Crushing it in Croatia: Rebecca’s mindfulness and meditation journey

a lady
Rebecca practicing meditation

PUBLISHED: 6.2.2024.

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 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.

We spoke to Rebecca Michelle, an American who is a meditation coach and mindfulness mentor living in Zagreb. She shares her experience with finding her purpose in meditation, starting her own business, and granting several Croatian temporary residence permits.

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Take it away, Rebecca!

Crushing it in Croatia: Rebecca Michelle

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

Rebecca: Hi, I’m Rebecca! I’m from New Jersey, U.S.A., and I work remotely as a meditation coach and mindfulness mentor. I offer 1-1 private meditation sessions and guide group meditation classes. I also offer workshops a few times throughout the year so others can understand how to properly meditate and improve their well-being through a simple 20-minute meditation practice.

a group of people meditating
Rebecca’s free meditation workshop at Zrinjevac, Zagreb

We all have a deeper part of ourselves filled with wisdom, clarity, and intuitive guidance. I help others access this part of themselves so they can discover inner peace, freedom, and a life filled with joy. All sessions are online, which I love too because it gives me the opportunity to work with people from all over the world.

Not only am I obsessed with mindfulness meditation, but “getting a coffee” has become my favorite activity (Thanks, Croatia!). I’m addicted to the croissants from Noel Bakery, and I love hosting different international meetups in Zagreb that encourage meaningful connections.

[Read: How to understand the Croatian culture, including long coffees]

Marija: Where do you live in Croatia? Have you ever lived abroad before besides Croatia?

Rebecca: I live in Zagreb. I was a nomad for three years, traveling mostly through Europe and Asia until I moved to Croatia in 2019. I lived my whole life in NJ, and I also lived in the Upper East Side in NYC when I worked on Wall St. for three years.

Marija: How did you decide to leave Wall St. and start a career change? What was the crucial point?

Rebecca: I left my corporate job because there was a deep desire in me to find work that felt meaningful. I wanted to help others or do something to make this world a better place. I remember sitting at my desk every day thinking, “Is this really where I belong?”

The answer was a resounding NO, and life’s big questions like, “What am I doing here?”, “What is the purpose of my life?” were relentless. For 10 years, I stayed in a career that wasn’t for me because I was afraid to leave, and I thought making a lot of money was enough.

But over time, there was a voice inside that got so loud that I had no choice but to make a change, or I would continue to suffer. As that feeling grew more obvious, three things happened simultaneously.

First, I was practicing yoga 4-6 times a week and had heard about meditation through yoga. I went as far as I could with the physical practice, and I felt drawn to meditation in a way I couldn’t explain. I could hear this gentle voice inside telling me, “Rebecca, you need to meditate.”

I didn’t know much about it or really understand it, so I researched online and discovered the perfect meditation program in Bali. Once I got accepted into the program, I knew it meant something special as I didn’t see myself going to Bali for one month and then back to NYC.

Secondly, I was also traveling a lot, oftentimes by myself and I loved it! Travel exposed me to many new things, including people who were traveling for months at a time. In the United States, we don’t travel that long, and it planted a seed in my mind. Again, I could hear that soft voice in my head saying, “Rebecca, you need to travel.”

And lastly, my friend invited me on a sailing holiday on the Adriatic Sea. When I landed in Croatia, my intuition went into overdrive, telling me that this place was somehow very special to me. I heard that same voice telling me, “Rebecca, you’re going to work on a yacht.” I had no prior experience, but somehow, I knew I would be after that trip.

That was in August 2016. By March 2017, I decided to quit my job, cash out my life savings, and travel indefinitely to discover what I was really passionate about. I was ready to stop living a life that wasn’t meant for me and start living a life that made me feel alive and real. This journey of self-discovery lasted for three years, and I learned so much about myself.

Every summer, I was in Croatia working on yachts and becoming very familiar with the beauty of the islands and the Adriatic Sea. Every spring, I was in Bali meditating in a month-long program. We meditated over 2 hours a day, and my mind was no longer in control of my life.

During the other parts of the year, I was traveling around the world exploring things I felt drawn to. I ended up volunteering at a Buddhist center in London twice to deepen my meditation practice. I led yoga and meditation retreats in Ibiza and Cambodia. I lived in the Italian countryside helping with a wine harvest, and I worked on small charter yachts and several megayachts worldwide, including one in fancy St. Tropez.

