Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Croatian Returnee Reflections: Marko Petric, from Berlin to Zagreb

September 29, 2022 - Whisper it quietly, but more and more people are relocating to Croatia from the diaspora. In a new TCN series, we meet them to find out how they are faring and what advice they have for others thinking of making the switch. Next up is Marko Petric, who moved from Berlin to Zagreb.

I was born in 1993 in Split, Croatia. I am the oldest of three children born to our mom, a Croatian language professor, and our dad, a telecommunications engineer. My siblings and I grew up in lovely Posusje, in the West Herzegovina region of Bosnia-Herzegovina. 

Thanks to a generous merit-based scholarship, in 2009, I moved away from home to finish my two last years of high school at the United World College in Mostar (UWCiM), where I lived and went to class with kids from more than 40 other countries. 

Then, I got a full-ride scholarship to study at a liberal arts college in Maryland (Washington D.C. Metro Area). I was pretty involved in campus life there, having served as Class President and Model United Nations president, which in turn led to an opportunity to speak at the United Nations General Assembly Hall in New York City at some point.

After four transformative years, I graduated with a degree in Political Science and French and started working in PR and marketing as part of the largest network of nonprofits in the U.S., fighting for education, health care, and financial stability. I lived in the States for almost seven years. In April 2017, I packed my whole life in a suitcase and left. Admittedly, I was heartbroken about it, but the uprooting taught me an important lesson — one of letting go. 

After that, determined never to return to my hometown or Croatia, I ended up in Bergen. In case you’re not familiar, Bergen is Norway’s second-largest city, nestled between seven mountains on the west coast of this stunningly beautiful country. It’s also one of the rainiest cities in the world, and as you can imagine, this Mediterranean boy was not having it. I left after about eight months.

On my way out, I stopped by Berlin, Germany, for what was supposed to be a two-day trip. As I was there, I realized Berlin had a thriving startup scene. I had already been looking to break into the software industry, so naturally, I found myself wondering: "Why not move here?" Everything happened kind of quickly — almost accidentally, even — but I did end up living there for two years. I loved every minute of it.

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1. You made the switch to Croatia. Tell us a little about the decision process and how long it took for you to get on the plane.

Yes, eventually, I did the exact thing I swore I’d never do: I moved to Zagreb. Moving to Norway and Berlin were both very spontaneous decisions. I YOLO’ed it. But moving to Zagreb did not happen by accident but rather for love. It was not a straightforward journey, though. I suppose you could say there was a fair amount of reluctance to move on my part. It almost felt like it was written in the stars, or whatever, always looming over my head as one perfectly sensible option that merits serious consideration. I simply refused to acknowledge it as such.

Perhaps the implication in my mind was that moving back to where I came from would be admitting defeat in some crazy game that I was playing with myself. Months of deliberations with my partner, who is from Split, preceded the switch. At the time, he was living in Greece but moved to Berlin to be with me (passing up a great job offer in Spain along the way). As time passed, I was happy with where I was, but he had limited job prospects in his line of work in Berlin. So at some point, the move became inevitable and something I needed to accept. Eventually, I did. I knew that I’d be able to continue doing marketing as long as there was a stable Internet connection. And on the upside, I’d be much closer to the Adriatic (I live for summers on the Croatian coast!), as well as to my parents in Herzegovina.

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2. What did your family and community back home think of your decision at the time?

I got a mix of reactions. All my friends were a bit perplexed, but they said: “Happy if you’re happy.” My parents always supported me in all my decisions, and they were elated that I was moving closer to home. That was for sure. However, I could tell they were having some reservations because they knew I had worked my whole life to build a better life elsewhere. Of all three kids, they always considered me the least likely to move to Croatia. So the irony was evident to us all: Both of my siblings were already living abroad when I announced I would be moving to Zagreb. The lesson I learned from this move was to never say never.

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3. Where did you get your information about the realities of Croatia prior to coming?

At that point, I stopped keeping track of local news in Croatia. I knew HDZ was in power, Andrej Plenkovic was the serving PM, and there were two weekly flights from Zagreb to Berlin (in case I wanted to run back). But beyond that, I didn’t know much because I had never lived in Croatia for the long haul before.

So in many ways, it felt like moving to a foreign country. After almost a decade spent across the U.S., Norway, and Germany during my formative years, moving back to the Balkans required me to reacclimate to the local ways of being.

I was lucky to know some people here already, so I relied heavily on friends to give me the information I needed ahead and after our move. Of course, I also researched information online across many sources, including TCN.

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4. What were you most nervous about making the switch? What was your biggest fear, and what was the reality of what you found?

Job opportunities and economic circumstances at large were my two main concerns. Considering the lower standard of living in Croatia relative to EU members in the west and the north, I knew my best shot was freelancing. As 2020 rolled around, amid the pandemic and a global shift to a new, digital reality, I finally decided to make my side gig my full-time gig. And that is the story of how MP Creative Services, my full-service digital marketing business, was (officially) born. 

Currently, MP Creative Services is on the back burner, as I am focusing on a role I took at Five, an Endava company. As a growth marketing specialist there, I work at the intersection of marketing, behavioral economics, data analysis, and product design to drive mobile app growth for some cool U.S. brands.

5. Think back to the time before you arrived. What were your perceptions about Croatia, and how were they different from the reality you encountered?

"Hercegovac u Zagrebu" was not a cliche I planned on embodying at any point in my life, but I became precisely that when I moved here. The metamorphosis implied developing specific coping mechanisms for when I’m just going about my business and someone starts talking crap about Hercegovci. The funny thing is, when I was younger, I tried to distance myself from that part of my identity as much as possible (probably because of its negative connotation). But as I grew older, I embraced it, and now I find myself defending it against libelous Purgeri — generally, in a playful, joking context.

As an openly gay man, my other big concern was that I did not want to go back into the closet and start denying that part of my identity again — one that I worked so hard on embracing in the first place.

Croatia is a deeply conservative society, with traditional Catholic values at the core of the nation's DNA. I was worried that I would struggle with that, but I decided never to reduce myself or pretend to be someone else for the comfort of others. I needed to be brave and true to myself at all times. I understood that, with every interaction, I had the opportunity to dispel misconceptions and build dialogue — hopefully, seeing a change of heart in someone every once in a while. This matters to me because it's not just about me; it's bigger than that.

To my surprise, I’ve experienced more kindness during my time here than I ever expected from the people of Zagreb and Croatia. It was to the point where I felt like the closed-minded one because of how stubborn I was in the generalizations I made about an entire population. Of course, this does not mean other gay boys/men and girls/women across the country are not suffering injustice and inequality daily. But based on my experiences with people whose paths crossed mine, I am more hopeful about the kind of society we can build for future generations than I have ever been in the past. 

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6. You are still here, so obviously, the pros outweigh the cons. Tell us about some of the things that you love about being in Croatia, as well as some of the things you don't like.

Well, I have been here for almost three years now. And I would be lying if I said I have fallen in love with living in Zagreb. I am still working on it. On the one hand, I have fallen out of love with Croatia because — now that I live here — I have stopped idealizing it. On the other hand, I have also fallen in love with it because of the people who live here, the passion and dedication I see them put into the things they do, and the great stuff they bring into the world when they put their minds to it.

Sure, many aspects of living in Croatia suck. There’s no sugarcoating it. Food, rent, and utilities are too damn expensive, yet salaries remain below the EU standard for most. Things are about to get even worse with inflation raging and the winter coming. Working families and seniors are affected the most. Speaking of seniors, too many retired people have no choice but to supplement their income by digging through the trash, looking for discarded bottles to trade in for a couple of kunas. Such is the fate of the average worker retiring in Croatia today.

We’re still using Tito's Communist regime and the Homeland War that ensued as a scapegoat for everything wrong in the country today — almost thirty years after the war ended. In the meantime, corruption remains widespread, killing the system from the inside, like Stage 4 cancer. In terms of rights, many have none. Women's rights are still an issue, as are gay rights, ethnic minority rights, and the rights of immigrants arriving on the border. The list goes on… But keeping things in perspective, no country is perfect. In my book, it comes down to finding someplace worth fighting for, someplace worth calling home. I suppose I found that ‘something’ here.

In 2003, Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit famously called his city “poor but sexy”. Berlin is no longer poor, so I will take the liberty of conferring this title upon Zagreb. Poor but sexy is a great way of describing it because its charm is indeed in the rundown Austro-Hungarian facades, colorful street art, trendy food spots, and hipsters hanging in front of the National Theater.

Don’t forget about the balmy summers, either! The city clears out, and you can enjoy parks, forests, and Jarun Lake all to yourself. And as the summer slowly fades away, all the artists, creators, innovators, and other eccentrics who call Zagreb home return. The city comes alive again, almost overnight. Before you know it, it’s time for Advent — Christmas lights, ice skating, mulled wine, and friends. 

Okay, fine! I do like Zagreb. 

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7. What advice do you have for others thinking about making a move from the diaspora?

Just do it!

That would be my advice to anyone considering moving to (almost) any country. I think embracing the unknown, leaping into uncharted territory, and taking yourself out of your comfort zone is the only way to grow. And trust me when I say: Croatia will give you a run for your money.

Worst-case scenario: Even if you end up hating it, you always have the option of moving back home. The country you, your parents, or your ancestors went to in search of a better life. Perhaps they found it. Perhaps not. In any case, we all get to be the authors of our own stories. The world is your oyster. (And serendipitously, Croatia is one of the best places on the planet to sample this decadent treat. If this is not a sign…) 

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8. How do you think Croatia can better assist those who are looking to return to the Homeland?

Oh, man, where do I even start…

Generally, I think our government should actively be looking into ways to make it simpler for people to come here and contribute to our society, whether it’s by bringing know-how or investments, opening a business, starting (or moving) a family here, or any other number of ways in which they could enrich the fabric of our society.

Tax cuts for the first year might be a reasonable idea to explore. Programs assisting families moving with kids with needs such as daycare, school, medical care, and so on. And in the post-pandemic world, offering more online resources across a spectrum of public services is paramount. This opens up the door to opportunities to work closely with the private sector, especially tech companies that have the know-how to bring forward-looking, ambitious ideas to life.

