June 24th marks my Croatia anniversary. It is officially the longest place I have lived outside the small town of Fallbrook, California – the so-called ‘avocado capital of the world’ and an agricultural oasis an hour north of San Diego, where I was born and raised. San Francisco took the cake before Split, where I spent six years attending university and launching myself as a fresh-faced 21-year-old into the fast-paced startup world. I had no idea then that I would end up in Croatia, let alone Europe, at 24. California was my home. The state that made me. But Croatia has transformed me into who I am today.
I know I’ve said this many times, and anyone who knows me or has followed my journey here knows that I moved to Split accidentally. After spending six months in London, I was desperate to finalize my Croatian citizenship to either stay in London or move anywhere else in Europe (like Berlin). During that time, my parents moved to Split to retire, and one month later, I visited them to sort out citizenship paperwork and enjoy the same Croatian summer I had since I was a little girl.
I arrived on June 24, 2015. It was the summer that changed my perception of Split. It was no longer the port city I had remembered. It had transformed from the transport hub we would visit as a family on the way to Hvar or a short stint for a Hajduk match. Split had come to life in a different light in 2015. There was a new renaissance. Bustling restaurants and bars. Expats. And locals that I still call friends.
After the season’s changed and my citizenship was approved, I was convinced to stay in Split a little longer. It wasn’t easy to find work here at first, and it took almost a year after I arrived to find the gig that changed my course in Croatia. My professional work experience was in marketing and communications, first as a sales & marketing intern at a San Francisco startup before taking on a role as the community manager of a new photo/video app rivaling Instagram, then ultimately co-founding an app in e-commerce. What in the world could I do with that in Split? Was tech even a thing here? Did a startup environment even exist?
I graduated from university with a degree in political science, which I completed to become a political journalist. Otherwise, I’ve always been right-brained, favoring creativity, imagination, and arts. I knew I was a good writer. I knew what I was capable of in terms of marketing. But I also knew my work in hospitality was limited to managing a cupcake shop while studying at university. I didn’t want to work a seasonal hospitality job because it was the norm. I was motivated and hungry to start something but knew I needed to start somewhere first.
My first ‘job’ in Split was working alongside a booking agent known for his roster of big bands like TBF and up-and-coming artists like Sara Renar. With my dad’s background in the music industry as a travel agent for entertainment, this felt like a good fit. It was a good insight into how things worked in Croatia and how coffee meetings were king, but it was only the beginning.
A few months later, my mom sent me a Facebook post about how Total Split of the Total Croatia News brand was looking for a new writer. Well, this seemed perfect, but I hadn’t written blogs in a few years, nor did I know Split inside out yet. I applied, anyhow. I didn’t hear anything for a few weeks and assumed that was the end. In the meantime, I had to take a last-minute trip back to the States, which would keep me in California for three weeks. I received an email from TCN the second I landed at LAX. The TCN team was still eager to continue with my application process, and I met with Paul Bradbury the day after I arrived back in Split. I started working with TCN the day after that and celebrated my 6th anniversary with the company last month, which is also officially the longest time I’ve spent employed at a single place.
My role with TCN has evolved over the years, from writing for Total Split and Total Inland Dalmatia to covering travel news and lifestyle events. Though it really took form when I took over as Sports Editor in 2017, especially after a former colleague told me I would never see a press pass for Croatia national team games. As an avid football player for most of my life, a coach’s daughter, and a FIFA referee’s granddaughter, I wasn’t going to let anyone get in the way of my love for Croatian football. Since then, I’ve been an accredited journalist at nearly all Croatia national team matches, Hajduk matches, and traveled around Europe for Europa League, UEFA Nations League, and EURO 2020. I recorded 20+ international radio interviews during the 2018 World Cup and even became the Croatian correspondent for the largest sports radio station in the world. Today I am not only the Sports Editor of Total Croatia News but the COO. Did this all stem from a local telling me, “I will never get X in Croatia”? It was certainly part of it. Do I think I would have achieved the same success in the US? I’m not sure. But this also shows that if you put your mind to something, you can achieve it, and it feels even better when you do it in Croatia.
