to make new friends, “nope” he responded as if that was a dumb question to ask.

“Really?, not at all?”

“No, I mean you just get on with it, that wasn’t the scariest part”.

We continued our conversation about friendships and connected on the limitations of the language barrier. Understandably, his main advice for those deciding to move to Croatia would be to have some knowledge of the language beforehand, even if just basics.

“It’s easy to make friends, everyone is pretty open and friendly and there will always be those that are fluent in English, but not everyone speaks English well...without some Croatian, it limits who you can talk to and there’s not that same connection as you would have with people who speak your own language”.

We chuckled at this point, and I definitely agree with him. You can always have friends and be courteous with each other but making a real connection is the tricky part. The language barrier does end up limiting your social circles and what you can get up to no matter how outgoing or positive you might be. Sitting at a cafe table with a group of our Croatian colleagues one time, my expat friend from Australia joked that “we have that Western understanding” and it’s very true.

Don’t let that discourage you though. My brother, now coming to the end of his second year at a Croatian school, says he’s very happy and wouldn’t change how things are.

“While we’re in a small village there isn’t much to do except hang out at the cafe bars or at each other’s place, but we always find something to get up to. In Zagreb there’s a ton of things to do”.

From most of the kids I’ve spoken to language wasn’t a central issue. While daunting, they managed to pick up Croatian pretty quickly and the majority of their peers spoke decent to fluent English so communication wasn’t hard. The teachers were supportive and keeping up with the classes was a challenge but not impossible.

On the other side of the spectrum, I also spoke with two wonderful girls, Nina, 16 and Marica, 14 who moved here from Australia. They both arrived with some understanding of the Croatian language, so their experience settling in was a little different as well as their initial fears.

Before the move, Marica recalls worrying what the Croatian kids would think of her, if she’d be able to build friendships and easily fit in. While her older sister Nina, was excited for the move saying she was looking forward to something new and a totally different environment. Once here, their experience of adjusting to life in Croatia continued to be polar opposite, but not in the way anyone expected.

As she arrived aged 13, Marica was able to start a regular Croatian state school in their town just outside of Zagreb. She had a ton of support from the state and her school, spending the first semester entirely dedicated to getting adjusted to the new system and focusing on language learning - which amounts up to 70 hours of Croatian all funded by the state. Over time, Marica found herself settling in easily and starting up a new social life. I asked if she'd consider staying in Croatia or if she has any desires to move back to which she responded cheerfully that, she’ll give it a go [in Croatia].

Nina, being much older, found the move more challenging and was launched into the intense IB course at an International school in Zagreb. Nina found the support was much more limited compared to her younger sister, and has had a more challenging time connecting with her also foreign peers given the intense curriculum, competitive academics and social divides.

Overall, both sisters as well as parents can agree that school and life abroad can reap many universal benefits, from confidence to a well rounded worldview. But with regards to Croatia, both advised to not set high expectations on life here. Go with the flow, and adapt to the culture instead of trying to change it or comparing to life before was the takeaway.

It’s fair to say the benefits of studying and growing up in Croatia are no more apparent than doing so in another European city, however, families can rest assured there is a ton of support from other expat families, the government and schools if they do decide to come to Zagreb or Croatia in general (checkout the expat parents in Zagreb Facebook group for a start!).

It’s reassuring to know a stable social life is more or less easily attained as well. In line with my brother’s experience, I heard over and over that coming younger makes adapting, school and language learning easier. It also opens up more options, since particularly in Nina’s case she had to go to an International School to finish her studies as the Croatian system was too different for her to jump into.

At the end of the day, I can only commend my brother’s as well as Nina and Marica’s brave dive into a new culture and the way they've managed to transform the experience into something positive at such a younger age, and I can only hope the experience continues to shape them as well as encourage others to experience life in a totally new environment (whether in Zagreb or elsewhere!)

Please note that the names mentioned in this article have been changed for the sake of privacy

Interested in more about life in the capital? Give Total Zagreb a follow. For more from Mira and her experiences, follow her here.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Croatian Glagolitic Script Day to Be Marked on 22 February

ZAGREB, February 3, 2019 - The Croatian parliament is expected to soon decide on the initiative to declare Croatian Glagolitic Script Day on 22 February.

Last year, the Institute of Croatian Language and Linguistics launched a campaign called "Croatian Glagolitic Script Day" with the aim of popularising this Croatian alphabet and script.

Croatian Glagolitic Day is to be observed on 22 February in memory of the publishing of Missale Romanum Glagolitice (Croatian: Misal po zakonu rimskoga dvora), a Croatian missal, written in the Glagolitic script, and incunabulum printed in on 22 February 1483.

It is the first printed Croatian book and also the first missal in Europe not published in the Latin script.

The institute's head, Željko Jozić, told Hina last year that the purpose of the campaign is to bring the Glagolitic script, which is one of the most recognisable traits of literacy among Croatians, closer to the public, particularly to younger generations and school-age children.