Andrej Plenkovic’s government, as profoundly flawed as it may be, seems to understand this on some level. The digital nomad visa project is a great example: While ‘forward-looking’ is not a word I’d use to describe much else of what goes on in Croatia’s politics these days, this truly is the kind of rare political project that can have a deep and lasting impact on the country’s growth trajectory. Though the effort was spearheaded by the Dutch-born entrepreneur Jan de Jong (arguably a greater patriot than most native Croats), the government still handled the legal and logistical prerequisites with unprecedented expediency. I bet no other political project was executed that fast in the country’s modern history. 

Then, there’s also the question of the booming software industry, expected to surpass the behemoth that is tourism in a few years in terms of value-add GDP. Yet government policies had very little to do with that success. Croatian software companies are achieving truly remarkable results on the global scale with no outside help. As a country, we should be making it easier for them to attract talent and investments. By designating the software industry as a strategic, thereby empowering promising startups, we empower the Croatian economy, making it more resilient to pandemics, wars, inflations, and other capitalist maladies.

California is fine and well, but it’s possible to build a multi-million-dollar company in Croatia too. It’s been done several times over the past 10 years, and there’s always room for more innovation. Also, we’re lucky to have many in the Croatian diaspora communities around the world in our corner. Many passionate people out there have the expertise, the motivation, and the cash to help build Croatia’s “silicone dream”.

Little geniuses are sitting in schools across the country right now. With the right support, in the future, these kids might find solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues — maybe even save the world. This is why I hope we divert more resources to education, bringing our schools and universities up to par with those in Finland and other countries pioneering new, innovative education models. We have to make sure we start introducing kids to technology as early as possible, giving them the tools they need to learn new skills. That’s how we attract more families looking for a safe place to raise their little geniuses.

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Thanks, Marko!

You can follow more stories in the Croatian Returnee Reflections series in our dedicated TCN section.

Would you like your returnee story - positive or negative - to be featured in this series? Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject Returnee.

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What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning - Business and Dalmatia.

Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.

Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners will be out by Christmas. If you would like to reserve a copy, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject 20 Years Book

Tuesday, 27 September 2022

Alenka Jurasic: Dear Croatia: It is Not Me, It's You

September 27, 2022 - Not all Croatian returnee stories are happy ones. Alenka Jurasic with a very candid overview of making the switch from Toronto to Volosko. 

Dear Croatia:

It’s not me, it's you...

After leaving my job of 20 years in the hospitality business in one of the best bars in Toronto, I made my way to Volosko, Opatija in June. Notice given and accepted, legendary goodbye party in the books, apartment sublet for 3-6 months, bags packed, triple vaccination certificate in hand, I made my way to my home for the summer, what I hoped would be my home for the future, Croatia.

First and foremost, there was more than one reason for me to make this move. It was not sudden or out of the blue. The move came through a series of breadcrumbs that led me here to this point in time. I had an apartment my mother left me in one of the most beautiful seaside villages I had ever seen. The sprawling place had been her very happy home for 20 years of retirement, and the view from the balcony was something I had never experienced on a daily basis before. I had a whole brood of cousins living across the street who I adored, and then the sea, ah the beautiful sea, was a 5-minute walk from my front door. After 2 and a half years of lockdowns, shutdowns, mask mandates, vaccination requirements, capacity mandates, and everything being closed for months on end in Toronto, I began to really consider what I wanted my life to look like… and it was not looking like Toronto was the place for me anymore.

Plus, with my dad being very ill with stage 4 cancer and in a home in Croatia. I figured this would be an opportunity to spend the summer not only on one of the most beautiful coastlines I had ever seen but also to help him through his last days of life. Nothing seemed more reasonable to me, and the breadcrumbs led me to Volosko in June 2022.

I took a plane, and bus taxi, entered my inherited home, dropped my bags, and sighed as I quickly changed into a bikini, grabbed a new book and a towel, and made my way down to the sea. I had arrived. All my Croatian friends congratulated me on the move well done, if not way too late. My family welcomed me with open arms and open bottles of Pelinkovac. My father somewhat stubbornly remarked, what took you so long, but conceded he was happy to have me so close by.

It didn’t take long for things to get “tough,” but I had anticipated this, somewhat naively, I can now admit. Language barriers, culture barriers, and lifestyle barriers hit me straight in the face like a flying bat in baseball.

First, it was the prices…how did everything all of a sudden get so much more expensive? From food to drinks to excursions - nothing was as cheap and cheerful as I remembered it. And speaking of cheerful? To get a warm greeting or a smile from a hospitality worker or someone in the service industry was very few and far between. Going out to eat went from being a joyful experience to one of frustration and disappointment. Having been in the service industry for my entire life, I couldn’t fathom how a country that lived solely off tourism could provide such a terrible experience again and again and again. Mediocre food for fine dining prices. Now, I must admit I am a pretty picky restaurant-goer. I believe and respect the experience - sometimes more than I respect the quality of the product. So I have to say that I am extremely disappointed with my overall Croatian dining experience. Like wtf. I have waited 10 -15 minutes just to receive a menu. Then I have waited an indiscriminate time for my drink to arrive. I have been overcharged and ignored, and I seem to feel like I am in the waiter's way and not that they are there to give me quality service and an experience. I am a bother, not a valued guest spending hard-earned money.

Transit tickets are more expensive than taking the transit in Toronto (where the median salary is 5 times higher) for a system that is beyond in need of maintenance and upgrading.

3.25 CAD for a ride in Toronto to wherever you want to go and 3.45 CAD for a ride only in a 3-zone range. I’ve been on buses when it was so over capacity that it was dangerous, and young girls were fainting from the heat and nowhere to move. Long distance buses hours late with no one to tell you what is going on and when they might be expected. This is at bus stations with no seating or adequate washroom facilities. I have taken the same route to the same stop and been charged three different fares. When questioned, no driver knew the reason why it was so. I have not gotten change back and been charged a full rate and given a ticket for a cheaper rate so the driver could pocket the extra kunas. I have never in my entire life living and taking transit in Toronto ever seen a young generation more rude while on the bus. Teenagers and young adults nab the seats, and senior citizens and older folks with groceries are left to stand the entire way to their stop. It is not just sometimes; it is every day. My Croatian mother would have bopped me over the head had I not given up my seat to someone who looked even 10 years older than me. The kids scream and joke and goof around and get on without paying, while Nona and Nono are left to hold on tight to the railings through the hairpin turns. Disgusting. I am embarrassed for this new generation. I have argued with bus drivers, been talked down to, cheated, and dismissed. When I asked for my change once, I was told he did not have it, and it was not much anyway, so not to worry about it… the Canadian in me is appalled.

Trips to social security have left me dreading having to go back. One time I knocked politely on the door and waited - only to have the doorman/guard open the door begrudgingly a few minutes later, admonishing me as to why I did not just enter- that he was not a butler! I explained to him that in times of pandemic and covid, it was expected not to barge into an office but to wait politely outside in case they were at capacity. He grunted. I was surprised he knew the word butler.

Being a pedestrian in this country is like taking your life into your hands every time you step outside. Cars parked belligerently on every sidewalk, so you are forced to walk on the very busy small road hoping that traffic will not smash you to bits.

Trying to navigate the health care system is another nightmare that not only a foreigner but every Croatian who cannot afford paid healthcare has to go through. How many trips to the hospital with my very sick father ended up with me in an argument as to why I don’t have the proper forms and that I need to go here for this and here to pick up that and wait hours to see a doctor in a waiting room teeming with sick folks waiting for their blessed turn to please see someone to help them feel a bit better. One building for the test, then you have to pick up the results yourself to bring to the next building, and so on and so on and so on. It was so confusing and difficult that my poor, very sick father gave up, and I had to fly over from Canada to help an 81-year-old man to get to see someone to help him deal with cancer. It took 7 weeks in total to get a diagnosis and to get treatment started. I myself saw a chiropractor for major lower back pain, and to be told it's 80 CAD dollars for 15 minutes of work, and no he does not take credit - cash only. He scoffed when I asked to pay with a card. Cash only, cash only, cash only. Words that you will hear in many places around this tourist-based country.

No one will tell you that there is not a common taxi system here like there is in most modern countries - a standard fare and commute. I learned that the hard way. What was usually an 80 kuna ride, I was charged 140 kuna and the taxi driver told me that they were a private company and could charge what they wanted..no meter. Cash only. So in a city of no Uber I learned that you have to ask what the fare will be upfront so as not to be shocked when you step out. My ride from the airport to my friend's place taught me that. I nearly fell out of the cab in shock when I arrived and was told a 15-minute ride cost me almost 80 dollars.

Jebiga, jebote and kurac are all I heard when I tried to explain my experience to others. If they are rude to you, be rude to them is what I was told. But it is not in me to be rude. Today I went to pay a bill at the Fina, and the cashier pushed it back to me. And I pushed it back to her. And she impatiently said (hearing that I was a foreigner with my thick accent) that I needed to fill out a payment slip which she pushed across the desk to me. Not knowing the language, I painstakingly filled out the form myself while she sat there and sighed and was impatient with my ineptness. I don’t need to be bowed to and coddled or handled with kid gloves; I just need a bit of patience and kindness and help. I want to be here, I want to belong. I want to pay my bills fast and take the bus without hesitation and not dread dealing with rudeness or animosity. But those experiences are few and far between. And when you find one nice experience, it can change your day by God!

Funeral expenses _ cash only. Who pays cash for a 2500 $ funeral? Getting a new remote for my garage door - cash only and no receipt. Over and over in a system that has no system. Maybe I am too Canadian and too “nice” as we Canadians are known, but when has nice ever been a detriment to society?

