by Katherine Kurelja
There are many foreigners who call Croatia home and who have also done an outstanding job at promoting its beauty, opportunities and lifestyle. Recently, I discovered a foreigner who stands out for her not only her promotion of Croatian culture, but her embodiment of it. Meet Sarah Cosic, Canadian, mother of 3 and Co-Founder of Royal Croatian Tours.
Locals and diaspora alike delight in Sarah’s videos showcasing her appreciation and understanding of the Croatian culture – just watch her language videos and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Sarah, with her family in tow, also focuses on promoting Croatia’s many destinations highlighting their backstories and showcasing Croatia’s cultural heritage.
I spoke with Sarah to learn more about her motivations and adventures in Croatia.
How did you come to live in Croatia and embrace it so fully?
Like many other expats, it was love that brought me to live in Croatia. My husband Ivan is Croatian, and we decided to make Croatia our home in 2012. I’ve been living here for 9 years now, and the lifestyle here suits me well. It wasn’t too hard to embrace life in Croatia – there are many positives of living here, and I always try to look for the positives. The pace is a bit slower, people are very family-centered, I love the coffee culture and how people make time to spend with each other. I think embracing it all here helped me adjust more quickly, and feel more at home.
Your Croatian language skills and fabulous accent are truly impressive. How did you get to this level that most others only dream about?
After moving here, learning Croatian was my #1 goal. I knew that I wouldn’t feel completely comfortable living in Croatia if I didn’t know how to speak to locals or make conversation in everyday life. I just wanted to be able to communicate to people around me and be able to be independent. I really made it a priority to study and work on it.
First off, I took a beginner’s level class (A1) to get a few of the basics down in the beginning, but after that, most of my learning was self study. My approach in the end was very simple – I wanted to learn as much vocabulary as possible, because then I would be able to understand more of what people were saying, right off the bat, and I’d also be able to start speaking just by stringing words together that I had learned.
I didn’t care about the grammar. Croatian grammar is quite complicated, so I knew that if I focused on speaking “perfectly” then it would be discouraging. I spoke without any “cases” for at least a year or two. I wanted to be able to communicate, however imperfectly that would be, and it didn’t bother me at all that I sounded like a complete cave woman in the beginning.
I was literally just stringing words together to get my point across while making so many grammatical mistakes. But this is what really pushed my conversational Croatian to the next level. I think that’s the key – don’t be scared to sound ridiculous, or you’ll never start speaking. Once I got to a very comfortable conversational level, I started (slowly) working on the grammar, and practicing my writing. I still make mistakes, but I’m happy with the level I’m at for now. (I haven’t had much time to “study” over the last 5 years with 3 small kids running around, but eventually I’d like to take a class to further improve my grammar).
What is truly specific about Croatian culture that you have not come across anywhere else/(and/or) that you wish other cultures around the world would adopt?
I did notice something about the people here during the recent earthquakes. The whole country immediately reacted, ready to help, and eager to jump in, wherever it was needed. There was a huge feeling of togetherness, that everyone could just feel, and it came from its citizens, showing empathy and compassion to their fellow citizens. It was truly from the heart. I think because of Croatia’s size and its turbulent history, people here have had to really stick together in order to survive. This mentality has carried through until present day. I’m not saying other countries don’t do this, but I really felt the heart of Croatia through this crisis.
You have lived in Croatia 9 years. What tradition do you see dying out and you personally want to keep alive?
Making really authentic Croatian dishes, like strukli – like the kind that “baka” makes, right from scratch. It’s not that I see it completely dying out, because I think those types of dishes will always be offered in restaurants, but making those things from scratch, right at home, and enjoying the process as a family. I think each generation loses that a little bit, because things change and I think the pace of life just gets a bit faster with each generation, so people don’t take as much time to create these dishes from scratch as they once did. I hope that true Croatian recipes keep getting passed down through generations, because I think food is very connected to culture. By continuing to make and eat these traditional meals, it plays a part in keeping the culture alive, too. It’s also a great way for families who have moved away from Croatia, to keep Croatian culture in their homes.
Finally, what do you think about being referred to as Croatia’s “Ambassador of Culture”?
I love it and I’m honoured! I really do love Croatia, and have embraced life here. My husband is Croatian, our three children were all born in Croatia, and I guess I just feel very connected to the country even though I don’t have Croatian roots myself. I love sharing the language, culture, and beautiful places with the world, and I love promoting the country, showing everyone what a special place Croatia is!