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The Reverse Culture Shock After Leaving Croatia

By Alexandra Schmidt

I never realized how much living in Croatia changed me until I left. I lived in Croatia for about a year in total, first studying abroad in Dubrovnik, and then coming back to stay with my Croatian boyfriend.

But it seems every time I leave, I take a bigger part of Croatia with me, which has led to a collision between American and Croatian culture. To say that I’ve experienced reverse culture shock would be an understatement.

The Midwest is “home” for me in the United States, as I have roots both in Chicago and Minnesota. Of course the brashest culture shock was the sub-zero temperatures.

It was like my body lost all immunity to brave the frigid air, despite living in one of the coldest places in the United States for 18 years. I longed for the “cold” on the Adriatic coast. Croatia’s “Jugo” wind is pretty laughable compared to the Windy City.

It was also a strange feeling when I realized everything around me was significantly bigger. Roads, cars, buildings, and houses felt huge.

Chicago

Even coming home to my house in the Minnesota suburbs, it felt so strange to be somewhere with such high ceilings. I even realized how huge the portion sizes are in America, about twice the size of a typical serving in Croatia.

I felt pretty content with my life in Croatia, but one of the things I missed the most is the diversity of food in America. Don’t get me wrong, the food homegrown in Croatia is fantastic, but I missed having more choices, especially since I’m gluten intolerant.

Alexandra and her boyfriend chilling in Dubrovnik

My eyes lit up when I walked into Trader Joe’s, and could get kale, ripe avocados, and all my favorite gluten free foods again (which are extremely expensive in Croatia).

For about the first week home I ate out almost every night, including Thai, Mexican, and Chicago pizza. However, it only took me a few days to realize my stomach itself changed too. I could no longer tolerate the processed food like I used to, especially sugar.

I now cringe watching people put ranch on their salad, while I opt for olive oil and vinegar. Instead of eating out all the time, I now miss having a barbeque with friends as we eat grilled fish with our fingers.

Grilled fish (photo credit: Andrew Zimmern/ Instagram)

In contrast to Dubrovnik, the Midwest is extremely casual and most people don’t dress up unless they have to. I always loved to express my own personal style, and being surrounded by the beautiful, well-dressed women in Croatia brought that out even more.

When I came back, people starred at me in the supermarket, as my heels clicked down the aisle. Now more than even, people ask me, “what are you so dressed up for?”

It seems like just when I became adjusted to the slower pace of life in Dubrovnik, I was thrown right back into the high-stress energy of Chicago.

Alex in Dubrovnik

Though I often craved the raw Chicago spirit, I also realized how draining it can be. I sat in a Starbucks, sipping latte and listening to music, while I watched everyone rush to get coffee on the way to work.

They barely looked up from their smart phones before dashing out the door in a huff. I chuckled, and thought, “That used to be me.”

Though many of my Americans friends tease me by saying I’m “Euro” now, my Croatian friends always remind me that I’m still American in their eyes.

I still can be rather impatient with sitting and drinking coffee all day and I have high expectations for my career aspirations deeply instilled in me.


Honestly it’s not even so much culture shock anymore, as it is I carry contrasting traits from both American and Croatian culture. I feel at home in both places.

When I return to Croatia in the spring, I know I’ll find comfort in the little things America just doesn’t understand.

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