More news on the Croatian langage can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Monday, 31 December 2018

Croatian Profanity Heard in German TV Commercial?

Marco Reus, the captain of the Borussia Dortmund football club, which is currently the best in the German Bundesliga, is one of the top German footballers, a member of the national team and a German born in Dortmund. Still, in difficult moments, his likes to express his anger and frustration in the language and in the way that everyone from "our region" can understand in more ways than one. He has proved this in the latest TV commercial for Opel, which is a sponsor of his club, in which he used a Croatian profanity, reports on December 31, 2018.

Reus had to prove his skills and hit a small area of a screen stretched over the open car door, a few metres from him. But he did not manage to hit the ball through the hole, which was followed by a swearword (about what he would do to someone’s mother – you can guess what it is), in a language easily understood by anyone living in the territory of former Yugoslavia.

The video can be seen on Twitter.

There is little doubt that Reus has learned the profanity from his teammates and coaches that came from the region to play in Germany. He shared the dressing room in Dortmund with Croat Ivan Perišić, and Serbs Neven Subotić and Željko Buvač.

It is well-known that the first thing that players from this region do when they move overseas is to introduce their hosts to the incredibly rich and lavish vocabulary of some of the most creative and brutal profanities and swearwords used by the people on the territory of the former Yugoslavia.

Foreigners, whose corpus of profanities is minuscule when compared to the Balkans, are generally fascinated by the swear words and start using them. There are numerous examples, from Kwadwo Asamoah from Ghana, who has enriched his vocabulary thanks to Croat Marcelo Brozović, to US basketball player Kobe Bryant, whose teacher was Serbian Vlade Divac.

The only issue here is why did the profanity end up in the material posted on Twitter: is it possible that no-one understood what Reus said or was this perhaps a prank by someone who knew very well what was said?

More news on the Croatian language can be found in our Lifestyle section.

Translated from

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Albanian, Croatian Language Instruction Offices to be Opened in Tirana, Zagreb

ZAGREB, December 19, 2018 - After a Croatian language instruction office was opened at Priština University this past autumn, another such office is expected to be opened at Tirana University as well, while an Albanian language instruction office will be opened in Zagreb, Croatian MP Ermina Lekaj Prljaskaj, who represents five ethnic minorities, including Albanians, and who initiated the introduction of Croatian language classes in Kosovo, said in Zagreb on Wednesday.

Lekaj Prljaskaj said that she believed the opening of a Croatian language instruction office at Priština University in early November would lead to the introduction of a Croatian language and literature department at Priština University as well as the establishment of an Albanian language and literature department at Zagreb's Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty.

The MP said the Albanian language instruction office was expected to start working in March, adding that she hoped the Albanian language department would be established in two years' time.

"In the former Yugoslavia, Serbo-Croatian was taught in Kosovo, but younger generations no longer have that option and given the current circumstances, it is unlikely that Albanians will learn Serbian, which is why I have proposed introducing Croatian language classes," Lekaj Prljaskaj said.

She noted that the Croatian language instruction office in Priština was currently financed with money from EU funds, but that work was underway to have Kosovo and Croatia sign an agreement whereby they would take over the financing of their respective language instructors.

Lekaj Prljaskaj said that she had also talked with officials at the Croatian Education and Science Ministry and the Office for Croats Abroad about introducing Croatian language classes for children in Janjevo, a Croat minority village in Kosovo.

There are about 40 children in Janjevo whose classes are based on Serbia's and not Kosovo's curriculum, they learn Serbian and their books come from Serbia, the MP said.

The officials at the Education and Science Ministry have promised to send a teacher and provide textbooks for those children in line with Croatia's model for the education of ethnic minorities, she said.

More news on the relations between Croatia and Albania can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Prize Lists, Cold Deposits and Viagra: Lost in Translation in Croatia

It's that time of year again. Grammar Nazis, this might hurt.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Diaspora Descendants Receive Scholarships to Learn Croatian

ZAGREB, March 3, 2018 - The Central State Office for Croats Abroad on Friday signed contracts on scholarship for descendants of Croatian emigrants abroad, enabling them to learn the Croatian language in Croatia.

Friday, 26 January 2018

What do You Call a Ladle in Croatian?

You know, the big spoon-like thing you use for the soup and similar dishes?

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Croatian Language and Literature to Be Taught at Universities in Chile and Argentina

ZAGREB, January 18, 2018 - The government on Thursday adopted memorandums of consent which the Science and Education Ministry signed with the University of Magallanes from Chile and the National University of Rosario's Faculty of Humanities and Arts from Argentina and an agreement with the University of Buenos Aires Faculty of Philosophy and Literature, on setting up a Croatian language and literature instructorship.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Sretna Nova Godina! And the 5 Essential New Year's Eve Questions

Mihaela Šego takes us through five crucial questions on New Year’s Eve. 

Friday, 22 December 2017

Shakespeare, the Pope and the Way to the ''See'': Lost in Translation in Croatia

A wise man once said that a different language is a different vision of life. He couldn't have been more right...

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