First Year Living In Croatia: I Came Up Empty

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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.

We pulled up into the driveway, tired and hungry. It had been over 40 hours since we departed Sydney and arrived in our sleepy little village in rural Croatia.

I looked into my then 9-month-olds eyes and told myself, “that sick feeling in your stomach is from being sleep deprived and not self-doubt.” 

But I knew I was lying…

Fast forward twelve months. Yes, twelve, count them. One, two, three… okay, let’s not. You get my point.

Fifty-two weeks ago, we packed our bags, boarded the plane, and left behind family and friends. My blackened, puffy, swollen eyes were evident when I approached the mirror at the airport. 

I’d had many sleepless nights and cried many tears in the days leading up to my flight from the sunny skies of Sydney, Australia, to the even sunnier skies of Croatia. And now, I can hardly believe that I have been living in Croatia for a year.

Expat Dark Clouds_nature

We had a dream, a wish, a yearning for something different. We wanted to seek out a new adventure, and although it seemed like the right thing to do – that is move across the globe. I wondered, how could we be sure?

Can I do this? What have we done? Oh God, what have I got myself into? Am I really living in Croatia?

We could not be sure; only time would tell. So we said our goodbyes and let time pass by. And so far, it’s been good. It’s far too early to know if this is our forever home – we hope so, of course, but as in life with all things, there are no guarantees.

So What Have I Learned In My First Twelve Months Of Living In Croatia?

Honestly and embarrassingly, I feel I have let myself down in this regard. On reflection this past week, I came up empty.

I could not think of anything meaningful to say. I honestly thought I would, but I was blank; nothing sprang to mind. I figured I just needed to think about it some more. So I thought and thought. Yet, still, my mind was blank.

A few days passed, and I was interviewed by a Croatian journalist about my life as a foreigner living in Croatia. He asked me to describe how I have changed since living here…crickets. There was an awkward silence on the call.

I could not think of anything meaningful to say.

After apologizing to him, I did offer one thought; that after 12 months of residing here, I knew we were on the right path. Living in Croatia, even with the bureaucracy of the Croatian system, the never-ending delays to the house, and the fact that we are still no closer to Mr. Chasing the Donkey having a job in Croatia, that things were as they should be.

He seemed unimpressed. And I hated myself for a short moment. That is until I realized that although not profound or life-changing, knowing that we were in the right place was enough for me.

Picking up your life as you know it and living or traveling far away from your family and friends is hard.

Delving into your thoughts about how that experience has changed you is even more difficult, at least it is for me. So I spent a few days pushing myself to come up with something I had learned about myself. I needed to, so I could see if this time next year anything else had changed. After much reflection, this is what I have learned;

I Get More Lonely Than I Ever Thought I Would

Living in Croatia SJ on the balcony Croatia - Chasing the Donkey
Me one year on… more wrinkles, but happy.

I have never been one always to need to be around people. My best friends back in Australia will tell you that I can go weeks or months without speaking to them. They’ll also tell you; I love to be in my Pj’s and stay home for days on end.

Here, I realize just how much I miss picking up that phone when I feel like it. The timezone changes mean that speaking to family or friends via phone or Skype has a limited window of opportunity.

When that window closes, and I miss it, I feel much more lonely than I ever thought I would. I have cried on a few occasions, in all honesty, but I have never thought that I wanted to go home.

Brands We Use And Trust

I Care More About What People Think Of Me As A Person

Not in how I look or dress, but rather that I am seen to be trying to fit in.’ I wear what may as well be a neon sign around my neck that says foreigner, the freckles and my new reddish hair color screams foreigner, and as I explained to the journalist, I often feel like an animal in the zoo.

People look and stare, they know I am not from around here, and they are curious. So I want to, as much as possible, fit in. I would never have thought that about myself in my old life.  I don’t lie or cheat to fit in, but I do work hard at understanding the social norms and asking questions about what is and is not acceptable in certain situations.

For the most part, those things are the same as they are back in Australia, but I still have the urge to find out – to avoid a big faux-pax.

I Value The Dollar More

Croatia’s currency is the Kuna (well, it was now it is the euro), and boy, do I appreciate it more than I did 365 days ago. With Croatian monthly salaries being less than what I used to earn weekly, I am very aware of how far people here must make each purchase go.

Nothing goes to waste. Items are not replaced willy nilly. Christmas time is not a pile of plastic gifts from China with mountains of torn paper. I have never ever spent so little on new clothes, bags, and shoes.

I have never skipped nail, hair, or beauty treatments for the sake of my bank account. Here I do often.

Having realized this, I wonder how I would be able to go if I was back in Australia. Could I still forgo these things? I am not sure, but I don’t think so; I feel there is too high pressure.

I am sure there must be more; I can’t think of any. I feel like I am hiding something deep within myself; let’s see if I can find out before two years of living in Croatia passes me by.

If you’re an expat or long-term traveler, what did you learn about yourself along the way?

If you plan on becoming an expat, you’ll find this great list of resources compiled by fellow expat Farrah super useful.

Other Living In Croatia Posts

I asked other expats and long-term travelers what they learned about being away from the place called ‘home.’ Here is what they said.

