Expat Essentials

From the UK to Croatia: A decade of lessons

I first arrived in Croatia in May 2014. I’d decided to jump on a job opportunity in the beautifu Pearl of the Adriatic (Dubrovnik), and see what happened. Ten years have passed. Here’s a look back on that time.

After four years spent in Dubrovnik, work and circumstance took me to Croatia’s capital city of Zagreb, where I’ve been since 2018. I’ve seen the transformation of this city, and now it is a firm fixture on the European tourist map, regularly serviced by Ryanair.

The past 10 years have gone both fast and slow, and I’ve changed so much in that period that I barely recognise who I was BC (Before Croatia).

All shook up

This country is responsible for both a vastly new appreciation for life and for several (alright, more than several) premature grey hairs. Croatia has given me and taught me so much about myself that it’s difficult to convey. The good and the bad have both been absolutely invaluable and I have become a better person as a result of every up and more so for every down.

Croatia is not for the weak.

The surface of gorgeous beaches, a pristine sea and glorious landscapes hide a much more complicated side, and this is truly a paradoxical country. That said, it’s the only place which makes something so bipolar somehow function.

Croatia put my definition of stress to shame, but also made me understand the true meaning of cognisance. Croatia makes everything impossible and anything possible at the same time. I don’t know how it does it, but for as frustrating as it can be, it’s equally as intoxicating.

Croatia gave me immense positives and immense negatives. Before the positives had room to roll around, it made me take a good, long hard look at myself in the mirror and identify what I did not like. It only took about 18 months before the shine wore off and I realised that you cannot run away from yourself.

Wherever you go, you take yourself with you. Ain’t that the truth.

Spending a long time in another country and building not only your life from scratch, but having to reevaluate who you fundamentally are as a person as your reality forces your little demons out of the cracks are challenges few understand the sheer weight of until it hits them.

Like a truck.

Carrying tanks.

The level of attention you’re forced to pay yourself when navigating another country is jarring. Croatia and the identity crisis could be a book in and of itself. It wasn’t long after accepting that a lot of growth was needed before Croatia gave me people I love, a job I love and a much deeper understanding of who I am, who I’m not, what I want and what I don’t.

It shook me up in a way nothing else ever has and allowed me to pick up the pieces and put them together in a way that made much more sense.

Finding the real you

One thing Croatia also gave me was a love of leaving it and returning. An appreciation of what I had once rather naively resented in the United Kingdom so many years ago. Ryanair’s Zagreb base allows for daily, dirt-cheap flights to the UK, and so I go home for extended periods regularly.

Version 1.0.0

Feeling so connected between the two, and having a remote way of earning a living, is a priceless gift.

If you’re wondering whether you should take that step and spend some time outside of your country of origin, do it. I can guarantee that in whichever way, it will not be what you expect. If you want to escape, do it. If you want to go only to come back again with a fresh appreciation of what you have, do that, too. It

will only ever be beneficial.

Nothing will make you understand your own self, mature you or humble you like an extended period abroad.

I first left the UK at 21 with only a very rudimentary (or arrogant, I’d personally say) sense of who I was and what I wanted. I had no real stability, and no idea what I wanted to do in life. A decade later, I have a newfound appreciation for all I have. I have fallen back in love with the UK and am regularly going back and forth.

I’m the editor of a large portal, a translator, a copywriter and the co-author of a book, “Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners,” that – you guessed it – I dedicated to Croatia.


Read more about Croatia here in Dispatches’ archives.

See more from Lauren here.

Lauren Simmonds

Lauren Simmonds is the editor of Total Croatia News, the largest English language portal in Croatia. She lives in Zagreb, Croatia, and is a translator, content writer, interpreter and the co-author of "Croatia - A Survival Kit for Foreigners," which was published in 2022.

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