Saturday, 25 June 2022

Zagreb Through the Eyes of a Sixteen Year Old Expat

June 25, 2022 - Zagreb, Croatia’s prized northwestern capital, has gained quite the attention recently – with its captivating architecture and an abundant amount of summer activities. But is it exciting to live in for teenagers? Does it truly have a lot to offer to the vast number of youthful souls living there? Find out in the first of a new TCN series - Zagreb Through the Eyes of a Sixteen-Year-Old Expat. Prepare yourself for the culture that I have experienced as an expat living in Croatia’s most important transport hub! In today’s episode, meet the art culture of Zagreb.

From charming scenery to a distinguishable amount of greenery, offbeat entertainment, and a low crime rate, Zagreb has grown detrimentally on me during the single year I spent here (with one more to conquer before leaving for university).  Nothing about this city seemed appealing to me when my parents unexpectedly told me that, in the next few weeks, we are moving abroad for their work.

Leaving my close ones. Having to carve out a new social life. Finding a new school. It was all out of my comfort zone – which I very rarely challenge. I was not prepared to be thrown into an entirely unfamiliar community but found comfort in the fact that no one ever is. And so, with time I found myself falling in love with the medieval “old city” with contemporary Croatian culture and art.

Although Zagreb’s established reputation as a destination of culture, music, and art becomes notorious throughout the summertime, it still exudes everything it has to offer on a day-to-day basis – no matter the season. During my time here I have noticed several events provided by the city to its citizens, such as the Advent, the festival of lights, and several museums hosting gatherings for art enthusiasts. With smiling faces all around you, excited laughs from children running by, and an intoxicating atmosphere spreading with each passing second, Zagreb knows how to bring people together and have them share a memorable experience with one another.

advent-g7e3e65ae4_1920.jpgMoreover, the city’s combination of modern pleasure with historic architecture seems to divulge contrasts unlike anything else. For example, the Croatian National Theatre (1895) has shown generations of artists showcasing contemporary beauty on multiple occasions – bringing entertainment to all age groups living in the city of Zagreb. Additionally, the National Museum of Modern Art and the Ethnographic Museum of Zagreb both interpret and spread numerous museum activities aimed to promote the culture of the past and present.

Overall, I believe the diverse experience provided by Croatia’s cultural centre nurtures and promotes art in all kinds of forms. It encourages us citizens to discover various talents and institutions that mirror how culturally rich the city is. From my experience, all the events seem to grant a large number of locals and visitors the ability to view such creations from various open spaces – providing a level of fulfilment to all who attend!

Do not miss out on the opportunity to discover the city’s distinct personality by finding out more about the art culture it is exceptionally known for and the enviable summer programme that has recently started.

For more, check out our lifestyle section.

Friday, 29 March 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Really?, not at all?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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