Expat living Farrah photoMy family and I are quickly approaching the two-year mark of our first expat contract. We’ve found the Netherlands to welcome us as Americans so well- we recently decided to stay an additional three years. What I (and we) have learned being away from home is that first and foremost, home is where you make it and who you’re with. Being an ex-pat doesn’t make the reality of life disappear.  Being an ex-pat illuminates the traits that you already possess and makes them more vibrant. A friend once told me that to be a successful ex-pat, you can bloom where you’re planted. I’m happy to say that my little family and I make quite the garden. FarrahThe Three Under

Expat Living Amanda.jpgAfter having spent almost a year as an ex-pat, I’ve learned a few important lessons; culture shock is real, home is not a particular place. The US isn’t “THE best,” and there’s no replacement for Reeses’ Peanut Butter Cups! I’ve faced my own insecurities and come to terms with what it is like to be an immigrant – something that will forever alter my life view. I wouldn’t change this experience for anything, and while I don’t think there’s anything more I could have done to prepare, the hard parts were much harder than I ever could have imagined. I’m so grateful to have had a partner who could navigate the difficulties and understand what I was going through. AmandaMarocMama

Where's Sharon Expat LivingThe biggest thing I learned about myself during long-term travel was to trust myself – Trust my instincts, trust my preparation, trust my communication skills… trust everything!  My long trips did wonders for my self-confidence, and I have always returned home feeling more self-reliant, self-confident, and self-assured. SharonWhere’s Sharon


When I arrived in Mexico last December after almost 24 months of being away, I began to understand fully how much traveling has of expat Living Raphael Alexander Zorenwhat we have here in my land instead of taking it for granted as I always did before. When my feet touched the sandy shore of Acapulco Bay for the first time in years, tears ran down my face as I remembered the beaches I visited abroad and how I’ve always ignored the beauty of my hometown. Some people say traveling makes you richer, others than moving makes you smarter. Me? I must say that travel has made me more humble. Raphael, A Journey of Wonders.

expat living sam.jpgAfter being away from home for nearly two years, I can say that I learned quite a bit about myself. I’ve always been a naturally quieter person. After diving into a foreign culture and language, I found out that I actually can handle awkward situations better than I thought! I’ve had several awkward cultural moments or language barrier issues, but I was proud of myself for handling them with a little bit of grace and charm and didn’t let them affect me. I guess I don’t get as embarrassed as I used to! Samantha, My Tanfeet

Expat Living OlgaSometimes, when you think you want one thing, you’ll end up getting another, and it’s going to be the best thing that happened to you. I never wanted to leave Poland, but here I am in the Netherlands, with a husband from somewhere else. And I feel like I belong here. I’ve never belonged anywhere, but I feel at home here. Olga, The European Mama

expat Living CorinneLiving away from home and all the comforts of family and familiarity, I have learned that all people are the same no matter where they live. Instead of worrying about strangers, I am the stranger and love to meet people wherever I roam. While traveling, I rely on the kindness of strangers quite a bit. I don’t hesitate to ask the person sitting next to me on the park bench where the best restaurant for home-cooked food is found. I love to jump out of my car to meet the man driving his donkey cart down through the middle of town or start up a conversation while photographing the tea-picking ladies. Corinne, Reflections Enroute

Expat living JamesTraveling in a foreign land long-term helped bring me a new perspective about what’s imperative in life. It also forced me to leave my comfort zone I’d known my whole life to learn a new language, discover a new culture, eat different foods, and interact with people whose lives are very different from my own. I now know that I can spend time apart from familiar faces and places and not only survive but thrive. James, Escaping Abroad


By living abroad for the last eight years, I’ve learned to be way more self-reliant and believe in myself. There were many situations in which I thought I could have been helped out, but things did not work out. I’ve also taught myself how to flexible and courageous. I’ve learned to take advantage of every fantastic opportunity that presents itself, trying not to be scared. Also, I guess by not having a stable home – sharing a room when on a budget, I have become able to sleep under any circumstances. There could be a party going on around me, and I can sleep peacefully. Anna, Anna Everywhere


expat living loisAfter three years in Poznan, there’s a part of Poland that I want to take home with me. My life here is simpler and richer. That might sound like a contradiction, but it’s not. We get by with a lot less stuff. Life moves at a slower pace. There is more time for connecting with people.  It’s OK to stop and smell the roses; it’s expected. There’s time for relaxation and sport, and that’s expected too. Can this attitude be incorporated into my life in the States, or will it be like trying to swim upstream? Only time will tell. LoisPolish Housewife

Comments (84)

  1. I’ve never been an expat, but I can imagine that it must feel isolating and alien at times. Do you feel that time is passing at a different pace in Croatia at all – faster or slower?

  2. I think what you learn from living somewhere is hidden in the finer details of daily life. Not readily accessible nor easily put into words as you live it each moment and it is in every small movement. That’s what I’ve found being an expat in the Arctic.

  3. Interesting perspectives from you and the other expats. I bet is it hard to not be able to connect with your friends/family due to the time zones. I have a hard enough time getting a hold of my east coast friends as I live on the west coast of the United States!

  4. A lovely introspective post, SJ. Trying to fit as much as possible is one of the most challenging aspects of expat life and it sounds like you are making the effort. The reflections of other travelers were great to read, as well – I really enjoyed Raphael’s story. I recently hit my longest period of time ever outside the US (8.5 months now) and can relate to a lot of this! Thanks so much for sharing.

  5. It can be a tough life can’t it this expat one? But you are right, it’s not the massive changes you expect that don’t usually happen that matter, but the small ones that do happen frequently that mean the most…

  6. I became an expat at 17, I left home in such a way that my family were not supporting me and it was a fair while before I talked to them. I kept in touch with a few friends, but not many. I, very literally, cut and run when I moved. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and at the time felt right- and it must have been because I would never be the person I am today if I hadn’t done it. It is lonely and scary, for sure, but it’s not until you come home and see the differences and the things that matter here as opposed to there that you realise how lucky you are. Plus I think I was too young to appreciate it. Now I’ve been back in the UK five years- a year longer than I lived in Fuerteventura- and I know that I’d do it all over again.

  7. The expat experience is a really challenging one to define. In my experience, it was hard to measure up positives and negatives until it was over and I moved back home. It was an emotional roller coaster at times, happiness one day and homesickness the next. It makes us all what we are, though.

  8. What a great post to read, as a fellow expat! I definitely get the loneliness and the animal at the zoo mentality. But I wouldn’t swap it for anything!

  9. I have been an international student, an expat and a foreign local (that is, living in a different city in my own country) and yes, it is definitely hard. Good post, SJ :)

  10. I’m an American who has been living in Malaysia for almost 3 years, and I think that it’s a big accomplishment for any expat to not desperately wish that they were back at home. So, good for you! It’s been hard for me to be away from my family as I used to live only a few hours drive away but am now 13 time zones apart. Not being there during deaths and illnesses has been the hardest part. Those are the times when Skype is no substitute for being there in the flesh. On the positive side, I’ve really been able to become more of a risk taker and less worried about the unknown.

