Foreign Workers in Istria: Peaceful But Croatian Bureaucracy is Disaster

Lauren Simmonds

As Glas Istre/Lara Bagar writes on the 10th of November, 2019, the old saying goes that the grass is greener on the other side. It’s always interesting to how our own grass is when compared to that of other people, at least in their opinion. Istria has become a somewhat desirable location for life and work, at least in comparison to much of the rest of Croatia, but how do foreign workers perceive it?

How does Vodnjan’s ”grass” look to people from elsewhere, that is, how do they perceive it and in what way is it greener? For the answer to such a question, it was enough to head to Vodnjan, to an incubator of knowledge and a proverbial melting pot of different nationalities from here in Europe and far beyond it – Russians, Colombians, Filipinos, Brits, Serbs, Bosnians… The whole world seems to have gathered in Vodnjan.

“Think globally, act locally” could be, if it isn’t already, the ”slogan” of the largest IT giant in Infobip’s home region of Istria.

The IT giant from Vodnjan, Istria, is a real miracle, especially in Croatian terms where obstacles are set up every step of the way when it comes to creating a business. Infobip isn’t only a leader when it comes to IT and in an economic sense, but also in a social one.

While we all constantly have to sit and listen to the ghastly numbers of young, talented people leaving Croatia and heading to other, more prosperous EU countries, the story with Infobip is completely different. People from all over the world come to to Istria, more precisely to Vodnjan, and there are quite a few who switch their lives across millions of cities by deciding to stay, live and work in Istria.

Infobip seems to be on another planet, in another time zone, maybe even in another dimension when you compare it with a lot of the depressing statistics and figures across the country. In just a few years, a company with 2,000 employees, branches in 40 countries and 65 offices around the world has become a desirable place to work just like London, Berlin or any other major European city.

Just how do these foreign nationals who have chosen to make their lives in Istria view Vodnjan, Istria, and indeed life in Croatia in general?

Everyone came to Vodnjan primarily for business, and some brought their hearts with them too, that is, they had fallen in love with Croats. In the first case, Buje became home for Francisca Riverosa Fialla from Colombia.

“My wife and I lived in Barcelona and at one point we decided we had to be closer to one of our families. And Croatia, of course, was closer. I contacted Infobip from Barcelona, ​​applied for the job, the Kutić brothers interviewed me, I got the job and we decided to move,” Francisco tells of his arrival in Istria five whole years ago.

What it was like to come to Buje after living in enormous cities like Bogota and London is the first question that arises.

“After living in Bogota and London, I came to Buje, a place with a thousand inhabitants. If I’d ended up here in my twenties, I’d have gone crazy,” he joked. “But now, at the age of 38 and with a two-year-old child, living in a house with a garden and seven different trees is totally up my street. I’m an engineer during the week and I enjoy working around the house here in Buje during the weekends. It’s wonderful, and living in such a small environment completely suits me and my wife, who runs the NTC program for children in Buje. For me, this is a life-long journey,” states Francisco, who still has to travel 75 kilometres to reach his workplace at Infobip.

”It’s twice the amount of time it took to get to my old job in the Colombian capital. That’s a big advantage. But the biggest barrier seems to be the language. My family speaks ”Istrian”, and so do I.” He is tormented by his lack of Croatian because he speaks English at work and Spanish and Italian at home, giving him little chance to practice.

“It isn’t impossible to learn, but it is difficult. The language is difficult and the Croatian bureaucracy is a katastrofa (disaster),” states Francisco in Croatian. With Croatian, when you love something or it bothers you, then you seem to learn the right word!

The Croatian mentality is also different – it’s more peaceful and withdrawn. He himself says that warm southern blood distinguishes Latin Americans from Europeans.

“In Colombia, everyone is talking all the time, they’re always loud and social. It’s different here. People have a smaller circle of friends,” concludes Francisco who switched Bogota and London for Buje, Istria.

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