I will never forget my first argument in the hospital with the receptionist when I came from Canada to help my dad get care. We had an appointment with the throat specialist. We waited. We were called, and I handed over the form my dad's family doctor had given us. It was the wrong form, and I was told to get another form and come back. I said no. She said what. I said no, I was not coming back, that we had an appointment my dad had social healthcare and that we wanted to see the doctor. She asked me if I understood her, and I said yes, but I did not understand why we could not see the surgeon if we had an appointment he had his medical card, and I had come from Canada to get him this help. So NO, I was not leaving and getting another form, and I did not understand and we were going to see the doctor. The horror! After much hesitation and annoying looks, she spoke to the surgeon, who took us immediately as my father's case was urgent. I had to promise to send the right form the next day. Now getting to see my family doctor was another thing, You can call and call and call but never get through to make an appointment because no one really answers the phone there. You have to show up and wait and then get admonished for not making an appointment, but you had tried for hours and days on end. And so on and so on and so on.

One thing after another, and I tried and tried. Is it me? No, it's not, it is you Croatia. Unfortunately for us both. Not only did you not make it easy, you made it really hard.

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Thanks, Alenka!

You can follow more stories in the Croatian Returnee Reflections series in our dedicated TCN section.

Would you like your returnee story - positive or negative - to be featured in this series? Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject Returnee.

****

What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning - Business and Dalmatia.

Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.

Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners will be out by Christmas. If you would like to reserve a copy, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject 20 Years Book

Saturday, 24 September 2022

Croatian Returnee Reflections: Nadia Milevcic, from Buenos Aires to Rijeka

September 24, 2022 - Whisper it quietly, but more and more people are relocating to Croatia from the diaspora. In a new TCN series, we meet them to find out how they are faring and what advice they have for others thinking of making the switch. Next up is Nadia Milevcic, who moved from Buenos Aires to Rijeka.

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My name is Nadia Milevčić, I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and I am 27 years old. My relationship with Croatia was always very strong because four of my great-grandparents were Croatian and went to Argentina in the 1920s. They did not meet in Croatia but in Argentina, where they made a family. My dad grew up among Croatians, and that tradition came down to my family. Since I was very little, I was aware of my Croatian roots, and that is why I always wanted to come here. In Argentina, I studied literature, and I worked as a high school teacher, but when I won the Croaticum scholarship, I left my job behind and decided to travel to Rijeka. I loved my career and my life in Argentina, but I also felt that something was missing. I wanted to travel and see the world, connect with another culture and live in a place totally different than mine. At first, I was only going to stay for four months to study Croatian, but the outbreak of covid made me change my plans because I couldn't go back to Argentina. I finally spent almost two years in Croatia without going back to my country. At the beginning of this year, I spent three months in Argentina, but I realized that Croatia changed me and that I cannot stay only in one country. I love Argentina, and I will always be from Latin America, but these two years in Croatia marked my heart, and a big piece belongs to it. This country allowed me to feel free, cross limits that I had never imagined, and connect with people from all over the world. I grew up in every way and learned so much that I can't go back. Half of my life is in Argentina, but the other half is in Croatia, and for that reason, I travel every year from one continent to another. I still don't know where I'm going to build my life, but I know very well that I don't want to give up on either of them.

1. You made the switch to Croatia. Tell us a little about the decision process and how long it took for you to get on the plane.

In Buenos Aires, I decided to take classes in Croatian language and culture with my dad and my brother. This was my first meeting with a Croatian person who not only taught us about the language and culture but also told us about the history of his country with a lot of love. It also brought me closer to other descendants of Croatians who also wanted to strengthen their roots and get closer to the culture. In parallel with this process, I began to look for information to obtain citizenship, and for this reason, I went to the embassy. There they told me about the Croaticum, a program for friends and descendants of the Croatian people. At that moment, the possibility of traveling and living for a while in Croatia began to take shape in my head. I was finishing my degree in Buenos Aires, and I thought it was a good time to try it. I applied in May 2018, and they did not give me the scholarship. At the end of the year, my Croatian cousins (whom I did not know) contacted me through Facebook. We quickly established a good connection, and this was a sign to me that I needed to try again. In 2019 I sent my application to study in Rijeka again, and this time they gave it to me. I remember that when I won the scholarship, my heart was overflowing with happiness, but I also had a hard time believing that I was actually going to travel to Croatia. Living in Latin America makes everything complicated from a geographical and economic point of view, and I would be lying if I said that it was easy to get here. If I succeeded, it was also because I received a lot of support and help from my friends and family, who knew that my biggest wish was to come to Croatia. 

2. What did your family and community back home think of your decision at the time?

At that time, I had finished my studies in Argentina, and everyone knew that nothing could tie me to the country. From the Croatian lessons, the first unsuccessful scholarship application, and all my visits to the embassy, it was a project that had been in my head for two years. Everyone was happy for me because they knew of the effort and time invested in this idea. Especially, I think it was very important for my dad because I was the first person in our family to visit Croatia and meet our cousins. It was a bridge that we had yet to establish, but the fact that I was going to travel marked a beginning.

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3. Where did you get your information about the realities of Croatia prior to coming?

My Croatian cousins and teacher gave me a good overview of the situation in the country. My grandmother had also traveled to Croatia in the year 2000, and she told us a lot about the country and our family, but I think that no one can prepare you and tell you effectively what you are going to find on the way. Nobody could have told me that a pandemic was coming and that it was going to complicate the process of obtaining citizenship. Or that it would also be difficult to get a job or have to take a semester online because the faculty was closed. No one could have told me that I was going to separate from my new friends so quickly due to quarantine. My first month in Croatia was very hard, and this was completely unexpected. I had to say goodbye to many people and places when I was just starting to get into a routine. I knew that my life in a new place was going to be a challenge, but I never imagined that it would be so hard.

4. What were you most nervous about making the switch? What was your biggest fear, and what was the reality of what you found?

I was scared to find myself alone on a continent and in a country, I didn't know. All this was like starting from zero for me, even though I knew I had a family in Rijeka who could help me and give me support. About the language, the culture, the people, and everything that could happen, I knew from the moment I applied for the scholarship that leaving Argentina meant facing the unknown. When I arrived, I was surprised by how warm my Croatian family was even though we had never seen each other. They picked me up at Zagreb airport and included me in their life as if we had known each other all our lives. This was very important to me, and to this day, I say that I was very lucky.

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5. Think back to the time before you arrived. What were your perceptions about Croatia, and how were they different from the reality you encountered?

I thought maybe Croatians would not be so friendly to descendants because we weren't born in Croatia. However, I noticed that they were happy every time I explained that my great-grandparents were Croatian and that I was studying the language. Even if my Croatian was not good, they were always willing to help me and teach me. I also noticed that they themselves considered me a Croatian many times when I told them about my family history and the reason for my trip. I also believed that it would be difficult to obtain citizenship and that the police were not going to help me with this process. However, I noticed that they had a lot of consideration when processing the residence and citizenship. The importance given to blood is incredible, and that is why I saw that the workers also had patience and consideration with me. Processing citizenship was difficult in 2020 due to covid. It was difficult to obtain the papers from Argentina and present them in Croatia because the Foreign Ministry did not work in my country. Many papers expired, and my citizenship appointment was delayed. However, they understood, and I finally got citizenship. I honestly had high hopes for the scholarship, but I never believed that they would give me the same status as a Croatian student. On campus, I lived with Croatians, and they also gave me the opportunity to eat in the dining room for very little money. I used the same facilities and paid the same money as my colleagues. The campus is new, and it was a very beautiful experience to live in it for a year. In other words, this program not only allowed me to learn the language but also gave me the opportunity to pay little money for food and accommodation. I think this shows how important the concept of blood is and that the grandchildren of Croats return to the country. I believe that at a social level, descendants are given a very valuable place, and they do not treat us as foreigners.

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6. You are still here, so obviously, the pros outweigh the cons. Tell us about some of the things that you love about being in Croatia, as well as some of the things you don't like.

Croatia is not only a very beautiful country, but it is also very safe, and there are more job opportunities than in Argentina. It also has good connections with other countries, and many cities are always full of tourists. In Rijeka, there are many international students, and there is a cultural exchange that is very useful and interesting. I love the fact that Croatia brought me closer not only to the locals but also to people from all over Europe, and this opened my mind a lot. It also has a lot of things to do and places to explore; you can always go to a new island, climb a different mountain or visit a beach you have never seen. The country is also very calm; you don't have to deal with an excessive amount of people and traffic like in a big city. In Buenos Aires, I needed maybe three hours to make a trip that should last one. In this country there is no traffic, you can walk quietly down the street or drive without too many problems. I think there are a few things that I don't like. Mainly I think everyone smokes too much, and I can't get used to them doing it indoors. Maybe the rest of the things I don't like are explained by cultural differences, like music or food. I know that this would happen in any country, and they don't seem like a big reason to leave Croatia.

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7. What advice do you have for others thinking about making a move from the diaspora?

I would tell them that if they have the desire, they should do it without thinking too much about it. It is normal to be afraid of the unknown and the unexpected, but in the end, they will always be grateful for having put it aside and come. There will be difficulties, but everything can be resolved along the way. I was scared, too, and yes, there were painful situations, but in the end, it was all worth it, and I would do it again from the beginning. Even if I had to relearn the language and start from cero without any friends, I would repeat it. It is not only for knowing the country of our grandparents and living in a beautiful place, but it also implies personal growth that no one can take away from you. I would also advise them to apply for the scholarship and explore Croatia. Whether if they want to live here or just travel, I think it's a first approach to the country and an experience worth having. In this way, they can learn the language and also see what life is like here. I would also tell them not to worry about the language or about coming without citizenship, as the people are kind and patient and will help them as much as they can. If you have Croatian relatives, look for them! For them, it is very important to know what happened to the grandchildren of their relatives, and they are going to receive them with tears in their eyes.

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8. How do you think Croatia can better assist those who are looking to return to the Homeland?

I think Croatia is doing very well through the Scholarship program and the state office for Croats. However, I think that perhaps it could improve job placement since it is often difficult to find a job because you do not know where to look. The information inside and outside of Croatia could also be extended a little more since it is often necessary to ask about issues such as citizenship, residence, scholarship, etc., and the information is not so clear and accessible. There is not much promotion of the scholarship in Latin America, and many people do not know that this exists. They also do not know what papers are needed for citizenship and how it is processed within Croatia. To obtain this information, I had to ask many times and go to different offices, in addition to talking to my classmates.

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Thanks Nadia!

