“Belgium is my fatherland, Croatia is my motherland“
My friends called me nuts when I decided to live there, I did it just like that, without overthinking it…
It is easy to be thrilled about some country you are visiting as a tourist, we all know what happens after the holidays, you are going home, you will have some nice memories of places you`ve been passing through and stayed at, but what if your state of mind changes and reaches a higher level, what will you do in that case?
How hard and simple it can be at the same time, we can see this from the man who decided to move from his homeland to another one, immigrate, and start a family and business there.
This is not a typical immigrant story, this is a story about love and life that doesn’t know any borders, kilometers nor nationality.
Speaking about courage, is it enough to rely on what we are questioning, our decisions in our lives, or is it about something else in the case you want to turn your life completely around?
Sometimes is just about to do things, not overthink too much about how it will turn out, otherwise, things can pass near us and you could miss the unique chances that life offers.
Philip Dupont, who is a 35-year-old Belgian who moved to Croatia two years ago, is here to tell us his life story. He says he has one motherland and one fatherland, with moving to Croatia he got the opportunity to live in a totally different way, feeling Belgian and Croatian at the same time. He is here and there, as he says.
How did you decide to move to Croatia? Have you ever heard about Croatia before, what attracted you there?
I wanted to hit the refresh button of my life. I was tired of routine, doing every day the same things, every day the same tasks, same lifestyle,…Actually, I didn`t think too much about it, in the sense of overthinking it, I didn’t want to strictly plan every little thing out, I just jumped in my car that’s it.
I wasn`t familiar with Croatia, I only remember when I was a child watching on television news about the war in Croatia. What attracted me there? That is a very complex question. So many things. I never saw a country with so many different landscapes as beautiful as this one. I decided to see Croatia how it really is, not just take a vacation there with some tour operator who would sell me a trip laying on the beach for 14 days. So I decided to explore it on my own, and it hooked me, but really hooked me in a way I decided to stay there after my vacation was up. My first thought was just to spend a vacation in Croatia, I didn`t plan how long it will take, but suddenly my life changed, I meet there my other “half”, my wife, so my status of “tourist” changed into “resident”.
Cultural, traditional, political, social differences between Belgium and Croatia?
Hmm, that is a really tough question. Let me see where to start…I think Croatia is more colourful in a way how people are acting and living. Both sides have good and bad things, of course, connected with both countries, I can ensure you it makes life a lot more interesting than before. Don’t get me wrong Belgium and Croatian people are different in many regards but we do love the same things like good food, a warm welcome, having a great time…
Political systems are far more different than you could imagine. I became very well familiar with the Croatian economy, if you run something here like my wife and myself are doing, then it is a must to know how this machine works. Classical industry in Croatia is not on the level like the one that exists in Belgium. The good thing is that Croatia has a very strong industry in tourism, which can be even more developed in the future. The sector has huge potential, and with correct people in politics and economy, we hope one day it will be even better.
Traditional difference between the two countries is a very wide term. I can only say I`m Flemish with some Croatian influences. Croatia has a splendid traditional heritage. In a short time, I learned so many things, adjusted, and I feel free to say I am at home here.
Regarding the social differences between the two countries, I just want to point out that the medical healthcare could be a lot better here.
How do you see the connection between the two countries?
Well, both countries could mean a lot to each other. There are really great delicacies here in Croatia and the traditional heritage is so interesting to learn about and I do believe Belgium also has excellent products which you can’t find there yet. Also, I would recommend you to come here and enjoy this country the way I did. There are great people and locations here and it’s really worth spending time here. When I moved here I figured out more and more people from Belgium are spending a great time here, not only as guests, also as residents.
How hard was it to start a business in a foreign country, and how is that manageable now, what are the differences between starting and doing business in Belgium and Croatia, could you share your experience with us?
Ow my, it was really hard. It was actually the most difficult thing I did in my life, I feel free to admit that. One day we decided to start our own business, but at that time we weren`t aware of what we would be going through. It was easy to decide, but when you need to fight the bull, then the problems are starting, but we didn`t give up. Both of us are very strong in a sense of getting things done and we are very persistent. It was a slow and really stressful process, and still, we are considering us as beginners, but we made significant progress comparing to the last year when we were the fresh fishes in the sea.
Starting here in Croatia as a foreigner without some local domestic help, an army of lawyers would be just impossible, so thanks to my wife who knows how things are going here, we managed. We started with a trading company, exporting company. Struggling with documents and the system. It took us some time figuring out the legal aspects but luckily after a while, we found everywhere the right persons.