  11. I think sometimes it just takes longer to process to figure out what things have meant for you in the long run. Nothing wrong with that, right? I was very ill a couple of years back and knew that there must be a thing or 2 to learn from it all, but couldn’t come up with anything. I just didn’t see it. Now, over 2 years later I finally see that is has meant something, that I have grown and that I am no longer the same person. So maybe in time, that’s you too.

    When I came back from living in Spain I thought everyone else around me was so… blah. Narrow minded, occupied with superficial things etc etc. It took me a while to realise that I was the one that changed, I hadn’t even realised.

  12. I’m not an expat, but it is a dream of mine to test myself by living outside of the United States. I can’t wait to turn that dream into a reality. I think just taking the leap to make that move is incredibly admirable and takes a lot of courage. Dobar posao!

  13. What an honest post. Moving far away from family can be a bit tough but sometimes taking yourself out of the comfort zone can teach you many lessons. For the most part I think traveling has taught me not be me materialist. So no I am not into buying the latest purse or getting a mani/pedi weekly much these days as I enjoy spending that money on far enriching experience I get when I travel.

  14. It actually sounds like you have learned quite a bit and even if you didn’t have a big break through, I am sure you learned a lot about yourself and your past life in Australia. I have lived for many years as expat in the US and how much I changed or how much I have learned, I really only noticed when going back home to Germany for a visit. But at the end of the day it doesn’t even matter since the only thing that counts are experiences and I am sure you had many over the past year. Plus you said you were in the right place, that should be really all that matters… :)

  15. Great post. I am sure it is hard to reflect since your blog shows just how much you are learning about Croatia. Even though I am not an expat, I did move away from my family and am learning to be without them. It is a hard adjustment, but it is something you can get used to as time goes on.

  16. I’m feeling a bit of the loneliness you mention, and I’m not even an expat – but being
    3000 miles and 4 time zones away, plus on a small island, makes me feel very disconnected from my friends and family. That’s not something I expected!

    I think small, everyday changes and things learned add up to be more important then any big epiphany – none of us can really point to one moment and say ‘I’m a totally changed person now!’ You’ve obviously learned and adapted a lot – if you hadn’t, you wouldn’t have come through the past year.

  17. Fantastic post SJ! Maybe a year the “changes,” the “realizations” are just beginning…we’ll see! Thanks for including me!

  18. An interesting insight after a challenging decision, Hope there will be a blog post also from Croatia on the two years anniversary!

  19. Congratulations on your first year. Croatia is somewhere I’d like to see one day so hearing your 1 year experience is enlightening. It is good to know that you feel you are in the right place.

    I was an expat in 2000-01 living in Saudi Arabia. Whilst there someone observed that they felt I matured a fair bit during my time, not I noticed it myself.

    I really missed the beauty of home and appreciated my roots and how much I love my country.

    I also became more worldly wise and exposed my passion for travel. I have travelled so much ever since.

  20. I think the would be a mix of, or better yet a “battle” internally, between the pride and excitement of giving it a go versus the sadness of how lonely it is. Why am I doing this? Am I just on some kind of ego trip? Well the answer is no. You’ve done this for the right reasons. You’ve followed your heart and it just feels right. When I was in Zadar for an extended period of time, I felt lonely and awkward because although I was picking up the language, it was still difficult to have any kind of intellectual coversation beyond “da, let’s have lunch” and “Whereis jadranska street?” I missed my American coffee, and peanut butter. But I guess it’s that ultimate question we Americans ask our selves, and it’s even written in our Constitution: “the pursuit of happiness” is a God given right. And the question is: What is better: the pursuit of happiness, or the possession?

  21. I think I felt very much the same way after a year. It’s not quite enough time to pinpoint how you’ve changed, but you can tell something is going on. I think you’ve been pretty successful, and the adventure keeps on going. =)

  22. This is such a great post! Don’t feel bad for not being able to think of something profound or for not having a huge epiphany… I think the most important is just knowing that you are where you are supposed to be in life. I’m wishing you a very very happy second year of living in Croatia, and I’m looking forward to even more stories!

  23. I loved reading about your story and the stories of so many others! I can understand how you would feel that way – I am the same type of person as you, someone who enjoys time at home in PJs and can go a while without seeing friends, but I know if I was away I would crave that kind of friendship again! You are very strong for making such a big move and making a life somewhere completely different!

  24. Had the same feeling after the first year in Croatia – Dalmatia … Unfortunately after second and the third year it gets only worse and worse… And if you get deeper into politics, and analyze what future and possibilities you or your family (children) have here, the only you have left is depression… No jobs, no possibilities and no future… Unemployment rate is extremely high and its only growing, the government says “Now EU Is Guilty for Croatia’s Recession” We met some British woman with the same dreams and passions like us when she moved down here to Croatia few years before us. Now she is back to UK very bitter about this place and she was warning us not to take a chance and be destroyed like her. And I remember us, arguing with her at the beginning, convincing her that things can be done, changed and moved forward… Unfortunately for us, she was right, Croatia has a loooong way ahead to develop and to be normal according to our standards…

    1. The government is only partially responsible, people needs to be the change they want to see. I’ve met a few people who are forging their way through the hash times and are being successful, Croatians and expats. You cant sit about about waiting for someone else to change things…. make those changes yourself.

      My question to those expats like you who complain and do not like living in Croatia and dislike it so much is…. “Why do you not return home to the mother country?” And what have you done to be a part of the change here in Croatia you are asking for?

