11 Struggles Of Being An Expat In Croatia

Chasing the Donkey may include affiliate links - if you decide to make a purchase through these links, we receive a commission without any additional cost to you. Disclaimer & privacy policy.
Post author SJ

Written by our local expert SJ

Sarah-Jane has lived in Croatia for 10+ years. SJ, as she is known, has been traveling the Balkans & beyond since 2000. She now shares her passion for traveling with her husband & kids.

It has been a life-changing 24 months since I moved to Croatia. The anniversary date actually came and went without any fanfare.

I forgot.

I only just realized this week when someone asked me how long I had been living in Croatia.

Life abroad is fun.

Life abroad is scary.

Life abroad is rewarding.

Life abroad is crazy. 

Living abroad is what you make of it.

It’s cliche (and you all know how much I love a cliche), but heck, it’s damn true.

When you make the ballsy-ass move and leave everyone you know, everything that is comfortable, understood, and day-to-day behind and throw caution to the wind and move to Croatia, there is stuff you can’t know until you’re ‘living the dream.’

What that stuff is can be different for everyone, but read any expat blog, and you pick up re-occurring themes of loneliness, adjustment periods, and exploration.

Struggles Of My Expat Life

Balkan Flags_Croatia 1

1. I Am Always The Freak

I knew people would ask me why I moved to Croatia and if I missed home. I just never in a million years would have thought that even after two years of living in Croatia, people would still ask me ‘why’ over and over.

It gets exhausting.

Really, why can’t people ask me about who I am, what I love, and who I want to be?

Instead, whenever I meet new people, I spend far too long justifying explaining my move. Then, after a prolonged explanation attempting to prove that I am not totally and utterly insane, I am exhausted and can’t always be bothered with the small talk.

Recently I was introduced to someone; the very first thing that she said, was why do you want to live here? With a real emphasis on here.

Sick of hearing that same statement or variations of it,  and so annoyed that she did not even say hello, or give me a chance to ask her what her name was, I snapped and responded in a snarky tone ‘because ‘I am insane, that’s why!

It was the straw that broke this donkey’s back!

It makes me feel like a freak. I’ve become so self-conscious about it.  I guess the other contributing factor is here in Croatia; the economic situation has not been so good for an extended period of time which means that more people are leaving Croatia than there are fewer freaks people like me moving here, so I try to tell myself it’s not personal.

I really hope that it’s not personal. It’s something that I am still trying to understand.

2. I Can’t Speak

Learn How to Speak Croatian - Croatia Travel Blog

I used to be funny.

No, really, I used to be able to make people laugh. Now I can just safely string enough sentences together to hold a conversation with the lady at the supermarket to fool her into thinking I understand 100% of what she is saying. But it’s not enough.

I can’t express myself. I have family that helps me often, particularly the Aunt and Uncle we live with while our house is being built – and I loathe how I can’t show my sincere gratitude in more ways than saying hvala (thanks) or hvala puno (thanks a lot).

I want to say warm and fuzzy things like thank you so very much for always being there for me; it means the world to me. Instead, I give big hugs and say hvala puno.

The other suffocating factor of not speaking the language is in the playground. The Little Donkey and I spend a lot of time at parks and playgrounds, and I wish with all my heart that I was able to spark up small talk with the other Mums.

If I could, maybe I’d have more friends (or perhaps not). Instead, I smile awkwardly and whip out my phone or walk over and pretend to help the Little Donkey. So lame, I know.

Check out the challenges of language during our homeschooling coronavirus lockdown.

Brands We Use And Trust


3. A Daily Game Of Charades

Zagreb Spiza And Coffee - With Flag

You know how the game of charades goes: you hold up two fingers, everyone shouts back two words. You open and close your hands, and immediately everyone knows you’re talking about a book.  

Then you begin waving your hands about and flailing your body in different directions in order to get everyone to guess the two words in your book title.