Always running into people that needed my native English flair for various tourism projects, I also launched a copywriting business in 2017, which has grown to more clients than I can handle by myself. It is a niche, but it is needed, and the increasing demand for storytelling in Croatian tourism has undoubtedly helped. I’m busier than ever, and my work doesn’t stop when the seasons change. I am eternally grateful to everyone that has given me an opportunity here, told me I couldn’t, or motivated me to do more. I work from home, have flexible hours (which, let’s be honest, is 7 am to 11 pm every day), and can afford an apartment I love, on my own, without any help from the money I made in America (that was all spent in 2015). I am proud of what I have achieved here but am even more appreciative of what Croatia has taught me about myself.
So, after 7 years in Croatia, what have I learned?
Paul Bradbury is famous for saying, “don’t expect to change Dalmatia but expect it to change you.” And it has.
To start – has it aged me? Tremendously, because I’ve never worked harder in my life. But I am thankful that my continued work ethic helped launch a career here that I love, that is my own, and that gave me a world of opportunities I never imagined, making the increasingly appearing frown lines a bit easier to look at every morning.
I’ve learned to stop drawing comparisons between Croatia and the US because you can’t. Croatia has what the US doesn’t – both good and bad. While I likely work just as much as I would have in the States, er, maybe more, I’m happier. I am not following the rat race of the working world in America. I wake up to the Adriatic Sea every morning. And I feel at peace. The anxieties that come with living in America alone aren’t worth the higher salaries. And I make sure to tell every Uber driver that questions why I would swap California for Split about how good we have it here and how the grass isn’t always greener on the other side (political circus and bureaucracy aside).
I remember being so worried about making new friends in Split when I arrived, but the truth is, it was easier than I thought – and much more genuine than some of the relationships I had in California. I quickly found my pack here, and while it has evolved over the years, the foundation has remained the same. It’s not hard to surround yourself with equally driven people. Most of my friends are business owners, many foreigners, and incredible locals doing amazing things. I’ve learned that the community in Split is beyond special, but you must be careful who you choose to be a part of yours. With that said, I still maintain the importance of staying in your bubble and only letting those you trust in. You never know when someone’s pride may get in the way. And you know how proud some Croatians can be.
I’ve only recently learned that setting boundaries are essential. Once you put yourself out there as a yes woman, people expect that of you, and you hold those standards for yourself. Maybe part of me needed to do that for the last seven years to finally be in the place of comfort I am now and gain that respect, but people can also easily take advantage of your eagerness, and while they’re getting what they want – you’re the one suffering. Transparency and communication are key in all work here because miscommunication or misunderstandings often happen. It’s important to work with people you wholly trust and build those relationships as they will ultimately bring more.
And back to “don’t expect to change Dalmatia but expect it to change you.” Dalmatia – is a beast. The best of the best and the worst of the worst at times. Overall, you learn to adapt, become softer and tougher simultaneously, and learn how to navigate what works and what doesn’t. You can push for something for years without seeing the light of day, or something can fall into your lap. You never really know what will take off and won’t, which can be disheartening. But that doesn’t mean you should give up if you believe in something.
Also, it’s okay to celebrate your success. I know that’s sometimes ‘taboo’ in Croatia, but we should all pat ourselves on the back for what we have achieved here, as even the smallest victories can make the biggest impact.
In the last year alone, my experiences in Split have shaken my core. I’ve had my heart broken, my world rattled, and I thought about leaving Croatia for good. But I always came back to the same thing – could I really leave this place? The place that has given me everything? I couldn’t. And I wouldn’t change the passion and pride of Split people (or the frustrations) for anything in the world.
Seven years in Split and at least another seven more – here’s to the place that changed me for the better.
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