      1. Well, well, well, we did probably more than anybody else did here. We initiated and conducted one of the biggest tourist project (Sedam Bisera) here in Dalmatia, to be truthful we have also sponsored it – which was not a small amount of money. We have met over 300 prominent people (politicians, musicians, businessman and so on…) Everyone says WOW, WHAT A FANTASTIC IDEA (Or ideas since this project was just a part of our activities). DO IT YOURSELF… We have organized many international conferences related to EU funds and some more are on the way but nothing concrete has materialized so far. We have provided the government local and national with teams of experts who unselfishly want to help Dalmatia and Croatia with waste and other environment related topics management but the first question they were asked – “What is it in it for me”…

        Actually the last comment toward us is: “You cant sit about about waiting for someone else to change things”

        We promoted the area we are living in just because we like it here despite all the obstacles and I think that thanks to our unselfish and unpaid actions here has been an increase interest in the area in tourism.

        So in overall we see huge potential here in Croatia, we invested uncounted amount of time, effort, knowledge, enthusiasm and money. We do not give up so easily and taking it all into account its difficult to quit and go back. Nevertheless it will be the last year if nothing materializes.

        We will be in Zadar tomorrow so fancy a coffee? Let us know the time and place :)

        P.s. Your blog is really great and well written and I follow you with pleasure :)

        1. Damn!! I just read this now. I would have loved to met for coffee. I would love to have known more about your efforts and understand how something which sounds so great has not yet been a success. My email is, if you come back this way to email me. And thanks for your kind words on my blog, that means a huge amount to me.

        2. I’m VERY impressed with your comment and your work! Good for you for taking the risk; it sounds like you learned a lot so far.

          From what I observed in my four Croatian cities, I think there is a business idea and model that may work which isn’t as large as yours, nor as capital-intensive, but still manages to turn a decent profit, AND takes into consideration that wonderful expression of greed and corruption you find in ex-Communist countries, “What’s in it for me?” You may have been TOO successful, which is a surprising outcome for someone to say who has been a small-business writer for years.

          However, what that business idea is I am still seeking, which is why I’m still in Virginia…

    2. When I read statements like “Croatia has a loooong way ahead to develop
      and be normal,” I hear only opportunities. Yes, it takes capital to do
      so, but why reinvent the wheel when it comes to ideas? Adapt your own
      home standards to a Croatian environment and see how much the locals
      like–and spend–in a normal small business that would not look out of
      place in America or elsewhere in the West.

      I was very impressed
      with the small businesses I visited in Split and Zagreb, even more so
      with the Hemingway chain of restaurants on the coast. Westerners bring a
      natural sense of entrepreneurship to wherever they choose to live, if
      they want to try it themselves.

  25. It sounds like you have learned a lot! And it also sounds like you are too hard on yourself. It is interesting what you say about skipping things you took for granted in Australia, as I have basically always skipped those things to afford more travel and not found it an issue. It is definitely harder to have a tightass mindset here though as so many people act like they are entitled to extras.

    You have forgotten something else you have learned a lot about – blogging!! This site is a testament in itself to how much you have learned in the last year.

    1. Going against the grain to save is always hardest, when you are in a place with money. Here it’s easier as so many people lack what most Aussies have. Thanks for your kind words about my blog, that means a bunch!!

  26. Oh well, 1) not everything has to be profound 2) I think I’m the same- I came up with something similar, “I belong here, it’s the right place to be”, but nothing like many people say, like “it has changed me”. I learned a new language and since my being abroad coincinded with having children, I also learned to be a mom. But these two things I could have done anywhere.

    1. Yeah I guess I was looking for the profound… and you’re right it so does not have to be.

  27. It’s been a year?! You look great in the photo. I love the stories and photos of all the others too.

    Haven’t learnt much in a year? Just how to create an awesome blog from scratch and create a life in a different country in a different language.

    Miss you but glad you’re in the right place for you and your family

    1. Nawwwwww, you’re far too kind. Thanks Kate glad you’re enjoying it.

  28. What a great post, SJ. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your heartfelt experience (in this blog and as an expat friend). CANNOT WAIT to meet you in Athens!!!!!

  29. Congratulations on surviving and thriving your first year. I think it’s got to be the hardest. I think for me, as a TCK expat since forever, the most important thing is to think of the “now” as “home” and stop hankering after the left behind. In my case there is nowhere other than where I am now that I can call “home” so perhaps this is easy for me and easier said than done for most. Carpe diem! Interesting to read all the other expat experiences too. Great photo of you too btw!!

  30. Congratulations on making it one year! It’s an accomplishment, and no small thing to say that you haven’t wanted to throw the towel in and go home. And it’s okay if you don’t have anything profound to say about your first year. Often, we can’t realize what we have learned and how we have changed until we leave our surroundings. You found out things about yourself when you left Australia; you might not know how Croatia has changed until you go back to Australia, if only for a visit.

  31. Happy anniversary, SJ!!! Sretna godišnjica!!! :) I think that knowing that you are in the right place is A LOT!!! People spend years of meditation and all kinds of courses to get there or anywhere close! Bravo!!! And I can definitely confirm that you have learned some “hrvatski jezik” too! :)

  32. Congrats on surviving the first year! :) Hope with time you will feel more at home. But basically life is the same anywhere around the world, pattern is home-work-home in infinite loop. The only thing that divides us is language. If all of us on the planet spoke the same language feel would be much different. When it come to habits and cultural differences they can be great within every country. Even in small Croatia there are places where I feel like I’m in some foreign country. Anyway glad you are settling and wish you many more years among us here :)

  33. Congrats on the first year! I remember celebrating my first full year in Costa Rica and I couldn’t believe it. Now I’m approaching year 2! It’s crazy how time flies. I like your complete honesty, it is not easy picking up and leaving your home country, your family and friends so I feel you. I went one whole year without seeing any family or friends and it was tough. Sure technology is great but there’s no feeling like hugging your best friend. Cheers to many more years to come and even if it may not feel like it, you have definitely come a long way. Also thanks for including me in here :)

  34. What a great post! Congrats on making it to a year! :) I found myself nodding along to everything you were saying from the fears and doubts to the lack of lessons learned in year one. Even now that I’ve gone and come back and it’s been almost 3 years since I first left, I’m still trying to find all the pieces of learning and where I’ve grown. I think it is harder to notice when it is happening to you because the transitions happen slowly, but I’m sure over time you will notice the little things that have changed. Here’s to many more years!

