Crushing it in Croatia: Julia and studying design in Dubrovnik

lady above the old city of Dubrovnik
Julia at the top of the Srđ hill above the old city of Dubrovnik

PUBLISHED: 10.7.2023.

Welcome to Crushing it in Croatia, a series where we feature expats who have moved to Croatia.

In this series, we take a deeper dive into the realities of moving to Croatia, including how long it takes, what drew people here and the things they hoped to leave behind, experiences of dealing with the infamous Croatian police, shocks and challenges, how Expat in Croatia’s resources made the transition easier, advice for the next wave and whether or not it was all worth it in the end.

Today, we speak to Julia Herceg, an American with Croatian roots who studied in Dubrovnik. She shares her family roots, what it’s like to be a Croatian student, the benefits of studying in Croatia, and why she keeps returning to Croatia.

Take it away, Julia!

Crushing it in Croatia: Julia Herceg

Marija: Hey Julia! Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Julia: Hello Marija! My name is Julia, I’m 21 years old, and I was born and raised in New York to a Croatian-American family. I have two younger sisters and a cat named Hopper. I just recently graduated from University (Parsons School of Design) and am excited to spend my summer on the beach [in Croatia]. Thank you for having me for this interview!

Marija: Where did you live in Croatia during your study in Dubrovnik?

Julia: When studying abroad in Croatia, I lived in the city of Dubrovnik in the newly built student dormitory (Studentski Dom Dubrovnik). It is around a 30-minute walk from the Old Town of Dubrovnik (Stari Grad) as well as near an accessible bus stop.

The dormitory features a Gym, a Student Cafe, Auditorium spaces, kitchen spaces, a laundry room, and a Student Menza. It has a 24/7 Reception desk as well as accessible elevators and stairs posed at every entrance.

I felt that the atmosphere was extremely safe and relaxed. The actual architecture of the building was quite immersive, so I believe it helped encourage student community and friendships that I have still maintained to this day.

three ladies hanging out at the apartment
Julia with her friends in a student’s dormitory

Marija: What drew you to Croatia? How did you decide to study here? Did anyone encourage you to study here (family or teachers)?

Julia: Though my parents and I were born in the United States, both sets of my grandparents immigrated from Yugoslavia in the early ’60s and have maintained/passed down the language and culture of their homeland. This trickled down into my parents and thus into my two siblings and me, so my Croatian identity has always been an important facet of who I have been from an early age.

Since the age of 7, I have spent nearly every summer abroad in Croatia with my family. We have a house in a village outside of the city of Zadar with which we stay. My fondest and dearest childhood memories have been made on those beaches with my cousins and relatives. It is where I had my coming of age, where I learned to speak and appreciate the language, and where I began to see myself outside of what I originally thought was my singular nationality (American).

Thus, when I stumbled upon the application for my University’s study abroad porta – in Dubrovnik as well, which is probably the most visually stunning city in the world – I just knew I had to take it. I actually vividly remember sending a screenshot to my father of the application, and his response being simply “You’d be an idiot not to.”

Marija: Was there anything about daily life and culture in Croatia you like more compared to your home country?

Julia: The Croatian lifestyle is miles more laid back and relaxed than typical American culture, especially for me coming from one of the biggest and busiest cities (New York). The work-life balance for me is more desirable and plausible. You have time to visit your loved ones, grab a coffee with friends, and finish your assignments for University on the beach of all things. What’s not to love about that?

three ladies sitting near the sea
Julia with her sisters enjoying the sea view

Marija: When you decided to study in Croatia, how did you prepare? What did you do first to plan your move?

Julia: In accordance with my Study Abroad Program (API Abroad), we were given a checklist about 3-4 months prior to departure. We also had on-site coordinators (Ivana and Nada) reach out to us with information pertaining to our upcoming stay. The first things I did to plan my move were complete an FBI background check (to be apostilled and copied) as well as ensure that my passport was up to date.

[Read: Background checks and fingerprints for third-country nationals (non-EU/EEA citizens)]

Marija: How did you find Expat in Croatia? Did Expat in Croatia help with your transition to Croatia? Which resources did you use?

