By: Thomas Mustac
It doesn’t matter what continent, country, or area of the world you grew up in. A traditional overlap that transcends generations is the definition of a Croatian household. The traditions and customs passed down from generation to generation constantly remind us of what it truly means to be Croatian. The fresh smell of weekend palačinke, weeknight goulash, traditional peka, etc. Even listening to your old favorite Croatian CDs or cassettes jamming out to Tomislav Ivčić, Mladen Grdović, Oliver Dragojević, etc. These tiny little memories bring a warm feeling to all but help us learn traditions and customs that we pass on our love for our genuinely unique little gem.
Growing up, my grandparents taught me their personal values of hard work, dedication, and always supporting your loved ones in any way you can. My grandparents would always tell me how lucky I was for my American opportunity and how important it was to focus on my school work and found an excellent job to support my life goals. Each Summer, my family prioritized visiting the homeland every year and always ensured that we would preserve the family properties passed through our family for generations. Growing up, I loved proclaiming my family nationality; however, I never truly understood the significance of visiting Croatia every Summer. All my friends would talk about their different vacations of visiting Italy, France, Spain, etc. Still, every Summer for me, it was the same usual thing.
These Summer vacations would produce some of the lifelong memories that I cherish today. I would trade absolutely nothing for them now, especially since both my baba and dido have unfortunately passed away. First, my grandmother passed away in April 2020 due to various health issues and being locked in a nursing home at the beginning of COVID. Then, in January 2021, after I returned from a visit to Croatia, my grandfather found out that he had developed AML Leukemia, which chemo ultimately didn’t help at all. He passed away in February on my dad’s birthday.
The pandemic has been very difficult for all, and as can be seen, it has been a living hell for my family as bad news constantly was coming. Nonetheless, one of the brightest things that can ever happen in life presented itself to me despite all this darkness.
The news of a first child. My grandfather always used to tell me that it was important that I quickly created my own family as life will soon pass by before I know it. Dido always wanted to meet his great-grandchild. It is still crazy to me even today that I ended up finding out I would be a dad on the same day dido found out about his cancer diagnosis. Life definitely works in funny ways, and we could never imagine. I can vouch for that first-person, considering a year ago, I would never think that I would be a father. Now, with this news came the reality that I had to figure out what to do.
Meaning, how will this whole situation work considering the mother of my child didn’t want to live in the United States? And how would I be able to make a living? At the time, I was working at CVS Pharmacy as a Pharmacy Technician and paying back an insane amount of student loans, which fun fact, unfortunately, still exists today. This was when the idea of me moving to Croatia came to fruition. My family initially thought that the idea was crazy. Even though I’ve been to Croatia, it was totally different every Summer, considering I would need a new job and a plan to figure out my life.
I guarantee they would have never expected that life would return their grandchild to Croatia, whether temporarily or long-term. As previously stated, life works in funny ways. Maybe there is a higher being planning something that I can simply not know will happen.
Recently, I purchased an open ticket to Croatia and planned on returning to the homeland this weekend to begin this new reality and prepare for my baby girl’s birth at the beginning of October. I will be contributing my experience in Croatia Week and hope my experience and story will be enjoyed by our diaspora. Hopefully, my journey can serve as an example for future diaspora members to do similar and move back to Croatia.
If diaspora members follow a similar path, we can help bring our experiences and knowledge back to Croatia and help it further advance as a European leader. If there is any way I can help or you would love to communicate further about my experiences, feel free to reach out. I would be happy to help anyone I can, and I look forward to connecting with you all throughout this journey.