The one thing I always kept coming back to and felt very passionate about was meditation. It changed my life, and it feels like the most meaningful thing I could share with others. So here I am today, a meditation coach living in Croatia, which I could have never predicted.

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

Rebecca: In my third year of being a nomad, I knew it was time to settle down, and Croatia was the ONLY place that felt right. I moved to Croatia in December 2019, and COVID hit in March 2020, so it couldn’t have been better timing. I had lost my desire for travel and felt a deep calling to put roots somewhere.

a lady smiling
Rebecca in Varaždin, Croatia

My Croatian friend, whom I met working on the yachts, helped me find an apartment via Njuškalo and get my permit at the police station, so I was very lucky. I ended up living in a skyscraper on the 19th floor, which was not fun for the earthquake, so I moved out shortly after.

[Read: An English guide to Njuškalo (Croatia’s Craigslist)]

Marija: How did you find Expat in Croatia? Did we help with your transition to Croatia, and how?

Rebecca: Once I moved to Croatia, I didn’t know I’d live here for longer than a year until about 9 months in. Then I started thinking about how to stay here more permanently. Expat in Croatia was one of the first sites to come up on Google, and I emailed you.

At that time, I think it was only Sara there, and she was great! She answered my questions promptly, and the website had lots of information and resources. It really helped me understand my choices. Thanks, Sara!

[Read: Available visas and residence permits for Croatia]

Marija: On what basis did you apply for residence? What is your experience with the application process and Croatian police?

Rebecca: My first residence permit was under language study, and because I’m a third-country national, I would have had to have left after one year. BUT, I got super lucky because just as my application was about to expire, the digital nomad permit arrived. I applied and was approved!

[Read: How to apply for the digital nomad residence permit in Croatia]

The application process has been great and challenging. My last application took eleven months to get finalized. Thanks to EIC, I knew permits were taking longer than usual because of an influx of foreign workers coming into the country along with Ukrainians and Russians.

EIC helped me understand what was happening, but it’s a nerve-wracking experience to be in the country or travel without finalized paperwork. I also knew many digital nomads who were frustrated and left the country while waiting for completed paperwork.

Last year, it was impossible to get a response by email, and I had to go to the office to get my permit finalized. My officer was great in helping me finalize the paperwork and even extended my permit by one year without requesting additional paperwork or hassle.

Overall, I’ve had mixed experiences. To stay in Croatia, you have to be patient (thank goodness for meditation!) and probably have a special personality to bear the ups and downs and uncertainty of it all. I knew I wanted to stay in Croatia, so I made peace with this, but it’s definitely not for everyone.

Marija: Once you settled in Croatia, what were the biggest shocks or challenges you experienced? How did you overcome them?

Rebecca: The first couple of years living in Croatia were tough. I don’t have Croatian roots, I didn’t have many friends, and I wasn’t connected to a community. Plus, COVID was in effect.

I was yearning for deeper connections as I was solo-traveling for three years and mostly had brief, shallow encounters with people, which I grew tired of. I started going to meetups in Zagreb, and I was grateful to make some friends, but I quickly outgrew the existing meetup scene as it was a range of mixed experiences.

a panel of 4 people
At a remote work conference in Zagreb, Croatia

I started to host my own meetups in 2021 because I wanted to make meeting people fun and engaging, especially for foreign solopreneurs and remote workers like myself. Also, I wanted a space where women entrepreneurs could collaborate, and I felt it was important to grow my professional network since I started my own business a few years ago.

So far, I’ve hosted coffee meetups, brunch meetups, and wine tastings, and I created 7-Minute Meetup, a speed networking event for entrepreneurs or small business owners like myself. At the old meetups, I’d talk to people I already knew because I was nervous to say hi to strangers. In 7MM, you’re placed in groups of 3-4 people, then switched to a new group, so by the end of the evening, you know most of the people in the room.

In March 2023, I started a women entrepreneurs group called Zagrebpreneurs with a fellow solopreneur. Not only was it important to feel like I was a community member, but I also wanted to create a meaningful space for women entrepreneurs. One didn’t exist in Zagreb in English, so I created an international group welcoming expats, remote workers, and foreign or local entrepreneurs in Zagreb. I’ve met some amazing women with big dreams!