Now, imagine that daily. Only this time, you’re allowed to use words (well, just the few you know in Croatian), and instead of just two words, you need to come up with a whole story.

Sound like fun?

Daily, I find myself trying to communicate with my 70-year-old  landlords. They know a few English words, most of which they learned from spending so much time with the Little Donkey. It goes like this:

I say a few Croatian words to make a sentence no better than my two-year-old forms; then I get stuck. I don’t have the word I need. So, I wave my arms about and play a game of charades and hope they know what I am talking about.

They don’t.

So they say a few words, trying to help me and return the arm waving and wait for me to understand.

I don’t.

I whip out my iPhone and type into Google Translate the one missing word in the conversation.

Sometimes it works, other times it all fails, and we smile an awkward smile and shrug it off.

4. I Miss My Friends More Than I Ever Could Imagine

Suppose you’ve been away from all of your friends for a long time, you know exactly what I mean. If you have not, you might be like me and think you’ll do fine without them.

Missing my friends was not high on my worry list before I moved. Yeah, I knew I’d miss them. But not this much.

5. Family Means More To Me Than Ever Before

Sometimes being an expat in Croatia, it’s an utter nightmare. For me, my nightmare is not having our family around. I feel guilty about my son not having his Aunts and Uncles around to play with him.

I feel sad that his Grandparents don’t get to witness his firsts and spoil him like they’re supposed to.

That said, I’m grateful to what family and friends we do have here; you all know who you are.

6. I Can’t Accept Help

Now that I have a few great friends who have made this journey so beautiful, I can’t lose them. They mean so much to me. So, when they offer help, I cringe. I don’t want to be a pain. I don’t want them to think I am using them or taking advantage of their kindness, so instead, I rarely accept help.

Asking for help has to be the absolute last straw-like when I ended up in the emergency room, Mr. Chasing the Donkey was not in town, and I needed clothes.

I texted my dear friend for help. As soon as I clicked send, I hated myself. I hated that I was unable to find a solution on my own. She came to the rescue and was glad to help, but I don’t want to ask again for help anytime soon.

7. Going Home Was Not Fun

Croatia vs Australia - Chasing the Donkey

I went back home to Australia at Christmas time. It wasn’t as impressive as you would think.

I felt like it was not home anymore. I missed my life in Croatia. And, I was still a freak. People were again asking me if we planned to stay away or when we planned to come home.

Then there was the awkwardness,  I felt like I have changed, and I struggled to connect in the same way I had done just 18-months earlier. I loved seeing everyone, and I want them to come here now as I am not planning or even looking forward to going back anytime soon.

8. I Miss The News

Real news, not the pop-culture rubbish I can watch on E! Entertainment. I’m talking real news about politics, policies, and all that jazz.

There is a great site we love to read that has news about Croatia in English; the only downside is it lacks nitty-gritty details about politics – and everyooooooooone here knows something about politics. Even teenage boys. I am so clueless, and google translate just does not cut the mustard.

9. My Blog Is My Saviour

Game of Thrones_CTD Logo_dark background_large

Without my blog, I’d probably be super depressed. I left a super-busy-super-creative job to have a baby. I then took that tiny baby and moved to a small village.

And, while walks along the beach and traipsing about the olive grove is all kinds of fun that I can’t live without – when the Little Donkey sleeps, or on those rainy days, I need my blog. I did it at first because I liked it, and now I blog because I NEED IT.

My travel blog provides both a creative outlet for me and will soon be turning into a series of new business adventures that will hopefully pay the bills.

So thanks, thanks for being a part of my sanity for the past two years.

10.  Pictures On Facebook Make Me Cry

Weddings, christenings, birthdays, heck, just photos of your girls’ night out cuts me up. Deep. I want to be in those photos. I want to be the one holding my newborn nephew, not seeing some third cousin oohing and ahhing over him on my newsfeed. *wipes the tears* 

11. I Miss Shopping

Online shopping. Click, click, credit card, click. Hello, brown package in the mail.

