From Korea to Zagreb: Soyeon Won Reflects on Decade in Croatia

Lauren Simmonds

Updated on:

While the headlines continue to be dominated by the depressing tales of the mass exodus of Croatia’s inhabitants to other countries, there is a much quieter, but still very much present, trickle of foreigners making Croatia their permanent home. One of these people made the journey from Asia, and relocated from Korea to Zagreb in search of happiness, which she well and truly found.

”If someone is looking for a nice place to live, I’d certainly recommend Croatia, but if they’re coming to develop their career and earn money, I’d definitely offer them some friendly advise to go somewhere else,” says 35-year-old Soyeon Won, who relocated from Korea to Zagreb almost a decade ago,.

As Oresic writes on the 8th of December, 2018, back in 2015, she opened the Korean restaurant Cro K on Ulica pod Zidom (Street under the Wall) near Dolac in central Zagreb. Cro stands for Croatia, and K for Korea. Soyeon states that she’s so fond of the name Cro, that she named her eldest son, who is now eight, Cro, because he was born in Croatia. In Korea, as she says, there is no such male name, but regardless, it sounds good to her.

It’s no secret that South Korean people love Croatia, which is best evidenced by the data proving that a growing number of tourists are visiting Croatia from this distant country in which the Croatian tourist offer has been being very well advertised over recent years. There have also been some very popular TV shows which were shot in Croatia, after which the curious Koreans, fascinated by the beauty of the cities and nature that they saw on their screens, began visiting in larger numbers.

Some, like Yo Han Kima, a Korean shop owner, came to Croatia on holiday, and they ended up liking it so much that they decided to stay, live here permanently, and even start their own business. Gye Yoen Cho from the Korean Embassy in Zagreb revealed that according to her knowledge, around 180 South Korean citizens have made the move from Korea to live in Croatia, but as they’re not required to report to the embassy, ​​the actual number is certainly somewhat higher than we’d expect. A good deal of them came to Croatia to study initially and ended up staying, while some work in Korean company offices, particularly Samsung.

The amount of people who have either tried, or have successfully made the move from Korea to Zagreb and beyond remains unknown by the embassy, but their numbers are likely higher than we might imagine.

“There are more and more Korean tourists in Croatia and I hope there will also be more investors. For the time being, there aren’t many examples of that, but there is a lot of research on the market and they’re exploring opportunities to launch jobs mainly related to tourism, as well as more significant investments,” says Gye Yoen Cho.

According to the latest data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, during the first eight months of this year, Croatia increased its exports to South Korea by 117.5 percent compared to the same period last year, to 509.33 million kuna. At the same time, imports increased by 51 percent to approximately 917 million kuna. Economic co-operation between Korea and Croatia continues to grow, but not as fast as it could, and Croatia hasn’t particularly emphasised its desire to attract direct investments from that Asian country, as was highlighted last week and at the Korean-Croatian Economic Forum which was held in Zagreb.

Last year, Croatia was visited by a massive 444,000 Korean tourists, and it is expected that this year, those numbers will be even higher. In the first seven months of 2018, there were 180,000 Korean tourists, or 29 percent more than in the same period of 2017.

In Zagreb, Koreans have been by far the most numerous guests for a number of years now, and in the first half of this year, the Croatian capital was visited 55,600 Koreans, which is 43 percent more than last year.

Everyone expects that these positive trends will continue in the coming years, especially as two Korean reality shows have been recorded in Croatia this year, and Korean Air also introduced a direct connection between Zagreb and Seoul which runs twice a week, which made the Croatian capital and the rest of the country as a whole much more accessible to Koreans than ever before.

Korean Air’s sales representative for Central and Eastern Europe, Michal Ohnesorg, told Globus that this welcome direct line was introduced primarily owing to a large number of Korean tourists travelling to Croatia. Additionally, the number of travellers from Croatia and neighbouring countries who are heading to Korea or specifically Seoul as their final destination has also increased.