You can follow more stories in the Croatian Returnee Reflections series in our dedicated TCN section.

Would you like your returnee story - positive or negative - to be featured in this series? Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject Returnee.

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What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning - Business and Dalmatia.

Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.

Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners will be out by Christmas. If you would like to reserve a copy, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject 20 Years Book

Friday, 23 September 2022

Croatian Returnee Reflections: Anna Abramovic, from Toronto CA to Zadar

September 23, 2022 - Whisper it quietly, but more and more people are relocating to Croatia from the diaspora. In a new TCN series, we meet them to find out how they are faring and what advice they have for others thinking of making the switch. Next up is Anna Abramovic, who moved from Toronto, CA, to Zadar.

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I was born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, by Croatian parents who moved from Slavonija in December of 1989. I lived in Hamilton for 27 years, working as a Dental Assistant for 10, during which time I decided to go back to university and change my career path. After receiving my degree in Business Management and Marketing, I was introduced to a Company in Toronto that specializes in the development of Surgical Navigation Solutions. I immediately went through an interview process and boom-started my new job a few weeks later. I was happier than ever, but there was still something missing from my life. I was tired of commuting; I was tired of constantly trying to prove something to people around me. I was tired of the go-go-go lifestyle.  I needed to slow down; I needed a change.  I was getting fulfillment from my job, but that was the only place it was coming from. And to some, that may be enough, but to me, it wasn’t even close to enough. And that’s where Croatia comes in. Here I am, 3.5 years later, sitting in front of my laptop answering these questions from Zadar, where I get to have a coffee by the sea every day and enjoy life.

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1. You made the switch to Croatia. Tell us a little about the decision process and how long it took for you to get on the plane.

I have wanted to move to Croatia since I was 16 years old. My father was a very proud Croatian, always pushing my brother and me to speak the language with our family and friends and to continuously learn about our heritage and roots. In our house, only Miso Kovac and Kico Slabinac could be heard playing on the radio. We traveled back as a family only once after the war in 1995. After that, all of my trips to Croatia were solo 3-month summer vacations. I would spend most of my time visiting my family in Slavonija, it was my favorite place to be and still is!  I learned a lot about how my parents grew up and what they and my grandparents had to do to survive. Life for them was hard, but they were happy! They had everything they needed and more. And that was what I was searching for, happiness. To see someone truly happy, in my opinion, is rare. Canada is not what it used to be in the late ’80s and early ’90s, full of opportunities, “the American dream,” as they used to call it. These days, people are so focused on what material things they have, which car they’re driving, and who lives in a bigger house. What they are not focused on is living their life to the fullest and truly enjoying every single day.

The final decision came in my late 20’s when my partner at the time and I decided to take a Euro trip to scope out different countries and get a feel for what life could be like in Europe as an adult who is not on vacation. Of course, Croatia was always my first option, but the decision on where I would go first was in the hands of my partner, who was job searching. We took the trip in August of 2018. In December of 2018, he was flown into Germany for a weekend to interview for a job, which he practically accepted on the spot. And that was that we were moving to Europe! By March 2019, I was living in Germany. One step closer to Croatia.

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2. What did your family and community back home think of your decision at the time?

Even though my first destination was Germany, my family was my biggest support, especially my father. I felt as though I was finally living out his dreams. Moving back was something we always talked about as a family, but the timing was never right for the four of us. Both of my parents and my brother were extremely proud of the decision I was making.

The company I work for was also one of my biggest supporters. I consider myself very fortunate to work for a company that allows me to chase my dreams and supports me every step of the way.

Everyone else just thought I was Crazy, and they did not hold back on telling me that. Questions and comments were thrown at me from every direction. “You’re nuts, Anna” was a classic. “What are you going to do there?”. When I finally moved to Croatia in June 2019, the comments were: “Everyone from Croatia is moving OUT of the country, and you’re moving in!”. It was tough to hear the negative reactions of those close to me, but all I kept saying to myself as I am doing this for myself. Don’t get me wrong; it was a complete nightmare in the beginning. There were countless times when I sat on the bridge in Sibenik crying, asking myself why I came here. Those days were often after dealing with the Croatian bureaucratic system, or what there is of it anyways. When they say “Uvijek jedan papir fali” (One paper is always missing) they aren’t lying!!!

 

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3. Where did you get your information about the realities of Croatia prior to coming?

If I’m being completely honest, I didn’t. And I had no idea what was waiting for me. I did not know any returnees to ask them what it was like. Of course, my family in Croatia also thought I was crazy for moving here. However, they did not understand the harsh reality I was coming from. In Croatia, people complain all the time about how the life they have here is not ideal and that they dream of leaving this Country to make a better future for themselves. The problem with that is, any country you move to, be that Germany, Austria, or Canada, you’re still going to have to work your ass off to get what you want and to make something of yourself. They didn’t know that I was commuting on a 6-lane highway for 3 hours in one direction from Monday-Friday and that most of my days were spent in my Car. They didn’t know that I had to call my friends and “book” a coffee or dinner date weeks in advance because nobody had time. They especially didn’t know what 2 meters of snow and minus 30 in December looked like!

 

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4. What were you most nervous about making the switch? What was your biggest fear, and what was the reality of what you found?

I honestly can’t say that I had any fears about coming to Croatia, or Germany for that matter. I was ready to embrace change and accept Croatia with my arms wide open. And with that attitude, I was accepted by everyone and welcomed wholeheartedly by the people with who I have crossed paths during my time here.

 

5. Think back to the time before you arrived. What were your perceptions about Croatia, and how were they different from the reality you encountered?

Every time I left Croatia after one of my trips, I would always cry on the plane and wished I was staying longer. My perception had always been that no matter your financial position, people are generally happy and content with their lives. They don’t have much, but there are always 10 kunas in their wallet for a coffee. The people here they're not living to work, they are working to live. That perception has not changed since I’ve been here. If anything, it has become more apparent. Of course, people work hard and value their jobs, but their lives are filled with love and happiness, not dollar signs.

 

6. You are still here, so obviously, the pros outweigh the cons. Tell us about some of the things that you love about being in Croatia, as well as some of the things you don't like.

 

If I could describe Croatia in one word, that word would be Laganini (Easy). There is not as much pressure put on one here as there is in North America. Life is relaxing and enjoyable. I love that every day, no matter the season, I can walk to the Sea, enjoy a coffee on the beach, and take in the breathless beauty of this amazing Country. No matter where you go, the people are friendly and always smiling. Neighbors are always happy and willing to lend a helping hand.

However, behind all of Croatia’s beauty lies the very disorganized bureaucratic system. In Canada, I was used to going to Service Ontario, where I could get my health card, driver’s license, and car sticker renewed all by one person in one day. In Croatia, it’s almost impossible to get someone on the phone or to get information about the papers you need to renew. Never mind the fact that there are about 3 different places you need to visit, and 5 different people all somehow doing the same but different job that you need to speak with before you can even go to the police station to renew a personal document.

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7. What advice do you have for others thinking about making a move from the diaspora?

There is no better time to do it than now. Stop waiting for tomorrow or Friday. Stop waiting for your kids to grow up or to get that better job. Life doesn’t wait for you, and time moves quickly. Trust me; it will be the best decision you ever make!  

 

8. How do you think Croatia can better assist those who are looking to return to the Homeland?

I think one of the biggest things Croatia lacks is marketing. By simply opening their platforms to provide the information people are looking for would be one giant step in the right direction.

 

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Thanks, Anna!

You can follow more stories in the Croatian Returnee Reflections series in our dedicated TCN section.

Would you like your returnee story - positive or negative - to be featured in this series? Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject Returnee.

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What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning - Business and Dalmatia.

Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.

Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners will be out by Christmas. If you would like to reserve a copy, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject 20 Years Book

Thursday, 22 September 2022

Croatian Returnee Reflections: Marijana Begonja, from Mississauga CA to Zagreb

September 23, 2022 - Whisper it quietly, but more and more people are relocating to Croatia from the diaspora. In a new TCN series, we meet them to find out how they are faring and what advice they have for others thinking of making the switch. Next up is Marijana Begonja, who moved from Mississauga, CA, to Zagreb.

My name is Marijana Begonja. I was born in Zadar, Croatia, in 1987. In 1988, my family moved to Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. At 21, I decided it was time to try something I’d thought a lot about before: moving to Croatia. First, I moved to Dubrovnik to complete my university education; then, I moved to Zagreb to pursue my professional career. Currently, I work as a Senior Sales Manager at Procter & Gamble. My family is scattered between Croatia and Canada, with my sister, brother-in-law, and their 3 children living in Toronto, my brother living in Zagreb, and my parents spending their retirement going between Privlaka (our hometown), Mississauga, and Zagreb. We hope one day that we’ll all be permanently together in Croatia.

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1. You made the switch to Croatia. Tell us a little about the decision process and how long it took for you to get on the plane.

When we moved to Canada, I was a baby, but my older sister was 9, so she always had the desire to move back to Croatia and made a move in 2004. At the time, I was in high school, and she was looking into universities in Croatia for me. However, as I’m not a huge risk taker, I ended up deciding to go to university in Canada for graphic communications management. At some point, I realized it was not something I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and started working at a bank. At 19, working at a bank and living from home, I thought I didn’t need university, so I dropped out. My parents were adamant about me getting a university education as they knew the potential was there and worked very hard in Canada to secure us a bright future. They both even worked 2 jobs at a time, so I felt I couldn’t let them down. I decided at that point it was now or never and applied to a university in Croatia. Once I was accepted, the decision was made. It was a surprisingly short decision; in November 2007, I dropped out of university in Canada, and in August 2008, I was on a plane to Croatia.

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2. What did your family and community back home think of your decision at the time?

