September 23, 2022 – Whisper it quietly, but more and more people from the diaspora are moving to Croatia. In a new TCN series, we catch up with them to find out how they’re coping and what advice they have for others considering making the switch. Next up is Anna Abramovic, who moved from Toronto, California to Zadar.
I was born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada by Croatian parents who left Slavonija in December 1989. I lived in Hamilton for 27 years working as a dental assistant for 10 years during which time I decided to go back to college. and change my career path. After completing my degree in Business Management and Marketing, I was introduced to a Toronto company specializing in the development of surgical navigation solutions. I immediately had a job interview and started my new job a few weeks later. I was happier than ever, but there was still something missing in my life. I was tired of commuting; I was tired of constantly trying to prove something to people around me. I was tired of the go-go-go lifestyle. I needed to slow down; I needed change. I was getting fulfillment from my work, but that was the only place it came from. And for some that may be enough, but for me it wasn’t even enough. And that’s where Croatia comes in. Here I am, 3 and a half years later, sitting in front of my laptop answering these questions from Zadar, where I can have coffee by the sea every day and to enjoy life.
1. You went to Croatia. Tell us a bit about the decision process and how long it took you to get on the plane.
I wanted to move to Croatia since I was 16. My father was a very proud Croatian, always pushing my brother and I to speak the language with our family and friends and to continually learn about our heritage and roots. At home, we only heard Miso Kovac and Kico Slabinac playing on the radio. We only came back as a family once after the war in 1995. After that all my trips to Croatia were 3 month solo summer vacations. I spent most of my time visiting my family in Slavonija, it was my favorite place and still is! I learned a lot about how my parents grew up and what they and my grandparents had to do to survive. Life for them was hard, but they were happy! They had everything they needed and more. And that was what I was looking for, happiness. To see someone really happy, in my opinion, is rare. Canada is no longer what it was in the late 1980s and early 1990s, full of opportunities, “the American dream” as it was called. People these days are so focused on the material things they own, the car they drive and who lives in a bigger house. What they don’t focus on is living life to the fullest and really enjoying every day.
The final decision was made in my late twenties when my then partner and I decided to take a trip to Europe to travel around different countries and get a feel for what life in Europe might be like as a adult who is not on vacation. Of course, Croatia was always my first option, but the decision of where I would go first was in the hands of my partner, who was looking for a job. We made the trip in August 2018. In December 2018 he was flown to Germany for a weekend for a job interview, which he practically accepted on the spot. And it was that we were moving to Europe! In March 2019, I was living in Germany. One more step towards Croatia.
2. What did your family and community think of your decision at the time?
Even though my first destination was Germany, my family was my biggest support, especially my father. I felt like I was finally living his dreams. Going back was something we always talked about as a family, but the timing was never right for the four of us. My parents and my brother were extremely proud of the decision I was making.
The company I work for was also one of my biggest supporters. I consider myself very lucky to work for a company that allows me to pursue my dreams and supports me every step of the way.
Everyone thought I was crazy, and they couldn’t help but tell me. Questions and comments were thrown at me from all sides. “You’re crazy, Anna” was a classic. “What are you going to do there?”. When I finally moved to Croatia in June 2019, the comments were: “Everyone from Croatia is leaving the country, and you are moving in!”. It was hard to hear the negative reactions from my loved ones, but everything I repeated to myself like I do this for me. Do not mistake yourself; it was a real nightmare at first. There have been countless times when I have sat on the bridge in Sibenik crying, wondering why I came here. Those days were often after dealing with the Croatian bureaucratic system, or so it is anyway. When they say “Uvijek jedan papir fali” (there is always a paper missing), they are not lying!!!
3. Where did you get your information about the realities of Croatia before coming?
If I’m being completely honest, I didn’t. And I had no idea what awaited me. I didn’t know any returnees to ask them how it was. Of course, my family in Croatia also thought I was crazy to move here. However, they did not understand the harsh reality of where I came from. In Croatia, people complain all the time that the life they have here is not ideal and they dream of leaving this country to build a better future. The problem with this is that no matter which country you move to, be it Germany, Austria or Canada, you will always have to work hard to get what you want and make something of yourself. . Little did they know that I commuted on a 6 lane highway for 3 hours in one direction Monday through Friday and most of my days were spent in my car. They didn’t know that I had to call my friends and “book” coffee or dinner weeks in advance because no one had time. They especially didn’t know what 2 meters of snow and minus 30 looked like in December!
4. What made you most nervous about making the switch? What was your biggest fear and what was the reality of what you found?
Honestly, I can’t say that I had any fears about coming to Croatia, or Germany for that matter. I was ready to embrace change and accept Croatia with open arms. And with that attitude, I was accepted by everyone and warmly welcomed by the people I met during my stay here.
5. Think back to the days before you arrived. What were your perceptions of Croatia and how were they different from the reality you encountered?
Every time I left Croatia after one of my trips, I always cried on the plane and wished I could stay longer. My perception has always been that regardless of your financial situation, people are generally happy and satisfied with their lives. They don’t have much, but there’s always 10 kuna in their wallet for a coffee. People here don’t live to work, they work to live. This perception has not changed since I have been here. If anything, it has become more apparent. Sure, people work hard and enjoy their jobs, but their lives are filled with love and happiness, not dollars.
6. You’re still around, so obviously the pros outweigh the cons. Tell us about some of the things you love about being in Croatia, as well as some of the things you don’t.
If I could describe Croatia in one word, that word would be Laganini (easy). There is not as much pressure exerted here as in North America. Life is relaxing and enjoyable. I love the fact that every day, whatever the season, I can walk to the sea, have a coffee on the beach and admire the breathtaking beauty of this amazing country. No matter where you go, people are friendly and always smiling. The neighbors are always happy and ready to lend a hand.
However, behind all the beauty of Croatia lies a very disorganized bureaucratic system. In Canada, I used to go to Service Ontario, where I could get my health card, driver’s license and car sticker renewed by one person in one day. In Croatia, it is almost impossible to get someone on the phone or to get information about the papers to be renewed. Never mind the fact that there are about 3 different places you have to visit, and 5 different people all doing sort of the same job but you have to talk to before you can even go to the police station to renew a document personal.
7. What advice do you have for those considering leaving the Diaspora?
There’s no better time to do it than now. Stop waiting for tomorrow or Friday. Stop waiting for your kids to grow up or get that better job. Life does not wait for you and time passes quickly. Trust me; it will be the best decision you can make!
8. How do you think Croatia can best help those seeking to return to their homeland?
I think one of the biggest things Croatia lacks is marketing. Just opening up their platforms to provide the information people are looking for would be a giant step in the right direction.
Thank you Anna!
You can follow more stories in the series Reflections from Croatian returnees in our dedicated TCN section.
What is it like to live in Croatia? Expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting from the beginning – Business and Dalmatia.
Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.