An interview with Danijela Prahovic by Ina Vukic
Danijela and her husband Josip Prahovic are a couple in the prime of their life who had established a family in Sydney, Australia, and one could say they “had it made”. They had immediate and extended family support there; it is a family of Croatian ancestry living in Australia for decades.
They were financially independent and being educated in the social welfare profession Danijela established there a business supporting people to build their life skills and living skills called InnerSparQ. About a year ago they moved to trial living in Croatia and I caught up with Danijela recently (May 2023) to find out about their experiences in a new country. Here is my interview with Danijela.
Were you and your husband Josip born in Australia?
I was born in Australia and my Husband was born in Croatia.
You have three young children who were born in Australia, what was their response to your announcement of going to Croatia to live?
We are on an open adventure so we set it up with highlighting the positives and negatives that may lie ahead. We included them in the whole process of packing up things and setting up things. We ensure we talk to them every step of the way and check in with them every day as there are always new experiences here.
About a year now, you have lived in Croatia. What was your and your husband’s main drive in picking up your whole family and going on this adventure from Australia to Croatia? Why did you move to Croatia?
We always discussed giving Croatia a go and after all the COVID lockdowns and some personal family reasons we realised it’s time to give it a try and explore while we can. It is our heritage, and we just loved the idea of trying to live on bigger land, teaching our kids where our ancestors come from and in general trying the “selo life’’ (village life).
Was your plan to move to Croatia permanently, or something else?
We are undecided. We are what you might call free spirits, we are open to new ideas, new experiences, and new places – we struggle to sit still. We love the idea of being in Central Europe and Croatia definitely has our hearts.
You had a stable business and work in Australia, you had and have your parents and siblings living nearby, you established a young family and the future in Australia seemed safe and prosperous. How did it feel leaving all that and going into a relative unknown, Croatia?
It was emotionally very challenging for me especially as Australia, the people there and of course my amazing family live there, it is what I have known my whole life. However, the idea of trying Croatia and giving it a go and my faith, that God is with me and my family on this journey is what helped me give this a try. We have lots of family and friends in Croatia to and often visited here so it has always felt like a second home for me.
What were the main joys of life you imagined you would experience in a new country? Did you experience these joys once you arrived in Croatia?
I imagined living on land with fresher fruit and vegetables, relaxed atmosphere, my children learning more about their culture and seeing people often without booking everyone in my calendar. I feel like life is so organised in Australia, here it’s more carefree.
Since arriving we have experienced eating fresher items but not as much as I thought, a lot of people now are buying much from the shops and so that’s a big change I have seen. As for the social life it is exactly what I wanted – carefree, catching up last minute, music, food and laughing. My children have learnt so much; they didn’t speak Croatian, now they do, they have joined so many different sports here and emersed themselves in this way of living on the land, its so nice to see. The joys have been wonderful.
What do you enjoy most about living in Croatia?
Walking the quiet peaceful streets, feeling more relaxed, social life.
What, if any, were your main fears in moving to a new country, the country of your ancestors?
The systems that the country has in place e.g., getting documents, paying for things, what items I can buy, e.g., I’m into natural products so accessing that here has been difficult. These systems have tested my patience a lot but the people who work for these agencies have been helpful mostly; some tell you to go back to Australia where its “better” (their words), some are happy you have chosen to be here – it’s really a mixed bag.
The weather difference. It snows in winter here and I needed to wear big jackets all the time so I wasn’t sure how I would adjust to that; winter was a struggle and not seeing the sun for over 3 weeks wasn’t great. Majority of people in rural Croatia prepare all year with cutting timber so they have it to keep them, and their families warm via heating the rooms and heating water for 6 months of the year. Whereas we flick on a switch, and we are warm or cool in Australia. They need to think ahead here and prepare for the different seasons.
The health care system was another concern especially being a parent, so far, thank goodness, we have had minimal contact and when we have done so it’s been with a good General Practitioner/GP and private clinics so I can’t complain.
For some years the return of Croatians from the diaspora has been a largely publicised desire by the Croatian government and many politicians. Once you arrived in Croatia did you receive any help in settling down from any government or government funded source? Were there any readily available information packages on essentials of living such as health cover, employment, housing, education, taxation etc.?
Nothing that we were aware of…. We did our own research and kept calling and asking questions everywhere, so we have missed out on those so called incentives so far unless there are some that we haven’t found out yet. They send you to so many different departments here when one doesn’t have an answer, they send you to another one, or they just say sorry can’t help you. You must have a lot of patience and spend time calling and researching on your own.