  35. Congratulations on making it through your first year in Croatia. What a great and heartfelt post, SJ. I’m not an expat but I do remember the feelings of loneliness when I went to college and not belonging. I can’t even being to imagine all the adjustments you had to make. But, what a great accomplishment and I admire your patience and will power to stick it out. Wonderful idea to include other expat stories. For what it’s worth, your blog has really inspired a lot of people to visit your adopted home and I’ve loved following you along on your experience. Wishing you a better Year 2.

    1. Nawwwww so sweet of you Mary! I do hope lots of people see how great Croatia is and come and visit. Spend a few $$ here and help the local economy bounce back :)

  36. Love the honesty in this! Congrats on making it a year. Kind of weird reading something like this, knowing that in a little over a year, I’ll be able to do the same reflecting on myself. Here’s to year 2!

    1. I’ll be keen to know how you do after one year solo. Thats REALLY hard.

  37. Great and honest post. Living abroad seems wonderful, but there are things to deal with. For me, I think the loneliness would be the hardest.

    1. Yes, I think that really is the toughest part. All expats should start a blog to make online friends….or not :)

  38. This is a really heartfelt post. Congrats on the first year!

    I have to say I identify a lot. We first left home to live abroad in 2001 (it was probably only going to be a year) and I think after all those years I’d have a hard time answering the question. I mean yes, I learned a lot, but on the other hand we were pretty young so all our friends at home did, too. At the time I never thought much about the differences.

    Our secret has always been that we’ve chosen to move, we haven’t been chasing money or career opportunities, only adventure. Now with a couple of kids in tow and a bigger salary at stake I’m suddenly feeling the conflict, probably just over the past 12 months.

    It’s funny it should become a “thing” after all this time.

    1. Yes, its impossible to escape from, money that is. It makes things so much easier in so many ways, but at the same time its not THE thing in life that’s important. I say to everyone, go with your heart xx

  39. Mrs CtD, it was a real conffesion of yours. You are right about everything, about courious people staring etc… But life is a long travel that runs fast. My life travel is with my 5 children, I choose myself.

    Therefore I make a visit there and where but in a relatively close range (Italy, Austria, Slovenia and Bosnia). I like travelling sometimes, but because of my kids, and financial times, I go close, and I’m happy with that.

    I know that it is not easy to carry the weight of a foreigner. But, you’re brave chooser and decider, and I support you. And I think that there is always someone in around that will support you and love you that much, that it pays off everything that you must bear – like a donkey must :)
    But remember, once a donkey was carrying Jesus!

    1. Thanks Ratko, so kind of you to say. We’re all the same in the end no matter where we live. Blessings to you and your family.

      1. I agree, everyone have it’s own havy load to carry. And it’s our own decision will we carry or stop, love it or hate it.
        God bless you too, and all your family! Wish you many happy years ahead!

  40. I learned to relax after moving to Russia. On my previous visits I would fixate on everything that wasnt American enough, efficient enough, good enough. After I moved here I decided to let go and accept the country as it – and as a result I am healthier, happier and more fulfilled than I had been for years in the States.

    1. I’m glad to hear you say that. I like reading and knowing what it’s like to live in other places from the jungle of the city in America. The lady in this interview seemed to focus on her depression of living out of the fast track monetary system to fulfill her whims instead of seeing the beauty of the people and nature around her – finding its hidden gems. I live like they do in Croatia. I don’t have money to do my nails or hair or buy clothes. I cannot waste anything. It’s a lesson in creativity and health. I make use of wild edibles, home gardening and cooking….and I prefer it to a lifestyle of Corporate USA and having my life bound up around a 8-5 job for a paycheck. It amazes me how many people who have more “things” and “stuff” in their lives are like emotional children caught up in that to the point of misery, even though they are slaves to that lifestyle. Wake up to LIFE!!!!! (if one can even see it). I thank you for that woman for offering wise advice. Make the best of what you have with PATIENCE.

  41. Wow what a great post. I love that you connected with so many of your readers and got an insight to how they view life as an expat. It’s something you don’t think about or understand until it’s there in your face and experienced first hand.

  42. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with the world, and those people like me who dream of coming back to Croatia and doing what you have bravely done for the last year.

    When I spent twelve days in Zagreb / Rajeka / Split / Dubrovnik as a tourist in 2012, I was very thankful that I had email and Internet access so I could talk to people back home in Virginia (US). I didn’t do it every day as I’ve traveled around other parts of Europe and been away from home in strange places many times before, unlike my accompanying cousin who was experiencing overseas travel for the first time and was constantly in contact with those back home in Ohio, but I found communicating was much better than what I used when I first traveled to Europe in the 1980s, namely using an expensive long-distance phone call and the postal system. It didn’t feel as difficult to hear a voice or share a few minutes with someone you care about as it did when I visited Europe for the first time in the 1980s, so for me it wasn’t as traumatic when the conversation was over because I knew I could easily do it again when I wanted to.

    I’ve found that with my friends who have relocated elsewhere in the United States or overseas that the first year-and-a-half is a transition period. It’s the three years later when I rarely hear from them that I know that they’ve assimilated into their new surroundings. But if they are online or social media savvy, I still get to share in their lives more so that I could 20 or 30 years ago.

    You are lucky to be living in such a nice place on the Dalmatian coast in 2014. I envy you and hope you continue to share your lives with interested strangers like all of us who enjoy your blog and appreciate the time you take to maintain it.

    And I hope your husband finds work soon. After being there for a week and knew I wanted to stay, when I tried to find work in Split the nice lady at the local Chamber of Commerce told me that they did not need Americans at the moment because the 16% unemployment rate was stifling a lot of natives from finding work themselves. Oh well, I will have to find that work niche in Croatia another way…

    1. Thanks for your comment. Yes work here is tough. I think the key is trying to start your own business or join up with someone to do that – but even then it’s tough.

