Two Years Of Living As An Expat in Croatia: 11 Struggles Of My Expat Life
A couple of years ago Sarah Jane (SJ) Begonja packed up her things in Australia and left the rat race to live in a small village outside of Zadar on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast with her husband. Two years on, and now the operator of the popular blog Chasing the Donkey, SJ explains the struggles of expat life in Croatia in one of her blogs…
It has been a life changing 24 months since I moved to Croatia. The anniversary date actually came and went without any fanfare. I forgot. I only just realised this week when someone asked me how long I had been living in Croatia.
Life abroad is fun. Life abroad is scary. Life abroad is rewarding. Life abroad is crazy. Life abroad is what you make of it.
It’s cliche (and you all know how much I love a cliche), but heck, it’s damn true. When you make the ballsy-ass move and leave everyone you know, everything that is comfortable, known and easy behind and throw caution to the wind and move abroad there is stuff you can’t know until you’re ‘living the dream‘. What that stuff is can be different for everyone, but read any expat blog and you pick up re-occurring themes of loneliness, adjustment periods and exploration.
Struggles Of My Expat Life
1. I Am Always The Freak
I knew people would ask me why I moved to Croatia and if I missed home. I just never in a million years would have thought that even after two years of living in Croatia, people would still ask me ‘why‘, over and over. It gets exhausting. Really, why can’t people ask me about who I am, what I love and who I want to be?
Instead whenever I meet new people, I spend far too long
justifying explaining my move. Then, after a prolonged explanation attempting to prove that I am not totally and utterly insane, I am exhausted and can’t always be bothered with the small talk.
Recently I was introduced to someone, the very first thing that she said, was why do you want to live here? With a real emphasis on here. Sick of hearing that same statement or variations of it, and so annoyed that she did not even say hello, or give me a chance to ask her name, I snapped, and responded in a snarky tone ’cause I am insane! It was the straw that broke the donkey’s back!
It makes me feel like a freak. I’ve become so self-conscious about it. I guess the other contributing factor is here in Croatia the economic situation has not been so good for an extended period of time which means that more people are leaving Croatia, than there are fewer
freaks people like me moving here so I just try to tell myself it’s not personal… I really hope that it’s not personal. It’s something that I am still trying to understand.
2. I Can’t Speak
I used to be funny. No, really I used to be able to make people laugh. Now I can just safely string enough sentences together to hold a conversation with the lady at the supermarket to fool her into thinking I understand 100% of what she is saying. But it’s not enough.
I can’t express myself. I have family that help me often, particularly the Aunt and Uncle we live with while our house is being built – and I loathe how I can’t show my sincere gratitude in more ways than saying hvala (thanks) or hvala puno (thanks a lot). I want to say warm and fuzzy things like: thank you so very much for always being there for me, it means the world to me. Instead, I give big hugs and say hvala puno.
The other suffocating factor of not speaking the language is in the playground. The Little Donkey and I spend a lot of time at parks and playgrounds, and I wish with all my heart that I was able to spark up small talk with the other Mums. If I could maybe I’d have more friends (or maybe not). Instead, I smile awkwardly and whip out my phone, or walk over and pretend to help the Little Donkey. So lame I know.
3. A Daily Game Of Charades
You know how the game of charades goes: you hold up two fingers, everyone shouts back two words. You open and close your hands, and immediately everyone knows you’re talking about a book. Then you begin waving your hands about and flailing your body in different directions in order to get everyone to guess the two words in your book title.
Now, imagine that on a daily basis. Only this time you can use words (well just the few you know in Croatian) and instead of just two words you need to come up with a story. Sound like fun?
On a daily basis, I find myself trying to communicate with my 70-year-old landlords. They know a few English words, most of which they learned from spending so much time with the Little Donkey. It goes like this:
I say a few Croatian words to make a sentence no better than my two-year-old forms, then I get stuck. I don’t have the word I need. So, I wave my arms about and play a game of charades and hope they know what I am talking about.
So they say a few words trying to help me and return the arm waving and wait for me to understand.
I whip our my iPhone and type into Google Translate the one word that is missing in the conversation.