Julia: My father sent me the link to Expat in Croatia’s website in order to help me prepare with some of the logistics, such as applying for residence and sorting out my paperwork in order to ensure that I would have no issues upon arriving in Dubrovnik. I often used Expat to see if there were any updated guidelines or procedures I needed to complete, especially since, at this time, the Pandemic was more of an issue, so there were more restrictions set for entering the country.

Marija: What did the process of applying for student residence look like? Was it complicated?

Julia: Applying for a student residence visa was a bit complicated, I must say. We actually had to apply in person to the local Dubrovnik police station on our second day of arrival, and it took up until the day we left our program to actually receive our student permits.

[Read: How to study and gain student residence in Croatia]

Marija: How were you treated by the police when you applied?

Julia: I wasn’t treated poorly. However, there was, in general, a lack of organization and “haste” I would say when attempting to get my paperwork approved at the police station. I believe this stems from the overall “laid-back” Dalmatian lifestyle prevalent in most coastal Croatian cities.

However, as a Croatian-American and someone who is used to this from my other summers spent abroad in the country, I wasn’t too bothered. At the end of the day, everything was settled and recognized appropriately. It just wasn’t the instant gratification I’m used to in the States.

Marija: Did you move directly from your home country to Croatia? Have you ever lived or studied abroad before besides Croatia?

Julia: I left America, my home country, to study in Dubrovnik for around 5 months. I had never lived for an extended period of time anywhere else, and certainly not by myself.

Marija: How much time passed from the time you decided to study in Croatia to the time you arrived here?

Julia: Around 3 months passed from deciding to study in Croatia to arriving in Croatia.

Marija: Once you arrived in Croatia, what were the biggest shocks or challenges you experienced compared to studying in your home country? How did you overcome them?

Julia: I think one of the challenges I overcame was just becoming adjusted to the lifestyle and daily routine, as well as improving my knowledge and proficiency in the language.

As I stated previously, the Croatian way of life is more relaxed compared to the American rhythm. In the beginning, it often felt hard to let myself breathe and take each day for what it was. However, I quickly overcame that hurdle by immersing myself in the culture and people.

ladies walking on the street
Julia exploring the Dubrovnik old city streets with her friends

I also had to overcome my previous lack of knowledge about the language. Growing up, I had always spoken and understood Croatian, but not to the extent and level of a native speaker by any means. I really tried my best to avoid speaking in English unless it was a matter of necessity, even in areas such as the tax office and police station. I am most proud of overcoming this hurdle, though it is still an ongoing improvement process.

Marija: What has your experience been like studying in Croatia, and how does it differ from studying in the United States? Do you feel like you got a quality education in Croatia? What did you learn here that you wouldn’t be able to learn in the US?

Julia: I believe I received a quality education in Croatia. In my specific experience, I took liberal arts and political science-related classes as that was what I needed for University credit as well as was interested in at the time.

Since Dubrovnik has a rich political history, I felt that studying onsite really improved my quality of education and academic experience. I believe I learned more about European and global affairs than I was previously exposed to in the United States.

Marija: Were there any opportunities for employment in Croatia while you were here?

Julia: There were a couple of opportunities for employment in Croatia. I did some freelance work for my study abroad program (API), as well as helped in some advertising for the Student Dormitory. However, for most student jobs, it was only applicable to Erasmus students (EU citizens), and since I was an American, I couldn’t apply the same way.

Marija: Did you finish the study, and what are your plans for the future? Do you still visit Croatia, and how often? Would you like to move here long-term?

Julia: I finished my program last June. Since then, I have visited Croatia twice within the past 6 months, as my current boyfriend (who I met while I was there for my program) is from Dubrovnik. I absolutely adore spending time in Croatia and consider it more of a home than my native state of New York, so it is definitely a goal of mine to either move short-term or long-term once I am able to do so.

[Read: Available visas and residence permits for Croatia]

Marija: What advice do you have for anyone wanting to study or move to Croatia in the future?

Julia: Do it. You will not regret a moment of it. I made life-long friendships and relationships there that are so incredibly important to me. Whether you have any connection to the culture or not, it is an experience that will be unforgettable.

ladies smiling
Julia’s life-long friends she met while studying in Dubrovnik

You can contact Julia on Instagram here and here or on LinkedIn here.

If you would like to be featured in this series, please contact us here.

View our other crushing-it-in-Croatia articles

Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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