      I am so glad you enjoy the blog, it does take me many hours to do keep it going, but I do love it xxxxx

  43. I felt so much better after reading your article. After almost 10 months of living overseas and having recently returned from a short trip back home I started to feel really lonely and sad. I thought about these months that had passed feeling like I had accomplished nothing and feeling like a failure at my new life. It gets really lonely in this life and people think it’s all glamour and fun or the really mean people expect you to be miserable and depressed. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Ohh it’s so normal! Find a few other expats and you’ll all hear the same thing. After I came back from my first trip back to Australia I cried on-and-off for two weeks. You are totally normal xxx

      1. Guys, I have spotted this blog by chance and it is definitely lots of fun (and full of very useful information). Everything you read here – on this blog – is true. In part. I am a native Croatian, born and grew up here (first 17 years before leaving for the United States and more… where a third of my life was then spent..). The big question, and the biggest concern for ALL immigrants (and any immigrants of the entire world!) is always the same. Lonelines is the same everywhere. and problems, culture-issues etc are the same everywhere. This is not the point. One is being very non-original, and very average if your problems are the same as literally everyone else’s across the world! The big revelation is this: HOW CAN I MAKE IT SO, REGARDLESS OF WHERE I AM (COUNTRY IS IRRELEVANT HERE), SO THAT I CAN ENJOY AND LOVE MY LIFE? That’s it. That’s the entire point.I know bazzillion of domestic people (natives).. just pick a country – and the fact they are /natives/ does not make them angry, bitter and deeply unhappy.. Folks – face it! Majority of people don’t know how to live their lives and be happy these days..

        Okay, so how do you make YOUR life worth living then? (and be happy)?

        Here’s where, indeed, the accepting and knowing cultural differences can help greatly (or ignoring those can make it difficult to live happily).

        Croatia is no U.S.
        Croatia is no Australia, either. Croatia is Croatia.

        Can you be happy in Croatia? You bet you can! Can you be unhappy? Of course.

        What is one to do? First of all, DECIDE whether you wish to remain here. “When in Rome…”

        You cannot leave an American life in Croatia and be happy. You will be happy if you live a Croatian-life in Croatia.

        If, in fact, you deeply dislike the ‘Croatian-life-style’ – I would not wait another minute.. Just collect your belongings and leave. Indeed, you might be happier elsewhere (or not! You’ll find out one day)

        But if it is your desire to REMAIN in Croatia. Relax.

        ASK questions (always be humble).

        Show LOVE for the county. For the people. For the nation.

        Say something like, “hey, I really love this country..and I will never leave Croatia! But, can you just help me figure this out.. or figure that out..?” – TRY IT! It will work.

        Once it can be truly FELT you are here for good (and not debating whether to stay or go…) that’s when the greatest changes will happen.

        And here’s what will happen:

        1. You will begin noticing many (okay, not all, not majority, but MANY) deeply disoriented Croats. NOTE, THIS IS NORMAL! Croatia has has a very fucked up background and history. Up to this day, the fucked up ‘heritage’ is following at least 40% of the population. ACCEPT IT. LOVE IT. LIVE WITH IT.

        This is gradually get better ( it is getting better already), but your life is too short to spend it working out why 40% of Croats do not love their own country, feel deep inferiority complex etc etc.

        If you are a smart person – you will ‘bump into thee individuals’ (as you inevitably must) and then you will want to AVOID meeting those people again. Period.

        You will seek normal, positive, enthusiastic Croatians.. You’re right. These are a minority (I’d say less than 20%) – but it is what it is.

        Croatia (Yugoslavia etc) and its people are full of trauma and baggage. You cannot change the past. You can affect the future. And your contribution can be tremendeous. You just need to understand the fact that, yes – FUCKED UP is the word. But also HUGE POTENTIAL is the world.

        People with enthusiasm will gradually turn the country into their ownership (be it Croats, Belgians, Germans, ..Brits..) – pessimism will not create new jobs and open up industry.. OPTIMISM will.

        Optimists are those people (like myself) who have been there and done it. I know the U.S. and I don’t miss it.

        I know that living in Croatia – IF YOU ARE CLEVER – can be 100 times better than living in the U.S.

        But always remember.. “when in Rome.. behave like the Romans do”

        Speak Croatian. YES, join a fucking political party here (if everyone is buzzing about it, why not?) – I recommend HDZ.

        And just work everyday on CREATING, BUILDING AND CONSTRUCTING instead of destroying (aaand – not of lesser importance, do not appear overly intelligent, or authoritatove…BE SIMPLE, have joy and share it, be easy, enjoy small things this life is offering, and that’s that!)

        Croatia can be a great country.

        Don’t forget (and do not kid yourself) – if you want to become a world-reknowned IT specialist, become a billionaire, or TRULY become a world-leader in your field – then Croatia is nOT for you. You must go to New York, L.A. or London. Period.

        But for a easy-life, lots of humour (and always,.. ADVENTURE AND UNPREDICTABILITY!) – Croatia is your kind of place!

  44. Thanks for sharing your insights. Its interesting to read your thoughts on life here post 1 year in.

    I have been living in Zagreb for two months now and I must admint I have never felt so lonely in my life. I am from Melbourne and am quite social, but here I am struggling to meet people and find myself isolated.

    I speak Croatian somewhat fluently as my parents were born here but it has not helped socially, aside from the fact I am able to speak with the waiter or store clerk.

    I have found Zagreb possibly the unfriendliest and unwelcoming city I have ever visited. I have lived on 3 different continents spanning 8 countries and can honestly (and sadly) say that people here are the most closed off I have met.

    The bureaucracy is hard to deal with but the people even more so. I dont think I will be here long term.

    Good luck with your plans. Best wishes.

