In 2013 Australian Sarah Jane Begonja packed up her things in Sydney, along with her Australian-born Croatian husband and son, and left the rat race to live in a small village outside of Zadar on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast. Two years on we talk to her about how life has been treating her so far in Croatia, how picking up the local language is going, and her popular blog Chasing the Donkey…
So SJ, how did you decide to leave a life in Australia and move to live in Croatia?
We took an extended vacation travelling around Europe in 2010 and used Croatia as our base, it was then that we realised just how much we loved the lifestyle here. It took us 2 and a half years to save enough money to be in a position to move – and now here we are.
Through your experience, do you have any advice for those who find themselves in the same boat and fall in love with Croatia after a holiday and are keen to move over to live?
The current tough economic circumstances here make it very difficult to obtain work, and so if you plan to move to Croatia – you will need a generous amount of savings to get started. The cost of living on a foreign salary is less than Australia however once you transition to earning money in Kuna, things can be expensive.
What do you miss the most about home?
It’s always on my mind how far away my family and friends are. I miss them terribly every day. The other things I miss are so silly, like home delivery for my groceries and international food. Those things that I can do without, but if any of my family wanted to move in with me, I’d open the door to them in a heartbeat.
I am a sucker for all Croatian food. I don’t even know if I can choose just one. Stuffed peppers, stuffed cabbages, krafne…need I go on?
Each weekend I enjoy a rakija with the family before lunch and love most flavours. Best of all walnut…or maybe cherry, depending who makes it.
Favourite place in Croatia?
Choosing just one place in Croatia, is like having to choose your favourite child. You can’t just pick one. Although I can tell you my favourite island, that has to be Brač, specifically the area of Bol. That place has something for everyone and THAT beach, wow. I have also loved the area of Zagorie, we stayed in Marija Bistrica and I’d love to go back and explore that area more.
You have been here a while now, how is your Croatian language coming on?
Ja ucim hrvatski s moja učiteljica i svaki dan govorim sa svojom obitelji. I get told that my pronunciation is great, but the grammar makes things very complicated for me. I am helping my son learn, and in doing so learn lots with him. I have a long way to go, but you have to start somewhere. Polako, Polako.
Do you have any tips for those expats living in Croatia who don’t know the language?
Sit at cafes and listen. Ask lots of questions, and just speak what you know. I have found that repeating the same things over at your local cafe, with shop assistants etc and over has given me more confidence.
Have the locals been welcoming since you arrived?
The ones that I have connected with in person are, although they think I am mad for wanting to live here while so many people are doing their best to ‘escape’ abroad. I hope that once the house is finished, we can make even more friends and be welcoming to new people moving to the area.
You have started a blog called Chasing the Donkey, which has become very popular. Can you tell our readers how it started and any anecdotes from your last couple years blogging about Croatia?
It all started with a way for me to mentally prepare for my new adventure, and as a way to communicate with those back home. Because our house took so long to get approval we started travelling and exploring Croatia, readers started asking me advice about where to go and what to do in Croatia. So, I started jotting down more and more posts down about travel, and it just took off from there. It’s been a wonderful way to connect with other expats, people planning to move here, travellers and also many Croatians who are curious about our life here. My blog has become like a child, it requires a lot of time (and money) and I’ve been very proud to see it get bigger each month.
What are your plans….are you here for the long haul?
Yup. We are about 5 months away from moving into our new house here, and I plan to send my son to the local school in a few years. 2016 will see us launch into a new business venture and if all goes well, I’ll become a Citizen in 2018.
(main photo / Milina Opsenica Photography)