“We believe that the introduction of Seoul – Zagreb connection was a good business decision and we’re confident that this line will be successful in the future,” concluded Ohnesorg.

Research has shown that Korean tourists typically look to travel to destinations which inspire them, where they will learn something about history and the local lifestyle, expand their knowledge and their perspectives, and they travel with the same intensity for twelve months of the year. When at home Koreans, regularly visit Korean restaurants, and in the Croatian capital, thanks to those making the move from Korea to Zagreb, there are two already, Cro K in the very centre of Zagreb, and Omma on Unska street in Trnje.

Cro K’s owner Soyeon Won studied Italian language and literature at home in Korea, and she worked as a translator and dreamed of completing her studies in Italy. Then she got married and her husband got a job at the Korean Embassy in Zagreb, which she liked very much because Croatia is so close to Italy. She then relocated from Korea to Zagreb.

By then, her husband had three years of cooking experience behind him from working in restaurants in America. She admited to, that she herself had nothing to do with gastronomy. When their sons, born in Croatia, grew up a little, Soyeon Won began thinking about starting her own business, and so in June 2015, she cemented her move from Korea to Zagreb by opening the city’s central Korean restaurant after finding a suitable space, right in the heart of Zagreb, where there used to be a cafe. They had to invest heavily in decorating. On the ground floor there is a 33-seat dining room and another 40-seat room in the basement, as well as the obvious – a kitchen.

“My friend has restaurants in Vienna and he was astonished when I told him what the price of renting space in the centre of Zagreb is, it’s almost like it is in Vienna.

Zagreb is comparatively quiet and comfortable when compared to Seoul. In Korea, they all compete and compare with each other. Here, we’re happy, the kids go to the British school, and my husband recently opened a company that deals with the sale of metal products from Korea. When I started this job, my acquaintance with people from Croatia helped me greatly with the administration, which is far more complicated than it is in Korea, was very important to me. My husband says that it isn’t as demanding even in America as it is in Croatia,” says the young Korean, satisfied with the fact that she has more and more guests every year, especially in the tourist season, which runs from March until November.

Therefore, she adds, she’s happy with not only her move from Korea to Zagreb, but with her business, and she hopes that next year will be even better than this one.

The restaurant’s guests are mostly tourists, not just Koreans, but, as she reveals, there are plenty of Germans, French, Americans, Chinese, Malaysians, and others who like Korean food. But it’s no surprise that Croats also often come to try something new and exotic, and some have already become very regular guests.

In the beginning, Soyeon Won was mostly cooking everything herself, but one year later, there were some Korean chefs, two young men who moved from Seoul to work with her in Zagreb. She employs four chefs and three waiters. Soyeon added that it isn’t easy to keep hold of Croatian workers during the summer because everyone prefers to go to work on the coast where they typically earn more money.

“The laws in Croatia are much more inclined towards workers than they are in Korea. It’s happened to me that a waiter or chef has told me that he can’t work, and I can’t do anything about it. There are many reasons it is not really easy to do business in Croatia, I know some Koreans who came here to try something, but quickly gave up. I don’t intend to go anywhere.

Every summer we go to the coast and have never seen such a beautiful coast as Dalmatia, and I have more and more friends who are Croats. I don’t include myself among those Koreans who just can’t live without kimchi, Korean fermented spicy cabbage, so at home, I often prepare European dishes, and I love Croatian food, particularly sarma and kulen,” says Soyeon Won.

Make sure to follow our dedicated lifestyle page for more stories from not only those who have made the move from Korea to Zagreb, but of many of Croatia’s foreign residents from close to home in Europe, and from much further afield.


Click here for the original article by Boris Oresic for


Subscribe to our newsletter

the fields marked with * are required
Email: *
First name:
Last name:
Gender: Male Female
Please don't insert text in the box below!

Leave a Comment