I was born and grew up near Cologne, Germany. As both my parents were from Croatia, they instilled the love of my homeland from birth. During the War of Independence, my love for Croatia grew bigger and bigger, and there was only one goal for me: After finishing school, I moved to Zagreb, where I studied Business. After graduating, I moved to Dalmatia, where I started work and, over the years, my own family. Today I am a proud mother of four and grateful to raise them together with my husband in my safe homeland.
1. You made the switch to Croatia. Tell us a little about the decision process and how long it took for you to get on the plane.
At 19, I had no doubts about leaving my safe life in Germany and making the big move to Croatia. It was all I was living for back then. Together with my older brother, it took us only a few weeks to organize the move.
2. What did your family and community back home think of your decision at the time?
My parents were happy and proud, of course. I am not sure about the opinion of my community; I believe I have always made it clear how much I loved my homeland and how much I was suffering by leaving Croatia after each summer holiday. So, it probably was no big surprise to anybody in Germany. In Croatia, on the other hand, people kept asking why I had done such foolishness.
3. Where did you get your information about the realities of Croatia prior to coming?
Well, I only had my relatives in Croatia whose lives would show me what it was like to live here. The reality I felt was the warmth of the people I got to know each year during my summer holidays, and I wanted to experience it 365 days a year, not only during these 2 or 3 weeks.
4. What were you most nervous about making the switch? What was your biggest fear, and what was the reality of what you found?
As I was very young, I had no fear of moving to ´poorer‘ Croatia. My stubborn wish to finally live here superseded any fear or insecurity. The reality hit me for the first time when I received my first salary. Over the summer, I worked for a few months as a representative for a tour operator from Munich, but the pay was the usual pay for a Croatian student. The second time reality hit me was after I had failed my first exam at University, where I studied in fact in a language I needed to learn much better to be able to pass an exam.
5. Think back to the time before you arrived. What were your perceptions about Croatia, and how were they different from the reality you encountered?
My perceptions were that people in Croatia are always welcoming and eager to help. It was a challenge each time for me to enter a post office or bank in the early 2000s because I was not used to the unkindness and annoyance from the ladies behind the counter. Thank God, this has changed a lot since then.
Also, my perception of the Croatian school system was quite different from reality. Croatian pupils need to work very hard for their grades, but at the same time, they leave school quite unprepared for life.
6. You are still here, so obviously, the pros outweigh the cons. Tell us about some of the things that you love about being in Croatia, as well as some of the things you don’t like.
I would lie if I said that I did not miss a lot of things from my life in Germany. Such as the work ethic or good organization.
But what I love about Croatia is the natural dealing with problems of any kind. People are used to having to find a way. And there always will be a way because people really are eager to help each other.
It is wonderful how people accept family; nobody will look at you as dissatisfied when you appear in a restaurant with four children.
It is incredible how fast strangers can sit down together and start singing songs that are known by everyone.
I love it when people leave their motorcycles in front of a supermarket with the keys, helmets, and shopping bags visible and accessible to everyone. And nobody will touch a thing.
And unbeatable is the love of sports and music. I do not need to explain it any further.
7. What advice do you have for others thinking about making a move from the diaspora?
Come and try it and make Croatia an even better place with your help and experience. We need more good people around 🙂
Of course, it is not easy to leave a place where you probably have better financial and material circumstances. But here you will find a calmer and more relaxed life. Children grow up in (still) natural and safe surroundings. It is just necessary to accept many things as they are, or otherwise, you have lost your battle from the very beginning.
8. How do you think Croatia can better assist those who are looking to return to the Homeland?
I believe that there need to be offered more networks for those who wish to connect with people who have gained similar experiences.
There could be a platform on the official website of the Government where people can get detailed information about anything that might be of interest to Returnees. FAQs links to kindergartens, schools, medical help centers, housing, etc.
You can follow more stories in the Croatian Returnee Reflections series in our dedicated TCN section.
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What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning – Business and Dalmatia.
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