Overall I had huge support across the board. My father was probably the most supportive as it was his dream for us to move back (we were only supposed to move to Canada temporarily, but unfortunately, the war changed this). He immediately started looking for apartments for me to rent. My mom, knowing my nature of not liking change, was supportive as long as I was happy but had a feeling I might change my mind after 2 weeks. She was also happy that her daughters would be together again but still sad that another child was moving away. The hardest part was leaving my little brother behind. He was 13 at the time, and both my sister and I had a big role in raising him given the age gap, and suddenly at a critical time in his life, he would be alone. Of course, my sister was the most excited as we would be reunited once again and started making a million plans for us to do together. My friends were fantastic and made sure my last few months in Canada were ones to remember and made sure to keep in contact once I left. We had multiple going away parties and even started some traditions that still last to this day. My boss at the bank where I was working at the time was extremely supportive despite my resigning shortly after getting promoted, telling me this was something I really needed, meaning it was time for me to step out of my comfort zone.

 

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3. Where did you get your information about the realities of Croatia prior to coming?

My sister is probably the best big sister anyone in the world could ask for. If it wasn’t for her paving the path for me, I never would have made a move. She helped me with a lot of the administration, documents, setting up a bank account, etc. She went everywhere with me, making the process easy for me, whereas when she came, she had to figure it all out on her own.  She gave me a lot of advice on all aspects of life in Croatia, so I would say I was well prepared.

 

4. What were you most nervous about making the switch? What was your biggest fear, and what was the reality of what you found?

After spending two years at university in Canada and deciding not to continue and changing my direction into economics, I pretty much lost those two years. I was afraid that if I failed, I would lose more time in my life and have to start somewhere from scratch again. My second greatest fear was letting my family down. Throughout my entire life, they were my support system, and if I realized I made a mistake at some point, I was worried about letting them down. Luckily for me, very soon after moving back, I knew I was going to stay for good. The lifestyle was much more fit to my personality, honest friendships which quickly formed the ability to meet with someone at any given point for a coffee. As an extrovert, this was a huge positive for me. At university, I was quickly getting good grades, and in my first semester, I made the dean's list, so I realized I finally found a path suited for me.

 

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5. Think back to the time before you arrived. What were your perceptions about Croatia, and how were they different from the reality you encountered?

I have to commend my parents here because, thanks to them, I would say my perceptions were very realistic. Unlike a lot of other diasporas, they weren’t so focused on teaching me the history (which, of course, they did), they encouraged me to understand the present situation in Croatia throughout all the years and the progress it was making. They didn’t focus so much on the difficult times such as the war but focused on the prosperity post-war. I had cousins my age in Croatia on my mom’s side, and she encouraged me to stay in contact with them, which helped a lot. My dad encouraged me to discover things such as current music and things that would interest me. So thanks to all this, I would say my perceptions weren’t way off. There were two things for which I would say my perceptions were a bit different than reality. Firstly being from Zadar, for me, Dalmatia was Croatia, and all of the beauties of Croatia were in Dalmatia. Thanks mostly to my job, I had the pleasure of exploring all parts of Croatia, both rural and urban, and realized that Croatia has so many beautiful gems across the country, and Dalmatia is just one part of it. The second thing is I knew my Croatian wasn’t perfect and was afraid I would get made fun of a lot for this and tried to hide it as much as possible. It was the exact opposite, people find it endearing, and to this date, I embrace my “undefined” accent.

 

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6. You are still here, so obviously, the pros outweigh the cons. Tell us about some of the things that you love about being in Croatia, as well as some of the things you don't like.

Correct, the pros outweigh the cons. The biggest pro for me is the overall social aspect. Firstly, people are more honest in Croatia. Let me give an example – in Canada, if you run into an acquaintance, you say “how are you?” to each other, but really it’s just a formality, and if you answer anything other than “good, thanks”, you’re weird. In Croatia, though, you answer honestly, and you engage in conversation. Friendships and relationships, I would say, develop faster because a lot of personal time is dedicated to socializing, and it’s more than just coffee as the perception. It’s going for a walk, playing a sport together, etc.

Geographically Croatia is perfect. In one day, I can be at the top of Sljeme, and the next day it’s a few hours' drive to the seaside. Croatian nature offers something for everyone. Also, being located in Central Europe, so many destinations are easily accessible. Weekend trips are the norm, whether in Croatia or outside the borders. I feel that despite Canada being a multicultural country, I have gained so much more cultural knowledge of the world while living in Croatia. In general, I feel more intelligent about my knowledge of the world since moving here. There’s much more curiosity to discover things outside the world we live in here rather than in Canada.

One other thing I feel is significantly better in Croatia than in Canada is the security financial institutions provide. Croatia was using chip cards in masses while Canada was still in magnetic strips. Additionally, as internet banking and apps developed, I feel like Croatia was always a step ahead in providing great services while still maintaining high security. It seems to me that cases of identity theft and such were more frequent in Canada, but this could be due to the nature of my job in Canada.

The main thing that I wish I could change in Croatia is customer service. In Canada, a sales associate in stores is extremely friendly (too much, in my opinion) and constantly asks you if you need help. In many stores in Croatia, you’re lucky if you get “izvolite” (here you go). I guess being exposed to two extremes, I wish Croatia would find itself in the middle. Especially when it comes to escalations. In Canada, most disputes can be resolved on the spot or over a phone call. Whereas any complaint or dispute always has to be handled in writing in Croatia and can take months to resolve. Also, in Canada, the question “can I speak to your manager” usually results in a resolution, but in Croatia, the answer is always no.

 

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7. What advice do you have for others thinking about making a move from the diaspora?

Don’t expect life in Croatia to be just like your 4-week summer vacation in Croatia. A lot of people come on vacation and think I could live here and make a move and realize it’s a lot different than they realized. Another thing is to avoid comparisons. In my case, Canada and Croatia are two widely different countries, from history to economics. You can’t compare, for example, a salary like for like because yes, in Canada it will be absolutely much higher. There are so many things that go into the prices and costs of things that simply aren’t comparable. Why I say this is yes, probably if you’re coming from a diaspora, you’re coming from somewhere with a higher income, but in most cases, the cost of living is also significantly higher so really, what you make of that salary is up to you. For example, after only 3 years of working full-time in Croatia, I became a homeowner relatively close to the city center. If I took the same parameters into account in Canada – the same job at the same company, similar location to the city center, similar size, there is no way I would be able to be a homeowner that quickly. So yes, in Canada, I would be making much more, but at what expense?

One more important piece of advice – don’t listen to naysayers and people giving their negative advice. I remember when I started job searching here, everyone told me I would not find a good job without a connection. I made it my mission to do the exact opposite, and after only 3 months of searching, I was working at an entry-level position at my current company and have made significant strides in my 8 years in the company without knowing a single person. My advice is anyone who wants to work in Croatia can work. The path might be rougher, but regardless I genuinely believe that anyone can succeed.

 

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8. How do you think Croatia can better assist those who are looking to return to the Homeland?

There are two significant things - one is directly related to returnees and the diaspora, and the second is a bit broader.

In relation to returnees and the diaspora, Croatia should try to work more with the communities outside of Croatia and their education in Croatia. As a kid, my parents enrolled me in all the activities the Croatian community had to offer – folklore, tambura, Saturday Croatian school, and to be honest, most of my knowledge of Croatia, the culture, and the language didn’t come from there, it came from home. Grades 1-11 of Croatian Saturday school, and I never once learned padeži (cases). I can't blame the diaspora communities – often, it's 1st 2nd, and 3rd generations trying to keep the Croatian culture alive, and for them, I have respect. However, if they were given more help, guidance, and resources from Croatia, we could have 5th generation Croatians speaking Croatian as if they've lived here and know that Ljiljana Nikolovska is, in fact, not the current lead singer of Magazin or that drmeš (folklore) is not danced at all weddings in Croatia. So much of what we know about Croatia is learned at home, and I am so thankful that my parents made an effort to teach me that being Croatian wasn't about hating Serbians, tattooing the GRB (emblem) on yourself, or being conservative. is what makes you Croatian. Croatia needs the diaspora to help build a prosperous future, but they need to enable them with the knowledge of what Croatia is in 2022, not what was decades or centuries ago.

The other thing Croatia needs to do is to make it a more investable country to make it attractive for returnees. In order for us to grow economically, much more significant step changes need to be made. Yes, they've made it attractive for digital nomads, but unfortunately, this attracts a small niche of people, and as mentioned, they are nomads. Croatia, especially with the declining population, needs sustainable solutions. So much onus is placed upon the employers through minimum wage increases or not taxing certain benefits given to employees, but still, the investment needs to come from the employers. In order to generate economic growth in an economy with a declining population, the Croatian government needs Croatians to spend. By reducing taxes, it gives higher purchasing power, and by alleviating the financial struggle of citizens by easing taxes, the government will still get the funding back through consumer spending. This, as a result, would make Croatia more attractive to those looking to return as they wouldn't take as big a salary cut moving to Croatia, and would make Croatia a much more attractive company for investment, therefore creating more jobs. I speak of this in a really simplified manner, but in order for people to return, Croatia needs to be more economically attractive, and I see this as the first step in that direction.

 

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Thanks, Marijana!

You can follow more stories in the Croatian Returnee Reflections series in our dedicated TCN section.

Would you like your returnee story - positive or negative - to be featured in this series? Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject Returnee.

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What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning - Business and Dalmatia.

Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.

Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners will be out by Christmas. If you would like to reserve a copy, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject 20 Years Book

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

Croatian Returnee Reflections: Klaudija Bozic, from Tampa Bay FL to Dubrovnik

September 22, 2022 - Whisper it quietly, but more and more people are relocating to Croatia from the diaspora. In a new TCN series, we meet them to find out how they are faring and what advice they have for others thinking of making the switch. Next up is Klaudija Bozic, who moved from Tampa Bay, FL, to Dubrovnik.

1. You made the switch to Croatia. Tell us a little about the decision process and how long it took for you to get on the plane.

I lived in the United States, and I decided to make a switch to Croatia due to my family being there. I thought I was going to have better care for my autistic kiddo. I got on the plane as soon as possible; it didn't take long for me to make the switch. 

2. What did your family and community back home think of your decision at the time?

My family did not agree with me switching because they thought I have bigger and better opportunities in the US.  They were painfully aware of the downsides of Croatia, so they thought that it wasn't a good idea. 

3. Where did you get your information about the realities of Croatia prior to coming?

I used to live in Croatia back in the day, so I haven't really researched much about it, I based my decision on my previous experiences with Croatia. 