I was addicted a regular user of internet shopping when I lived in Australia. I had everything delivered from the groceries to handmade baby clothes and everything in between.

Now, not so much. Now, so many places don’t even have Croatia on their approved shipping list – including far-too-many items in Amazon that I want but can’t have. Not precisely a struggle as the title would suggest, more of a massive-pain-in-the-ass.

All That Whinging Aside – I Would Not Change Any Of It

Don’t hate me for saying this, but as much as I feel like a freak and that I can’t speak, I’m still proud of myself.

Because I never thought about just how hard so many things would be, and I have not (yet) given up. Had I been given a crystal ball and seen just how difficult life would be in a foreign land, I may not have moved.

After 24 months of having periods feeling alone and sad, which is more than I ever have in my whole life combined (which includes being a reject all through high school), I have learned a lot about myself and what I want from life.

I love what we are shaping here and am very excited about our new business ideas and our life in Croatia.

Have you ever been an expat in Croatia or someplace else? What struggles did you face – and did they go away?

Comments (134)

  1. Yes, all of it and still prefer living here in ex-Yu; the insane Brits who don’t even have one ancestor who is from here. Your jezik will get better and better. I can make pathetic jokes these days – understanding most jokes is still beyond me though. xx

  2. Wish I could give you a hug. I personally would love to go back to Croatia as I don’t like what Australia is becoming and long for the beautiful, peaceful life.

  3. All of this. A hundred times over. I am sick of (in the same convo as “why are you here?”) ” how do you like the Netherlands? ” Part of me wants to say, “Well, I haven’t run across the border screaming because its the bagillionth time I’ve been asked that, but there’s always tomorrow!” But seriously, when I tell you I’ve been here for a few years, any novelty to that question is long passed. My new answer is “some days are easier than others, but of course that happens for everyone once they go off on their own.” That’s been, so far, taken well enough and left alone after that.

  4. Next time they ask zasto say zasto ne or zato or zato sto mogu and end it, u don’t owe anyone an explanation. When your little donkey starts school you will make heaps of new friends that will journey through your life with you. To learn the language play cro music all day and sing at the top of your voice to help with ennunciation, that’ s how I learnt. Believe you are doing the right thing and you will be fine, don’t feel bad asking for help that’s how friendships are strengthened. All power to you, you may live in cro but you were raised here and that means you r tougher than you will ever know!

  5. Hi, I live in the Czech Republic. Best thing I’ve done here is to devote 5+ hours a week to improving my Czech. Before that I was just another expat, and I didn’t want to be ‘that guy’..It’s brought new challenges, but I’m glad I’ve done it and can now get by in the local language. It’ll be the same for folks in Croatia too, that you can do it :)

  6. Great article as always.Everything will come in time. Strpljen – spašen (Patient – saved. )

  7. That was excellent!! I didn’t do quite the same thing but I got married at age 18 and moved to North Carolina from Ontario. There wasn’t a language barrier but the was a ‘culture’ barrier. That’s still not even remotely like what you’ve been dealing with though. You’ve been AMAZING to follow and you’ve helped relentlessly to feed my love of Croatia! Hang in there. It’ll only get better and better. ;)

  8. Sweet SJ

    If you want to help a friend that you know you can help – would you hesitate?
    If you want a friend to help you – do you think he/she would hesitate to help you?
    Do you think they will act different from you?

    Learning a new language is easy for children and hard for adults – but not impossible!
    Have you heard Arnold Schwarzenegger talk US-english? He became guvenor! I like his beautiful pronunciation – more beautiful than many americans!

    I would recommend you to take courses – maybe to involve yourself in some kind of charity?

    Best regards Søren

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Move This Adventure To Your Inbox & Get An Instant Freebie

Subscribe To Unlock Your FREE Customizable Travel Packing List & All Our Best Tips!