We asked friends for the departments we need to go to e.g., Medicare, would be HZZO here, and we approached that service ourselves and took it from there.
How was the process of enrolling your children or child into schools? Was there any cost- free assistance for them to learn the Croatian language to the level with which they could easily integrate into school?
Fabulous process, the local school was very supportive with everything I needed, and it was such a smooth process. There was a fair bit of paperwork and my kids had to do Croatian language testing which takes a while and can be exhausting for them but overall, a lot of the teachers know English which is fantastic, and they have been supportive when I had questions.
My kids also receive free Croatian language classes after school this has helped them immensely. The government covers the school fees, and they get cooked food (for free) while school everyday, a big difference from Australia. The only possible downside, depending on how one sees it, is they go to school about 4 hours a day compared to 6 in Australia, so if you’re a working parent who has no other family support then you either can’t work or you need to get a babysitter. Some schools have longer hours but that would mean locating to a different town.
Were there any other programs or services available for integrating into the Croatian society?
None that we know of or have accessed.
Have you made new friends? Have your children made new friends?
We have friends here who all have children, so we have all developed some great bonds which I am very grateful for. My children have their own friendship circles and more freedom with play time feels more safer here when they go out to parks.
Generally, how did you find the transition of living in a new country? What has been the hardest aspect of your “trial / adventure” so far?
The transition has been very interesting, tested my patience, helped me build resilience. Like with anything in life, I have laughed, cried, said a few times ok it’s time to go back to Australia but most of all I have had such a fun experience that I wouldn’t change a thing.
What are you doing now? How have you found the work force scene in Croatia? Is it as easy to find a job as it is in Australia?
We are looking at options if we choose to stay longer. I opened a café which was so interesting for 6 months, but it wasn’t the job for me. The job scene is not that easy here for me, especially my social welfare field which operates quite differently here than in Australia, so I’m starting to do some research and meet new people and see where it takes me. In many cases it still is “who you know’’ to get you a job in certain places. This employment part has probably been the most frustrating for me as I enjoy working and my career is important to me but here it really is baby steps for me.
Many people work to survive here with minimal money left to enjoy e.g., eating out and they work hard for their money. I respect them very much since I have been living here and seeing how they work and live. I’m motivated to explore the workforce and see what opportunities there may be available.
What if any is your work or business plan in Croatia? Have you found any frustrations with bureaucracy and red tape we so often hear about in the media?
I need to do way more research and meeting lots more people. Lots of processes I’m not used to, definitely…… so if you choose to come here you need a great lawyer and a good accountant, without them I would be lost. To do things on your own here is not as simple as it is in Australia. Australia has clear and concise policies and procedures that are simpler, here they have policies and procedures but a lot of paperwork and running around and visiting sometimes up to 5 different departments before it’s all done. They are working on better systems. I’ve seen some changes since we were last here in 2018 so I’m sure they will get there.
How does the cost of living compare to that in Australia?
Now that Croatia has entered the EU and changed its currency to the Euro and with inflation all over the world, the cost of living here is high. I would say some things cost even more than they do in Australia. I also feel for the average pay of 700-800 euros a month that people get here it’s extremely difficult to live a lifestyle that we are used to in Australia. An example of this: I just to go by bread, pasta, meat and salad for one meal, I’m leaving 25 euros minimum, and this is only for one day where are the other 29 days in the month plus bills, cars, outings etc. The bills are a bit cheaper for water and electricity.
They have little variety of things here when it comes to items in the supermarkets, they don’t import nowhere near the amount that Australia does and when they do, the prices are double than what the shops in Australia charge. I do miss a lot of products, I’m used to buying in Australia, but I have definitely changed how I shop – I grab only a basket and get what a need… totally different from the shopping I use to do in Australia where I would fill a shopping trolley with things that are not really necessary. Here you have no choice but to adapt and realise you actually don’t need all those things you throw in a trolley, and which sit in your cupboard for months.
If you could pick up a piece of advice for anyone moving to Croatia, what would it be?
Give it a go. Everyone is so different. I really believe that if you want to try it then you are prepared for all the ups and downs that it brings but so does living anywhere in the world. I don’t regret the journey not even for a second. The life experience we have received and what my children have learnt is something you just can’t put a price on. Positive mindset and faith in God have definitely helped me to say strong.