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4. What were you most nervous about making the switch? What was your biggest fear, and what was the reality of what you found?

My biggest concern was if the things are the same as I left them back then. The Health System was worrying me, and I was wondering if my son is going to have adequate care in that sort of system. I was fearing him just being a number and not an actual person with difficulties, and unfortunately, my fears were justified. 

5. Think back to the time before you arrived. What were your perceptions about Croatia, and how were they different from the reality you encountered?

I think I was seeing Croatia through rose-tinted sunglasses. Everything was perfect, and I thought we were gonna figure out things as we go. Unfortunately, we encountered many roadblocks, healthcare-wise, on our path. 

6. You are still here, so obviously, the pros outweigh the cons. Tell us about some of the things that you love about being in Croatia, as well as some of the things you don't like.

What I love about Croatia is the people. Laid back, relaxed way of life. No one is in a major hurry; people are super polite and willing to help in any way they can. 

What I don't like is the tough economic climate, cost of living ( if you have a Croatian paycheck anyway), and the bureaucracy (everything takes weeks, if not months, to get done). Finding a job is tough, and even if you manage to find one, the paycheck is relatively low compared to other European countries.  

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7. What advice do you have for others thinking about making a move from the diaspora?

My advice to others is to think long and hard about making the switch. Weigh the pros and cons heavily before making the big move. Especially pay attention to the financial costs of everything in Croatia, and if you're going to be able to make it. Check job opportunities as well because you might find yourself in a position where there are no openings at all for your specific profession. 

8. How do you think Croatia can better assist those who are looking to return to the Homeland?

Croatia can better assist those looking to return by fixing bureaucracy, reducing the wait on visas, opening more jobs, and providing more opportunities, especially for younger people looking to move. 

In the end, I decided to move back to the United States. Unfortunately, as mentioned, I have an autistic son. The Healthcare system in Croatia is mostly free, yes, but waiting lists for everything are so long that you are forced to seek private clinics and doctors, even if your case requires urgent attention.

Therefore, healthcare cost in the end (for me) is more expensive than in the US. Including all the therapies and everything, the monthly cost of taking care of my son's needs is around 1000 euros, which is impossible to cover with a Croatian paycheck. People with special needs are not integrated into society as they should be, and that is something Croatia needs to work on majorly. Also worth mentioning, there are not a lot of kindergartens that are working with kids with special needs, and even if there are, prepare to wait for a really long time before you actually get a spot in one. Also worth mentioning, as a healthcare worker, paychecks are much higher in the US, which ultimately forced me to make my final decision to move back. Croatian health care workers are criminally underpaid, work crazy hours, and mostly there is not much space to get promoted or get forward in their field (they often do not offer any classes or schooling like in the US to actually help you forward with your career). I would also like to point out that I'm not talking in an ill matter or bashing Croatia in any shape or form. I love Croatia with all of my heart, and it's my home country, after all. I'm just pointing out ways in which Croatia could improve for its existing and future citizens.

Unfortunately, my son and I are not going to be a part of them, at least not in the near future. If things improve one day, we would be more than happy to go back home. 

 

****

Thanks, Klaudija!

You can follow more stories in the Croatian Returnee Reflections series in our dedicated TCN section.

Would you like your returnee story - positive or negative - to be featured in this series? Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject Returnee.

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What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning - Business and Dalmatia.

Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.

Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners will be out by Christmas. If you would like to reserve a copy, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject 20 Years Book

Tuesday, 20 September 2022

Croatian Returnee Reflections: Kristina Svalina, from Melbourne to Sinj

September 21, 2022 - Whisper it quietly, but more and more people are relocating to Croatia from the diaspora. In a new TCN series, we meet them to find out how they are faring and what advice they have for others thinking of making the switch. Next up is Kristina Svalina, who moved from Melbourne to Zagreb.

I feel like I can't sum up my life in Croatia in 1 paragraph, so I won't lie and say I'll make it one, rather I'll try to keep it as short as possible. I feel like I should be in a Nicholas Sparks novel at times, that's how it's all been. 

I moved to Zagreb when I was 21 from Melbourne, Australia. I came in July, and I was soon to find out that is the worst time to come to do paperwork and uni/school enrolments. I wanted to enroll in university, but one of the papers I needed to go to the enrolment test was Crotistika. This is a Croatian language test. On the door of the office, it said holidays until the 20th of August. From that day, we would go every single day to the office and call, and there was no one. We finally got them the day before the test, and we said where have you been? They said we decided to extend our holidays for 2 weeks. My partner said, but the uni test is tomorrow, and we need the Crotistika test. They said sorry bad luck! Then to get my high school diploma verified, I spent 8000 kuna on nothing. No one knew what I need to bring them or what I was bringing them they all told me something different. 

In the end, we were so mad, and after 2 months of being here of going door to door for paperwork, my boyfriend said you know what let's get married. I said what? He said what's the difference now or in a year's time I love you, and I think you love me, so let's get married. So, I said, "ajmo ća"! And after 2 and a half months after being here, we married, and I got my papers.

We got married and don't worry; we are still together 16 years later.

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The biggest thing in Croatia is word of mouth, even to find an apartment if it's in a smaller town, but in Zagreb, it's ok you have the oglasnik (trading post).

I came here I must say Croatia is very much who you know and how much you are willing to push to get something done. It was a lot harder back then as not so many tourists and people coming to Croatia as they are now, so I am sure they are more switched on and in tune with what papers you need. I came here with no fear I decided 2 months before I came that I would go try uni here, I didn't do any research. Maybe a bad decision, so you recommend searching all the places you are in need of where you are here. 

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The cons of living here are how long it takes to make any document. Going to the police station is a nightmare. You can never do anything in one trip, so be prepared, but as I said, don't give up because, in the end, I would never trade this life for a life back in Australia. Also, everything is old when someone sends me photos from Australia or Australian parks, I'm like, WOW! Also, everything takes time here, even building a house. One thing I will never get used to is swearing and littering. I still tell strangers off for this as I think it's beyond a joke and quite sad. 

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I have 5 kids (Kaja 14, Eva 12, Nikola 10, Sofija 6, Vida 3). And you can't put a price on the fact that they walk to and from school on nice days. They go play basketball at the school on weekends; they hang out until midnight in the village with the neighbors over the summer holidays, they go with friends out for pizza and to the movies, and their freedom is the main factor I love Croatia. Australia never gave me that freedom, and I see how much my kids enjoy it.

Kids here are more serious about school and education, and kids are very hands-on here. 

My husband is a winemaker and a professor at the uni in Knin, and my kids know all the mushrooms that are edible they go out a pick wild asparagus, or they help with the planting in the garden. Right now, there are outside helping pick the plums and walnuts last weekend; it was the apples.

I never knew where a potato grew, but my kids are very independent and have such a broad knowledge of life skills. I never got that living in the suburbs.

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I recently opened up an orbit (business), and I got funding from the government to pay for my super and taxes for the next 2 years and to buy all new equipment.

Croatia right now has so many opportunities to get funding for someone opening up a business, so use it! The best thing here is to make sure you have a kickass account that is switched on and knows what she is talking about mine is a start, and she has not missed a beat. So if you don't have a kickass account in Croatia and you thinking of opening a business,  get one!

My parents even sold everything after me being here for 5 years, put it all in a container, and made the move; my mum loves it here. She goes to mass every day she has no rush, no worries like what she did in Australia. But my dad, so so. He is finding it hard to adjust to the unorganized system, and I think he misses his long-time friends. 

For anyone thinking of moving here, don't be scared to rely on family here if you have them. It takes a village to raise a child, as they say, but it also takes a village to help you make a move.

They can help with work, telling you where to go for what papers, and everyone always has some connections, so use them when you need to unless it's morally wrong, I'm sure you know where to draw the line. Also, find a good understanding doctor. I am so satisfied with Knin hospital, and we got there as soon as we need something, not to Split. 

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Also, it's hard to find work for someone who does not speak Croatian well, so I recommend Upwork. I was blessed to find work for an Irish company, and I have been there for 2 years, and I am the manager there now it's great. Would not swap it for any Croatian job. I work remotely; I am able to watch my kids, do school pick ups drop offs, and take them to train. It's amazing. I have always said to myself that rather regret something I have tried rather than regret something I didn't try at all. So just do it if you have nothing to lose, get on that plane, move here and try. We are all different, but when I see how relaxed life here is. The freedom my kids have an easy-going lifestyle, and there is always time for coffee. Then I'm staying right here.

You can't put a price tag on all of the above. Anyone who does not believe me, come see for yourself. I miss my family in Australia, but Sinj is where I call home. 

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Thanks, Kristina!

You can follow more stories in the Croatian Returnee Reflections series in our dedicated TCN section.

Would you like your returnee story - positive or negative - to be featured in this series? Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject Returnee.

****

What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning - Business and Dalmatia.

Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.

Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners will be out by Christmas. If you would like to reserve a copy, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject 20 Years Book

Monday, 19 September 2022

Croatian Returnee Reflections: Šime Lisica, from Sydney to Bibinje

September 20, 2022 - Whisper it quietly, but more and more people are relocating to Croatia from the diaspora. In a new TCN series, we meet them to find out how they are faring and what advice they have for others thinking of making the switch. Next up is Šime Lisica, who moved from Sydney to Bibinje.

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Let me introduce myself; I’m Šime Lisica, born and bred in Sydney, Australia. For those of you that already know me, there are a lot of you out there, then you already know what I’m about and what my character is as a human being, you will enjoy this. For the rest of you, I will attempt to give you an insight into that with the following interview.

I consider myself Australian-Croatian rather than Croatian-Australian. I was an entrepreneur from the second my beautiful mother gave birth to me. Both my parents are of Croatian descent from the Zadar region; they escaped communism to build a better life for themselves and their families both back home and in Australia.

I live by the sea in a beautiful village next to Zadar called Bibinje, although the Bibinjci will tell you that “Zadar je misto pokraj Bibinja… Ae” translated to “Zadar is a place next to Bibinje… True that!” funny sh*t right! if you are game, you should visit, or for that matter, stay the week.