Sometimes it works, other times it all fails and we just smile an awkward smile and shrug it off.
4. I Miss My Friends More Than I Ever Could Imagine
If you’ve been away from all of your friends for a long time you know exactly what I mean. If you have not, you might be like me and think you’ll do fine without them. Missing my friends was not something that was high on my worry list before I moved. Yeah, I knew I’d miss them. But not this much.
5. Family Means More To Me Than Ever Before
Sometimes being an expat, it’s an utter nightmare. For me, my nightmare is not having our family around. I feel guilt about my son not having his Aunts and Uncles around to play with him. I feel sad that his Grandparents don’t get to witness his firsts and spoil him like their supposed to.
That said I’m grateful to what family and friends we do have here, you all know who you are.
6. I Can’t Accept Help
Now that I have a few great friends who have made this journey so wonderful, I can’t lose them. They mean so much to me. So, when they offer help, I cringe. I don’t want to be a pain. I don’t want them to think I am using them or taking advantage of their kindness, so instead I rarely accept help.
Asking for help has to be the absolute last straw – like when I ended up in the emergency room, Mr. Chasing the Donkey was not in town and I needed clothes. I texted my dear friend for help. As soon as I clicked send, I hated myself. I hated that I was unable find a solution on my own. She came to the rescue and was glad to help, but I don’t want to have to ask again for help anytime soon.
7. Going Home Was Not Fun
I went back home to Australia at Christmas time. It wasn’t as awesome as you would think. I felt like it was not home anymore. I missed my life in Croatia. And….. I was still the freak. People were still asking me if we planned to stay away, or when we planned to come home.
Then there was the awkwardness, I felt like I have changed, and I struggled to connect in the same way I had done just 18-months earlier. I loved seeing everyone, I just want them all to come here now as I am not planning or even looking forward to going back anytime soon.
8. I Miss The News
Real news, not the pop culture rubbish I can watch on E! Entertainment. I’m talking real news about politics, policies and all that jazz. There is a great site we love to read that has news about Croatia in English, the only down side is it lacks nitty gritty details about politics – and everyooooooooone here knows something about politics. Even teenage boys. I am so clueless, and google translate just does not cut the mustard.
9. My Blog Is My Saviour
Without my blog I’d probably be super depressed. I left a super-busy-super-creative job to have a baby. I then took that tiny baby and moved to a small village. And while walks along the beach and traipsing about the olive grove is all kinds of fun, that I can’t live without – when the Little Donkey sleeps or on those rainy days I need my blog. I did it at first because I liked it, and now I blog because I NEED IT.
My travel blog provides both a creative outlet for me, and will soon be turning into a series of new business adventures that will hopefully pay the bills. So thanks, thanks for being a part of my sanity for the past two years.
10. Pictures On Facebook Make Me Cry
Weddings, Christenings, Birthdays, heck, just photos of your girls night out cuts me up. Deep. I wanna be in those photos. I want to be the one holding my newborn nephew, not seeing some third cousin oohing and ahhing over him on my newsfeed. *wipes the tears*
11. I miss shopping
Online shopping. Click, click, credit card, click. Hello brown package in the mail. I was
addicted a regular user of internet shopping when I lived in Australia. I had everything delivered from the groceries to handmade baby clothes and everything in between.
Now, not so much. Now, so many places don’t even have Croatia on their approved shipping list – including far-too-many items in Amazon that I want, but can’t have. Not exactly a struggle as the title would suggest, more of a massive-pain-in-the-ass.
All That Whinging Aside – I Would Not Change Any Of It
Don’t hate me for saying this, but as much as I feel like a freak and that I can’t speak, I’m still proud of myself. Because I never thought about just how hard so many things would be and I have not (yet) given up. Had I been given a crystal ball and seen just how difficult life would be in a foreign land, I may not have moved. After 24 months of having periods feeling alone and sad which is more than I ever have in my whole life combined (which includes being a reject all through high school) I have learned a lot about myself and what I want from life. I love what we are shaping here, and am very excited about our new business ideas and our life in Croatia.
Have you ever been an expat? What struggles did you face – and did they go away?
This blog first appeared on Chasing the Donkey.