10 Years Living In Croatia: Balancing Life & Loneliness As An Australian In Croatia
As an Australian living in Croatia, the experience has been a tale of two worlds. On the one hand, there is the thrill of exploring a new country and embracing a different way of life. On the other hand, struggles with identity, belongingness, and loneliness come with being far from home.
In this (long) blog post, I’ll delve into what I have realized about myself now that I have been an expat in Croatia for the last 3652 days. So, grab your passport and join me on this journey through the ups and downs of living in Croatia.
So, Who Am I?
In case you don’t know me or my story. I am Sarah-Jane Begonja, an ex-marketing executive turned travel blogger who moved to Croatia in 2013. I have been living in Croatia for over 10 years and blogging about my travels on this blog, Chasing the Donkey.
I started writing about my upcoming move to Croatia in 2012 and then turned the blog into a full-time gig writing about traveling to Croatia. From there, I started crossing over the borders and now (along with a team of writers) write in-depth guides to Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia, Macedonia, Romania, Kosovo, Serbia as well as Croatia.
I originally moved from Australia after falling in love with Croatia (and marrying a Croat). Living abroad has definitely changed my life. I have seen so much that I would not have had if I stayed living in Australia, and subsequently, I have had some unforgettable experiences across Europe. Moving abroad has made me more independent and confident but also so much more anxious.
If you’re thinking about moving to Croatia or are just curious about what it’s like to live in another country, then keep reading.
A Message To All Of The People Who Doubted I Could Move To Croatia – And Stay Here
It’s been eleven years since I decided to move to Croatia, and a lot has changed in that time. I’ve learned a lot about myself and the world around me. For anyone who doubted that I could make the move and stick it out, this section is for you.
I remember feeling so excited and scared when I first told people I was moving to Croatia. There were so many unknowns, and I had no idea what to expect. But the doubters were quick to chime in with their two cents, telling me that I wouldn’t last and that I would be running back to Australia.
Shortly after we moved, a local press did a story on us, and I remember reading the hurtful comments. Wow. I wish back then I knew never to read the comments section! Many said I would run around within 12 months; others said I’d be divorced before I knew it. Others commented I had no idea what awaited me and that I’d regret the move.
Some of those commentators were right; I had no idea what awaited me. I was clueless and naive. Had I known what I know now, I would never have made the move.
But that would have been a mistake.
So, to all those who ever doubted that I could make it here in Croatia – thank you. Your skepticism pushed me to prove you wrong and made me determined to make this new life work. I’m still learning, growing, and adapting every day.
Do I plan to move back? Well, for that answer you have to keep reading…
My Life Changed Since Moving Abroad
Oh man, my life and the way I think about just about everything has changed so much in the past decade of living this experience. Sometimes I can not even remember the same person I was when I moved here. Here are just a few of the ways my life has changed since making the move:
My Relationship With Family And Friends Has Changed
When you live far away from your family and friends, you quickly learn who your true friends are. The ones who are interested in hearing about your life and experiences are the ones who will make an effort to keep in touch, whether it’s through video calls, WhatsApp messages, or the old-fashioned post – which I get from just one friend.
I’ve Learned To Be More Independent
In Croatia, there is no safety net like there is back home. If something goes wrong, there are far fewer people and services I can turn to for help. This has taught me resilience and problem-solving skills and made me more anxious and powerless in some ways.
I’ve Become Better At Networking
It’s amazing how quickly word can spread in a small country! I’ve had to become better at connecting with people who I might not have otherwise crossed paths with had I stayed in Australia, both in person and online. This has opened up many new opportunities for me that I would never have had back home. This blog is the biggest example
I Trust People Far Less
I have met so many new people over the last decade, and several who I thought I had made a real connection with have exited my life. As a result of being used by past “friends” and having spent many nights wondering what I did wrong to have people suddenly stop calling me, I have found myself more guarded than ever and letting far fewer people into my world.
I am sure that the same types of fake people would have come and gone in my life in Australia – but in Croatia and especially living in Zadar, the world seems so much smaller, and therefore I am far less trusting than I was 10 years ago.
I’ve Never Stopped Feeling Guilty For Leaving Everyone Behind
Despite all of the beautiful experiences I’ve had since moving to Croatia, there is still a large part of me that feels like I’m missing out on life back in Australia. I find it lonely at times.
It can be hard watching my family and friends from such a distance while I live my life on the other side of the world, but it’s also made me realize how important they are to me and how much I cherish our connection.
My sister passing in 2021 and being unable to see my family (due to Australia being in lockdown at the time) was traumatic, and the guilt of still not having been back to Sydney to see everyone lives within me daily.
My Mental Health Has Taken A Beating
Continuing my life in a foreign country has been one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. Living abroad is not all rainbows and butterflies. It can be lonely, stressful, and scary. I’ve had to learn how to manage my anxiety and depression (which I have had for 20+ years) in a new environment with limited resources.
Genuine Friendships Mean So Much More
I’ve been so lucky to meet some really amazing people during my time here. These genuine friendships mean so much to me. So while I have fewer friends now than I did a few years ago, I am so thankful for those who remain in my life and with whom I share all the wonderful (& not-so-great) times with.
Financial Security Is More Of A Worry
Living abroad has made me realize just how quickly things can change. I’m now much more conscious of my finances and saving for the future, and my retirement (although years away) has become a priority since I will not have a state pension to support myself with later down the line.
Care Packages From Australia Mean More Than Ever
Having a little slice of home sent my way means more than ever before. Care packages from family and friends back in Australia are like a warm hug from the people I miss and love so dearly.
Listening To My Kid Speak Croatian Makes Me Proud
It’s by far the coolest part of moving to Croatia – listening to your children speak Croatian. My oldest son (soon to be 11) translates things for me and teaches me new things every week. So freaking cool.
Them speaking a second language represents a significant accomplishment for them, given we only speak English at home. I know that speaking several languages (the oldest is also learning German) opens up opportunities for their personal and professional growth.
I Have Had To Learn How To Raise Children Without Speaking The Language
Raising children in Croatia without speaking the language fluently has been very difficult. Still, I am managing it – it has taken a lot of patience, and it continues to be a major frustration point for me that I have to navigate daily.
If you’re moving to Croatia with children who do not speak Croatian, be prepared for some challenges. This will undoubtedly be one of the biggest challenges you face.
Will I Stay In Croatia Forever Or Move Back To Australia
It’s been 10 years since I moved from Australia to Croatia. In that time, I’ve had my second son, started a second business (transfers in Croatia), and made some great friends. But I still find myself wondering if I’m going to stay in Croatia forever now or move back to Australia at some point.
There are pros and cons to both countries, of course. I love the weather and the slower pace of life in Croatia, but I miss my family and friends back home. And while I’m excited about the opportunities our business is giving us here, there’s always the nagging feeling that maybe I could be doing more with my life if I were back in Australia.
So what’s the answer? I have come to learn to never say never. So only time will tell, I suppose. I have ZERO PLANS to move back to Australia. For now, I’m just enjoying this life and where it takes me. Who knows? Maybe one day, I’ll wake up and decide that it’s time to head back Down Under. Or perhaps I’ll find that Croatia has become my permanent home. Either way, it’s all good so long as my family is happy and healthy.
I hope this post has helped you see that anything is possible if you’re willing to take a risk and put in the work. I am so glad I decided to move here, and I can’t wait to see what else this country has in store for me over the next 10 years….let’s hope it includes my Croatian citizenship and passport.
Love to you all,
A proud expat in Croatia