I’ve been a fixture in the commercial Audio Visual & Lighting industries for 20+ years, working at an international level, I have covered the full spectrum of this profession; over the last 20 years, I’ve watched this industry change and grow while I have grown up alongside it.

I bought this wealth of knowledge and skill to Croatia, where I formed the company Audio Visual Group Ltd. While I was spending most of my time in Croatia from 2014 and before the pandemic, which ruined everything, I was working on-board cruise ships in Singapore during the dry-docking program; I have sailed several times in a consulting role while in the same period have also been lucky enough to work on-board superyachts in Greece with various other ship & yacht-based projects under my hat. Let’s just say, “I’ve been everywhere, man” I wouldn’t be able to cover everything in this short introduction, it's true that thus far, I have lived a full life, I came to Croatia because I needed to start settling down.

In Croatian, they have a word for my previous life, it’s one of my favorite words next to “uhljeb” “uhljebisam” & “uhjlebistan” (the latter best describing the country I live in) I was what they call a “skitnica” or the closest English translation from Meriam-Webster that I can find would be “vagabond” – and I’m proud of it mate!

Vagabond - adjective.

  1. moving from place to place without a fixed home.
  2. a: of, relating to, or characteristic of a wanderer.

b: leading an unsettled, irresponsible, or disreputable life. (geez, that’s a bit harsh)

 During and post-pandemic, over the last 20 months, my team and I, alongside our partners, have started a Music, Entertainment & Lifestyle channel called FitnessTV that is broadcast inside fitness venues, our pilot project started in July of this year where we completed our first installation at OrlandoFit in Zagreb, moving forward we are now starting to move onto additional venues, with the end goal of reaching 50 venues nationwide. I have fairly ambitious plans for this project, all while I have drained the life out of myself and my team to reach the stage that we are at today.

You can follow our progress on LinkedIn -  it’s the only social network I engage with.

 

 

1. You made the switch to Croatia. Tell us a little about the decision process and how long it took for you to get on the plane.

I had secretly started planning my escape as early as 2010; I had started to grow disillusioned with Australia as I didn’t feel that it was the place for me. This, of course, caused several mental health issues where I was unable to identify who I was, I knew I was different, and I knew my calling wasn’t the Australian life, but I stuck it out for a few more years. In 2014 I started to take the decision far more seriously and increased the frequency of my time in Croatia, back then I established a foothold and began to conduct due diligence on a number of matters. My frequency in Croatia increased exponentially to the point where I was here 3-4 times a year. It wasn’t until early 2018 that the decision was final, and I was here for good.

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2. What did your family and community back home think of your decision at the time?

 My family always knew that I would be the one who was going to make the move, I never stopped talking about it, while I can’t say they were happy about my decision, in some matters, it was a necessity that I was present here on the ground whereas in others I know that they would have preferred I stayed in Australia.

I had a mixed reaction from my friends and associates, over 80% of the feedback back was negative. A lot of people called me crazy, stupid, or a lunatic, they told me I was throwing my life away, and they were highly discouraging while providing me with unfounded advice, or they laughed at me both to my face and behind my back, whereas the remainder was positive, encouraging, congratulative and respectable.

I recall back in 2019 when my good friends Adam (Sharky) and his now wife Ivana got married, I specifically made sure that I would be present at the wedding, I knew it would be the last time that I see everyone after living it up with the band and long hugs and kisses with my closest. I left quietly when I reached the top of the stairs, I looked out over the venue, and I knew in that very instant that I was turning my back on Australia for good. It immediately hit me pretty hard, knowing that this was the end of an era.

3. Where did you get your information about the realities of Croatia prior to coming?

As already discussed in the first question, I had completed a lot of my own due diligence through several different channels here on the ground, besides a lot of internet research, to be completely honest, no amount of prep work can make you ready for the hard-set realities this country can and will inflict on you. Like it or not, you physically have to be here and actively pursuing the goals you are setting yourself.

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4. What were you most nervous about making the switch? What was your biggest fear, and what was the reality of what you found?

Fear is an interesting word, I only have fear for a few things in life, and one of them is God. I would prefer to replace fear with concern as that would be far more appropriate.

My biggest concern was how long things take to get done, I already had significant experience with the system, from one ridiculous piece of paper through to a whole project to build a house, everything just takes way too long! The reality of the matter is that it takes three to five times longer than what the initial estimate would entail.

Corruption is also rampant, until I learned the ropes, I was always concerned that people whom I met would be fu**ing me. Some of them did, some of them being my own flesh and blood, essentially causing me to have severe trust issues – you live, you learn. Not everyone is like that; there are good people here with open hearts and open minds, when you meet them then, you will know who they are. You just need to learn the ropes and ask members of the diaspora who have been here for a long period of time for advice; you can rest assured that they will be honest and upfront with you.

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5. Think back to the time before you arrived. What were your perceptions about Croatia, and how were they different from the reality you encountered?

I would say that I was having a bromance with Croatia for a very long time, I indeed had high expectations of this country, in the beginning, it was a love affair, but the bromance soon faded, and I came to realize that this is simply the next chapter of my life. This was back in a time when help was limited, and trust issues were rampant, so once the love affair was over then, I was finding it extremely difficult to adjust as, over time, the initial perception did not match the reality I encountered.

I could comment on a vast number of items that do not match the perception; I’m a very positive human being with a lot of energy, so that essentially would be highly negative of me and further discouraging to you, the reader. My best advice moving forward is to have no expectations at all, when you have no expectations, then it is difficult to be disappointed.

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6. You are still here, so obviously, the pros outweigh the cons. Tell us about some of the things that you love about being in Croatia, as well as some of the things you don't like.

If I didn’t think it was a good idea, then I wouldn’t be doing it. There are so many things that I love about the place, one of them is the peace and quiet. I absolutely love being next to the sea, especially now that the season is over and we come back to normality, if you removed me from the sea then I don’t know how I would function. I love the lifestyle as being here is a lifestyle choice, I love the good people here and the attitude they present, I love when I strike up a conversation with a random person, and I tell them I moved here from Australia, they are always in so much disbelief like I’m the only one, then when we talk it through, they understand and congratulate me for being so brave.

I have been lucky enough to inherit a vineyard, olive groves, and other agricultural lands. I remember all the way back to 1995 when I was 12 years old when my grandfather sat me on the tractor and drove me around to these places, he told me that one day some of this would be mine. While I didn’t fully grasp the theory at that stage, it stuck in my head, and I understood him. Over the last few years, I’ve grown very fond of being in the vineyard, under the olive trees, or looking after the chickens and turkeys. Fresh eggs are amazing, plus they are so entertaining at 06:00, if you told me 10 years ago that is what I would be doing, then I would have laughed at you, but of course, loving wine is a huge benefit when you know you have your own.

I’ve established this thing called “me time” it starts at 05:30 and extends through to 09:00, this is where I spend the time doing the above, I have time to think. Also, I’ve found that as long as I have the time to do the things that I love on the side, then I am far more efficient and happier during the day. It’s a complete disconnection from the digital world that has infiltrated my brain daily for the previous 20 years of my life, and that’s what I need to function.

Let’s move on to the dislikes; I have to bite my tongue because I will and already have upset several individuals and institutions, so let’s tone this down a bit.

I wholeheartedly dislike the Croatian banking system; it is designed so that individuals and businesses are unable to function correctly, I know for a fact that if I presented my ideas to an Australian bank, they would throw the money at me and then ask if I needed more, when I view some of the advertisements these banks put on the market or for that matter when I come out of a meeting with the bank then I am so sick to my stomach that I need to knock off some rakija to come good again!

Public institutions make up ridiculous rules and regulations, passing unfounded policies and by-laws only in their interest and not in the interest of the public domain, which is essentially whom they serve.

Incompetent timeservers, dogsbodies, and troglodytes, Croatia is rampant with these types of individuals; once you have encountered one of the above, I suggest that you move rapidly in the opposite direction.

There’s clearly a lot more; now I’m just getting upset, let’s move on.

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7. What advice do you have for others thinking about making a move from the diaspora?

My advice is to follow your heart; if everything is telling you to move forward in this direction, if you have the itch, then you should scratch it, take the bull by the horns, and just do it. But not before you come up with some sort of solid plan which you are prepared to change and rearrange at the drop of a hat. I’m certain that you need to drop whatever emotion you have and be prepared to suffer disappointment. Nothing is easy; life is full of pain and suffering, if you lead into your future plans with a positive mindset, then you will attract what you want or need in your life.

Also, there is a huge community of diaspora and digital nomads who are already here on the ground in Croatia; there are various groups on WhatsApp and similar where you can connect with us and ask for help and advice but don’t ask for direction, that can only come from you internally. 

8. How do you think Croatia can better assist those who are looking to return to the Homeland?

Excellent question, I’m going to draw upon an example of poor government policy that is currently active here in Croatia.

Towards the end of last year, the government announced an incentive called “I choose Croatia” or “Mjera Biram Hrvatsku,” where the offer is to Croatian citizens located within the EEA who have spent at least 12 months outside of Croatia then find it within themselves to return to Croatia where they will be rewarded with up to 200,000kn all to revitalize the demographic problem of citizens leaving the country to live and work abroad.

Essentially what the policy has done is further segregate the diaspora from Croatia, it’s only available to citizens who are in the EEA. Ok, so what about the rest of the world? With this policy, the government is suggesting that there are only Croatian citizens in the EEA. The policy is so poorly structured that as of May 2022, publicly available information shows that a total of 16 people have applied, of those 16, only 5 have been awarded from this fund – this in itself shows exactly how much confidence Croatian citizens have in this policy.

Various guidelines need to be followed, but it only appeared to be a band-aid solution that has been announced to make it look like the government is doing something, whereas the numbers have proved this to be a complete flop!

The question is, why don’t you open up applications for this incentive worldwide?

If you read the constitution of Croatia (an amazing living document), you will soon recognize that this does not align with various sections, it does nothing but segregate us further.

What about those of us who have packed everything up and invested our hard-earned money back into Croatia? There is no help for us! All we have done is prop up the false GDP figures.