    1. Oh Dave, that sucks! Have you joined Internations? They have regular meet up in Zagreb…

    2. Hi, Dave,

      I myself come from Zagreb and have started living abroad almost 2 years ago. I have been changing several countries due to my scholarship program and have found myself feeling more home in this foreign places where people seemed somehow warmer and more relaxed in their being. I have found friends that are more open and sincere with me than l ever felt in my life and l keep wondering how is that possible. Is it me who was the problem? I am not sure l can answer to this question objectively. But, my perspective is that in Zagreb there is certain mentality of snobism of the capital city (that other cities extensively judge) that wants to be a copy of Vienna mixed with depression and stagnation because of the fact that people have difficulties to survive in that economic situation. People are slightly xenophobic and insecure since many of them never had the opportunity to experience anything outside their country borders so they feel pressure when communicating with strangers. They see them as THEM, opposite of Croatian and this strong dichotomy causes double standards and irrealistic expectations. And, in general, only exceptions do let others to approach them but it might be hard to find them.
      Life there is hard and that might be the trigger of this closed attitude. People are exhausted and dissapointed. I have been working 3 jobs with university classes everyday, and l did that to pay the bills of my family. So, since l was 18 l had to support my family with terrible low paid jobs (without any contract and very insecure) and many of them do. And l was even considered to be lucky that l found those jobs! That exhausting routine drains out the curiosity and young enthusiams and makes the youth there depressed and pessimistic. This is what l experienced in my 24 years of life in Zagreb.
      Everytime someone ask me if l miss my hometown, l just shrug my shoulders saying that l am terrified of the idea of having to come back there. And l feel deeply sorry for all the people who are strugling to survive and can’t escape from the chains of the selfdestructing economy that swallows young potentials. I am trying to help somehow by sending the money to my family there and encouraging my Croatian friends and collegues to seek for opportunities and to be brave.

      I can understand how hard it is to connect to people there. I hope you will have more luck in future and feel more comfortable in that city because it does have it’s own beauties. As all the places do, after all.
      In any case, if you don’t feel good there, can you leave?

      Best of luck,


  45. Sorry for the difficulty having internet problems. The Fridged Canadians have arrived in Vir on holiday and would love to meet for coffee to discuss the pros and cons of building or purchasing. We leave the time and place to you.

  46. No matter where one is a matter of people who interact with, the lifestyle and “doing something”. I lived in Croatia some years ago working for the OSCE (international war Balkans).

    My girlfriend and I had a great time..But, living there solo regardless of how gorgeous it is…can be challenging. Having more than adequate income means no need to work…but, one cannot drink coffee all day..or lay on the beach everyday. One must have a mission. And that is the challenge for anyone wishing to live outside their normal.

    I have thought about time in Croatia (six months or so)..say Porec, Zadar or Dubrovnik..but, again..what the hell does one do all day.

    So it goes. RH (North Carolina, USA and Key West, Florida)

  47. You probably won’t like my experience.
    I lived in Croatia 2 years and a half so far. My fiancee is Croatian, so I moved in with him after spending an amazing summer here. Since I moved in, things had been going south. It feels like the whole country is sucked by this negative and lazy energy. The few friends I made here are expats, or Croatians who had been living abroad so they are more open minded.
    I am trying to escape but seems like the country traps you in a depressing circle, where every day is more difficult to make a single Kuna, and everything is so expensive that makes it impossible to save a penny to buy a flight ticket back home. People is so rude that I barely go out to stay far away from their negative attitude. I tried so hard! I tried to socialize, smile at them, be nice to them, and still no positive answers. After 2 years of brainstorming ideas to make money, finding bureaucratic blocks on my way every time I wanted to put an idea in motion, and trying to go out and socialize with no results, I stopped trying. I gave up. This is not me. I was such a happy person with many friends! My only pleasure is to go to the sea, put my feet in the water, and canalize there all the bad energies, and charge myself with peace and relax. I am begging to my fiancee to go to live somewhere else, but we have no money, and all my savings are gone. I am tired of Croatia. I can’t handle it anymore.
    Sorry to share this with you, but I need to pour it out.
    As far as I spoke with other expats, life in Croatia is very hard for us. Not a country to stay and dry. Run away before is too late!

  48. I stumbled on this article, because I Googled “Why is it hard to understand Croatian culture?”. I Googled this after 13 years of living in Croatia (and not only in Zagreb). I have lived in Zagreb through medical school, Zadar for my first job, Cres for my second and Kostajnica for my third job. As a background, I came from Raleigh, North Carolina where southern hospitality is part of the culture and we are nice to the point where my friends from DC said we’re like ‘children of the corn’. Then I moved to Zagreb for medical school. Why? Because it was under Harvard Medical. As per Croatian custom, I got screwed because they removed themselves from Harvard 2/3rd through the program. So I graduated with a useless degree and don’t have $10,000 for the USMLE to get back to the US.

    I got stuck and started working in Croatia (after TWO years of fighting for a law change that said you need a ‘domovnica’ to do your internship and the licensing examination). Needless to say, I lost a lot of LIFE because being a local immigrant, I could not work after finishing with my student visa. The program lasted 6 years and 6 months before graduation, MUP conveniently changed the law that student visas are worth only HALF. This meant that we could NOT get a permanent residency after completing our studies (which would allow us to stay and work). So during that time of 2010 to end of 2011, I was homeless and illegally cleaning toilets in the middle of the night. I also stole food from markets and ate trash and leftovers from restaurants. That’s what a medical degree from the University of Zagreb gets you if you’re not a citizen nor rich.

    I understand then how everybody on this page feels and was AMAZED to find that people are like me, so let’s compare experiences:

    1. Even after 13 years, I have never been invited to do anything traditional and cultural. Tourists might say that people are open, but only superficially. They will sleep with you without knowing your name and that is ok for being an Irish tourist, but being raised as an American, I find it disgusting. 50% of the women I know (more from work) have been raped, usually at the age of 16 and usually on the coast. So people are closed and untrusting. That means, you don’t get asked to family events and you will never really know the culture as a foreigner.