In Croatia, the system here is not as transparent as the one in Belgium, and as a foreigner here you can only hope you are connected with the right people and bring in all the required documents.
We are really proud we established a travel agency specialised in tailor-made packages that are not hooking on mass tourism but on the things that are hard to find for foreigners and for the correct price. The trading company, on the other hand, will take some more time to fall on its feet, luckily we are almost there.
A lot of people who start a new life in foreign countries have an issue with homesickness. How is that with you, how do you deal with those things?
Well, it`s hard, I have a lot of friends who are supporting me in Belgium and of course, I do miss my family there… I try to think positive and my family here in Croatia gives me joy and strength. Since I am a local guide I need to study all the time, prepare for the groups and individuals, there is always something new to learn and of course, after the summer season, I will spend more time in Belgium.
Besides starting a business, you took an education programme as well in Croatia, we would like to hear from you how that went and why did you after finishing education in Belgium, decided to start that in another country?
Well, the history and way of living here attracted me so I did want to take it a step further it wasn’t easy I can tell you that, the Croatian history and their traditions are quite amazing, respect to these people who had to overcome so much. We decided to take the course as it would be a nice addition to actually have a travel agency run with real tour guides because we are not just selling someone’s packages or just some accommodations, we are selling the real experience from this country from a local point of view not just some resold package from some travel agency working with mass touristic destinations.
Thanks to our viewpoint I am convinced we can give people a great vacation and that`s what we wanted to accomplish and we managed to do that. All these things require knowledge and quality, and that is the reason I decided to take that study. My wife encouraged me to sign up for it and I had huge support from her, and still have it. She is also tourist guide for Zadar County. I`m a tour guide for Dutch, French and English language for Zadar County. I learn languages very fast.
Regarding how it went, well I never studied this hard in my life to get something, I really had to learn everything about this country, believe me, it was not just taking some course and getting a license. It was hard but great and today I`m thankful for the support that I had at that time starting with my family, mentors, colleagues, friends…I`m really happy and proud of it. That made me the first Belgium citizen who obtained a local tour guide license in Croatia. I hope one day Belgium will recognise that as an effort of one man who wants to connect those two countries like that.
Belgian economy and Croatian economy, taxes, administration system, living standards, can you make a comparison?
For running a business here first you need to know how that works, starting from the economy, law, accountancy, local authorities, tax… Taxes in Croatia are 25 percent on almost everything so it’s really tough to establish anything local, I hear a lot of people telling us how amazed they are at the prices in the supermarket are similar to Belgium. The seaside is more expensive than inland Croatia of course. Don`t get me started on tourist tax here as this country is mainly living from tourism, and regarding the administration let’s say you will spend days getting the right documents just to hear that you are still missing one paper in that regard its better in Belgium of course. The standard of living is a lot different, wages here are very low and it`s not easy to find a decent job even for qualified persons.
Tourism as a way of living in Belgium and in Croatia?
Cultural and traditional heritage are definitely bestsellers, for both countries. Here in Croatia, you can fall in love very fast with tradition, habits, extremely good food, drinks, Fjaka state of mind. In Belgium as well you can try the things that are not present here and people from Croatia like it. Even more and more you can find for example Belgium beer in coffee shops and bars in Croatia. There is a piece of the cake for everybody who wants to be in the tourism business. At the Croatian National Tourist board in Brussels, we have great people who are working on connecting those two states. With our business we are in on local level here, we are honored to connect both states and to keep it up like that in the future.
This was our first season as an agency and tourist guides, and considering factors here, I think we did well. We started in the season, and still think we had a good time and most important thing is that our guests had great time and experience. So for next season, we think it will be even better.
What are the future plans in your life?
For the future, we are foreseeing a lot of expansion for our travel agency especially in the Balkan region and regarding trading, we will look only for the best delicacies to offer in Belgium so it will be a busy time and people will be able to enjoy the best things from the Balkan both physically as gastronomically. Presenting Croatia and all that region around it in an interesting and unique way that is our goal.
After almost two years of living and working in Croatia, what are your conclusions, impressions, a message for those who are thinking to start their lives somewhere far away from their homeland?
Live your dreams and don`t give up as it gets tough. That’s my best advice for people who are thinking to undertake something far out of their comfort zone. You only live once so take the opportunity if you can or work towards it.