I choose Croatia, so why don’t you give me 200,000kn to help offset the amount of money I have invested back into this country then I will show you what I can do with it.

Unfortunately, the only people who listen to the diaspora are the diaspora; we have no voice, we are just expected to assimilate, shut up and be good citizens while our leaders make the wrong decisions for us without public consultation.

God Help Us!

And that’s a wrap, thank you so much for taking the time to read this until the end, I only hope it was as entertaining for you as it was for me, my parting words to you are, be a good human being, stay safe and live life to the fullest as time is not your friend, time is material to performance, time is definitely of the essence. 

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Thanks, Šime!

You can follow more stories in the Croatian Returnee Reflections series in our dedicated TCN section.

Would you like your returnee story - positive or negative - to be featured in this series? Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject Returnee.

****

What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning - Business and Dalmatia.

Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.

Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners will be out by Christmas. If you would like to reserve a copy, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject 20 Years Book

Saturday, 17 September 2022

Croatian Returnee Reflections: Tony Ante Lucic, from London UK to Dubrovnik

September 18, 2022 - Whisper it quietly, but more and more people are relocating to Croatia from the diaspora. In a new TCN series, we meet them to find out how they are faring and what advice they have for others thinking of making the switch. Next up is Tony Ante Lucic, who moved from London to Dubrovnik.

My name is Tony (Ante) Lucic; I was born in Dubrovnik in 1953, I was a motor mechanic by trade. In 1974, when I was 21, I left my hometown of Dubrovnik and moved to London and worked as a waiter in the Savoy Hotel, to get a work permit, I had to work in catering. I was only planning to stay short-term to improve my English… I met my wife, and we had 2 children and made the UK my home for 46 years. I owned and ran our restaurant for 30 years. 

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1. You made the switch to Croatia. Tell us a little about the decision process and how long it took for you to get on the plane.

I moved back to Croatia with my wife in 2020, just as Covid hit. I always said that when, and only when I retire, I would return back to my hometown of Dubrovnik, so that was an instant decision, albeit my English wife was hesitant.

 

2. What did your family and community back home think of your decision at the time?

My family and friends in the UK were pleased but sad to see us go, but they all love coming out to Dubrovnik for holidays.

 

3. Where did you get your information about the realities of Croatia prior to coming?

We holidayed every year in Croatia, so we kept up to date with friends, family, and on social media. We also attended the Croatian Catholic mission on a Sunday, where we met up with other Croatian people living in London.

 

4. What were you most nervous about making the switch? What was your biggest fear, and what was the reality of what you found?

For me, the switch was easy, as I did not need anything from the state, as I already had a house here and did not need employment as I was retired, and that was one of the reasons I always said I would only move back when I retired. Because I had my English wife with me, we did have a few hurdles regarding paperwork and going from office to office, apostille stamps trying to avoid the office coffee breaks, and all this during Covid made it a bit stressful.

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5. Think back to the time before you arrived. What were your perceptions about Croatia, and how were they different from the reality you encountered?

From my perceptions of reality, things have improved a lot over the years, notably the healthcare service, they don’t lock you in the ward anymore, haha, but there is still a long way to go. People like to moan here, but most of them seem to live well, I do wonder if anybody does any work as they all seem to be drinking coffee.

 

6. You are still here, so obviously, the pros outweigh the cons. Tell us about some of the things that you love about being in Croatia, as well as some of the things you don't like.

Being a laid-back person, I enjoy the slower pace of life, sunshine, beach, and the coffee culture, people make you feel welcome, and their hospitality is first class. Drivers are very impatient; no one likes to queue, bureaucracy is a nightmare, tradesmen, i.e., plumbers and electricians, never turn up as promised, and everyone knows everyone's business. And living in a small town is a case of who you know, not what you know!

 

7. What advice do you have for others thinking about making a move from the diaspora?

My Advice would be, only come if you are financially secure, otherwise, good luck!

 

8. How do you think Croatia can better assist those who are looking to return to the Homeland?

They need to simplify bureaucracy; the politics need to change, and not to mention the corruption.. otherwise, I love it here.

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Thanks, Tony!

You can follow more stories in the Croatian Returnee Reflections series in our dedicated TCN section.

Would you like your returnee story - positive or negative - to be featured in this series? Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject Returnee.

****

What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning - Business and Dalmatia.

Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.

Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners will be out by Christmas. If you would like to reserve a copy, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject 20 Years Book

Friday, 16 September 2022

Croatian Returnee Reflections: Ljubica Tomić, from Hong Kong to Istria

September 17, 2022 - Whisper it quietly, but more and more people are relocating to Croatia from the diaspora. In a new TCN series, we meet them to find out how they are faring and what advice they have for others thinking of making the switch. Next up is Ljubica Tomić, who moved from Hong Kong to Istria.

My name is Ljubica, born and raised in Croatia, in the lovely Samobor area. Being a teenager in the 90s in Croatia, I always thought - there must be a less toxic place where people are positive and embrace differences. I put in a lot of effort and grabbed the first possible occasion, which took me to Hong Kong when I was 30 years old. A few years later, I abandoned the profit business and started from scratch in the aid sector, where I spent almost a decade on and off, alternating working and travelling around the world… until 2017, when I decided to abandon a nomadic lifestyle and settle in Croatia, Istria.

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1. You made the switch to Croatia. Tell us a little about the decision process and how long it took for you to get on the plane.

In my 30s, I thought I could settle in several places around the world I loved, but after 70+ countries visited and about a dozen I lived in, I figured the Mediterranean is the place to be - weather, food, culture, nature, lifestyle, safety…  with family here and Croatian passport in the pocket, picking Croatia made sense. 

 

2. What did your family and community back home think of your decision at the time?

Croatia was still my primary home, and important people were happy I am finally coming back.

 

3. Where did you get your information about the realities of Croatia prior to coming?

 I kept in touch, and I observed progress, which was encouraging.

 

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 4. What were you most nervous about making the switch? What was your biggest fear, and what was the reality of what you found?

Growing differences with my existing community in Croatia and, on the other side, a lack of differences (diversity) in Croatian society. 

Being away for over a decade, even though I regularly made enormous efforts to meet everybody I could each time briefly visiting Croatia, I knew it would feel different once I am back. Making appointments became more difficult and some of those relationships simply diluted…which was kind of normal and okay, being in my early 40s and becoming aware that all we need is “mali krug, velikih ljudi” (small circle, big people).

On the other hand, I like to meet new, different and interesting people who also travel the world, embrace differences, cherish what they have and grab life by the balls (rather than just whining). The growing expat community is great news, so I managed to connect and make some new friendships.

 

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5. Think back to the time before you arrived. What were your perceptions about Croatia, and how were they different from the reality you encountered?

While I was well aware of possible obstacles, it did disappoint with how severely inefficient Croatian administration and regulations are. I could have easily picked any place on the planet to live in but decided to come back to Croatia. Being in my prime age, educated, experienced, focused, persistent and with money to invest,  I struggled for 3 years to kick off my project. A tiny retreat on my one-acre land in Istria was the idea. 

Legal and administrative obstacles were insane. One issue was ping pong between the municipality and county, whereby each one says, “go and ask the other one”. No clear statements and guidelines. Another one was that for such a project, I needed to please three different ministries with their regulations while the regulations of each ministry are ambiguous and then contradictory between those three. Loads of meetings and email correspondence with highly ranked officials also didn’t help. Sometimes when I reached a relevant person, I figured this person was stuck in the 80s and had no experience or capacity to do their job. 

… This brings us to the next worst obstacle - many (not all) people working in Government offices, besides not being professionally equipped, have a very common (and very wrong) approach - and that is behaving like we are here because of them, and not vice versa. Our notorious “uhljeb” model.  

 

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 6. You are still here, so obviously, the pros outweigh the cons. Tell us about some of the things that you love about being in Croatia, as well as some of the things you don't like.

 I love that I can show up at my neighbour’s door to borrow a few eggs. I love when the staff in the pet shop sits with my dog when I go to grab groceries. I love how we exchange and share goodies in the village. I love that visiting amazing and diverse places across Croatia takes only a few hours of driving. I love the fact that I can leave my house key (in case of emergency) with a neighbour when I travel. I love to host my international friends visiting, who, all without exception, find Croatia amazing. Because it is. 

What I don’t like is already mentioned in the article but in general, what hurts most is that we have a country with amazing opportunities, and we just can’t handle all those incredible resources we have. But, I believe in the young generation and am positive they will make changes as soon as old farts step down. 

I fully support young people leaving Croatia and seeing the world, getting new skills and opening their minds, but we need to find a way to bring them back. It was easier for me because I was single, but if I had my own family, I'm not sure Croatia would be the final pick…

 

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7. What advice do you have for others thinking about making a move from the diaspora?

 Be aware of heavy administration and equip yourself with a lot of patience. As much as you would think that you should be invited and welcomed with your qualities to the country that clearly needs “fresh blood”, there is a massive lack of community benefits perspective. It mostly comes down to individuals and their personal interests. Very sadly, Croatians are known to be very tolerant of corruption, but please, do not support that.

Another one is very common around the world - as most of you would probably come from more developed countries and with some capital to invest, many locals will think that you have an unlimited budget. Do your research before closing the deals. Not only as prevention of getting ripped off but simply because nonchalantly paying more (just because you can) means overall prices inflating, which can badly affect local people with fewer resources. 

 

8. How do you think Croatia can better assist those who are looking to return to the Homeland?

Easier investment opportunities from every perspective. It is abnormal that once you paid the full amount, you need to wait for a HEP electricity connection for ten months, even with regular follow-ups through all possible channels. Cut the heavy administration, which, if done well, should make it more efficient. We don’t need "uhljebs" who actually serve their own purpose while making people’s lives more difficult with their incompetence and unprofessionalism

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Thanks Ljubica!

You can follow more stories in the Croatian Returnee Reflections series in our dedicated TCN section.

Would you like your returnee story - positive or negative - to be featured in this series? Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject Returnee.

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What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning - Business and Dalmatia.

Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.

Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners will be out by Christmas. If you would like to reserve a copy, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject 20 Years Book

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