    2. After 13 years of trying to integrate (I am Asian), I gave up. Even though I work as a doctor and thus my Croatian is relatively fluent, I gave up on speaking Croatian to people (which pisses people off) when I am not working. If they can’t accept me, why do I have to conform to them? That seems a little one-sided.

    3. I went to Internations, but most people there are superficially nice and it is a business interaction. Croatians are there to “get contacts and scam money” from foreigners (like the MoveOne people who overcharge diplomats for a packing job or the people who say they can expedite relocations for a fee of 1000 Euro). It is very “high school” and every time I go, I feel like the men are on one side and women are on the other side and they are afraid to meet, because most guys who come to these events are looking for a one-night stand. I know this, because I tried talking about culture and to philosophize about living in Croatia, but nobody seems to be interested in talking about the subject Internations was made to promote.

    4. Everything is illogical here. If you think about almost every example, do the opposite of US logic and it works here. For instance, the light for the straight road turns green first before the left turn, creating a bottle neck instead of relieving the bottle neck first. Traffic lights are not across the street, so you have to lean forward to see it. That way people lose their peripheral vision and zoom off without paying attention to pedestrians. Everybody on Ilica astronaut walks, blocking the path for everybody. People don’t pay attention to cyclists when crossing the street. My nurse pointed out how “cool” this driver was and he driving 130 km/h (85 mph) through the villages. Big example? They got rid of a prime minister who had a vision for Croatia and voted in the political party that steals the people’s money.

    5. People are not open at all. I used to work as a bartender in Bacchus during 2009 and 2010, and we created an atmosphere where people were merging conversations. I know that takes an extroverted skill, but I am American. The Croatians (or 99.9% of them) do not know how to talk to people without insulting them. Then they ‘apologize’ by saying, “I’m sorry YOU feel that way.” Croatians need to learn that is not an apology. I can tell the person that they’re stupid and their feelings will be injured. Instead of changing my statement, I can say, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” For those Croatians who are OFFENDED by this article, I’m sorry you feel that way.

    6. My Croatian ex girlfriend left me, because once her father found out I was Asian (and Muslim), they mocked her until she went crazy. Her friends then told her to keep a diary of things I did wrong? You might think I’m an @$$hole, but I was a happy person before Croatia broke me down. When there was an accident on Ilica, I was the first to run to see if people were ok. Then the Croatian people I know (I don’t want to call them friends or associates) mocked me as wanting to be a superhero. When I became a doctor, they told me they would never come to me because I would probably kill them. I would be an awful doctor. Then I lose confidence in the things that I do, nothing is awesome and I make mistakes at work. That would be ok if you were bureacratic (Croatians never mock the people at MUP because they want bureacracy to be faster for them), but when you deal with human lives, you need confidence to make decisions. When people you think are your friends mock your abilities as a doctor, you lose that confidence to make decisions which can affect people’s lives. The concept of positive jokes are not known here. Insults are how people “joke”. People call me Japanese or Chinese (while making the squinty eye), but I am originally Malaysian. Japanese killed our people during WWII and Chinese people killed our people during the 12 Year Emergency. And when I ask them if they are Serbian or Bosnian and flip the joke on them, they are offended. So I’m sorry you feel that way when Croatians are basically copying Serbian culture.

    7. I don’t know what the definition of friendship is here, but I define it as a relationship with compromising, meeting in the middle and a healthy balance of benefits and sacrifices. Except for ONE family who have international experience, all the Croatians I know will not invite me to any of their events. I always come to Kostajnica to drink with my friends and I stopped going, because for 2 years I have gone there without anybody coming to Zagreb to drink with me.

    I think that’s enough for now. If expats or immigrants do not mind being doormats for the Croatian culture and would love to live in a culture where most people do things out of their own selfish interest, then this is the place to be! It’s a balls-out, alpha-male society and if you want a place where you can rape underaged girls during the summer without them reporting you, there’s a beautiful coastline to do it on.

    If they want me to leave, they can pay for my USMLE since I paid 50,000 Euro for this medical degree (PLUS about 70,000 Euro for living expenses) that only allows me to work here (don’t forget, you have to have the sweet combination of citizenship, race, visa, money, license and degree to be accepted to work in a country – for instance Australia will only take US or UK licensed doctors with at least 5 years of experience in the US or UK). It’s not so easy to move around as a doctor like it was in the 1980s. I can’t work for Doctors Without Borders, because since I am a foreigner I have rights to a Croatian (EU) license ONLY if I am working for a Croatian employer. So if I want to shift to Doctors Without Borders, I wouldn’t have a license and thus can’t work for Doctors Without Borders.

    I fight for the goodness of this culture since I am stuck here, so every day is a useless fight against negativity. If Croatians can only stop themselves, think which decision or situation is better for other people instead of themselves, then do that instead, then they would probably not be 20 years behind the western nations. There is a shortcut to the thought process AND to every Croatian reading this and wanting to beat the $h!t out of me when you see me because I’m critisizing the negativity of your culture, STOP and do the complete opposite and you’ll be almost exactly like most North Carolinians I know. After all, Jesus says to turn the other cheek. In this country, I’ve been turning my cheek so much that I feel like a top spinning out of control.

    Before everyone thinks that this is my first ‘expat’ post, I grew up in a diplomatic family and have lived in 10 countries and been through over 80. Croatia was the only place where I felt like an ‘outsider’.

    1. We are actually trying to get away from serbian culture not god forbbid try to copy it, but meh ignorance is great, especially for some Asian. One more thing about us, if you don’t like it, go back.

  49. anything about the country? what do you like about croatia ? nothing??? people would like to hear about what is good about the country not about you missing skype.

  50. Sarah, I admire you. I have been following you since you moved to my homeland and think you are special. People of Croatian roots who move back have it much easier than you do being Australian. Yet you make it look so easy. I read your 5 year update and have to say you do not give yourself as much kredit as you deserve. Do you really know how far you have come? Croatia is blessed to have you as an example for many reasons, not just for your efforts to promote travel in our county better than anyone but for your willingness to share with the world how you can move and be a great success. God Bless you and your family now and always. Hvala

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