My favorite part is the introductions when we share our passions and what we hope to achieve. It’s very supportive, inspiring, and motivating to be surrounded by that energy because running your business can be draining, especially in the beginning. Being a solopreneur and remote worker gets lonely as you’re by yourself most of the time. Once a month, we come together to bond, share skills, and build our professional network.

group of ladies smiling
Rebecca’s Zagrebpreneurs group

Marija: Why did you pick the field of meditation and mindfulness as your new life and business path? Did you have any fears when starting a new career?

Rebecca: Honestly, meditation and mindfulness picked me! Looking back, I was simply following what felt meaningful to me. I was attracted to meditation in a way I can’t describe. My intuition brought me to this career path as I didn’t even know I could make a living this way.

In the beginning, I had no idea how to meditate. I remember searching YouTube videos, staring at a candle, chanting Buddhist mantras, and not knowing what I was doing. Once I attended my meditation program and developed a consistent practice, it finally made sense, and I got it. Now, I teach everything I’ve learned in a simple and easy-to-understand manner, as I know most are confused about meditation or don’t know what they’re doing.

Meditation has the power to keep you grounded in a world full of ups and downs. It helped me understand my mind and go beyond it to a place of calm, intuitive guidance, and I’ve had some of the most profound realizations in meditation that changed how I experienced the world and myself. If you have questions, silence has answers.

I can’t say I had any fears when I started my business, but I had more doubts about actually being able to create a sustainable career and support myself financially by doing what I love. I‘ve learned so much about being an entrepreneur, and I’m still learning. I don’t think this process will ever stop and I’m really grateful for the women entrepreneur group’s support.

To anyone who dreams of building a career out of their passion, keep going and follow the things that feel meaningful to you or that you’re drawn to because, eventually, it’ll all make sense, I promise. Just don’t give up and keep going.

Marija: To whom would you recommend meditation? How can it help, and what are the results?

Rebecca: I recommend meditation to EVERYONE! But I often work with busy, ambitious professionals who feel overwhelmed, have active minds, and want to calm and settle their energy so they feel present and make conscious, meaningful decisions throughout the day.

We’re not attuned to pause, reflect, and understand if we’re moving in a direction that makes sense for us. So often, we keep ourselves on the go, occupied, and overstimulated, and our unconscious patterns may have a bigger say in our lives than we’re aware of.

Even with just a couple of meditation sessions, clients become aware of the patterns that are creating pain and suffering and begin creating new changes that benefit their lives. No longer controlled by their mind or emotions, they’re now in the driver’s seat of their life.

When we come to a place of stillness, we have an opportunity to respond CONSCIOUSLY and remain actively engaged in life with intuition leading the way. If you ignore your intuition, you suffer. If you listen to your intuition, you set yourself free.

It’s the best feeling to help others through this process and witness their transformation from disempowered to empowered. I wouldn’t be doing anything else.

Marija: Are you satisfied with your life in Croatia? Do you miss anything from the US? Do you plan to stay here long-term?

Rebecca: I’m very satisfied with my life in Croatia. Although being an entrepreneur is one of the most difficult things I’ve done, it’s also the most rewarding, as I’m creating a life I actually like and get to do work I feel aligned with.

I’m no longer sitting at a desk, wondering if I’m in the right place. I know I belong right where I am in Croatia, doing what I love and meeting so many wonderful people through my community initiatives. My life feels full and meaningful.

a lady hiking
Rebecca hiking on Medvednica, Zagreb

I can’t say with 100% certainty that I’ll stay in Croatia forever. I never know where my intuition will take me, and I have to follow her, or I will suffer. But it’s going into my fifth year living in Zagreb, and I don’t feel pulled to go anywhere else yet.

I miss family and friends, of course, but video chats help keep us close, and I go back to the United States occasionally.

Marija: Would you like to share anything else with us, or do you have a message for our audience?

Rebecca: If your mind is busy, if you feel disconnected or out of alignment. If you’re asking yourself some big life questions or feel called to create something different, or want to change your life because it just isn’t working anymore. If you’re looking for deeper meaning and purpose… practice meditation.

Sitting in silence will give you answers, peace of mind, emotional freedom, meaningful direction, and so much more. Your intuition is communicating with you 100% of the time. We just have to tune in and follow that natural pull. Eventually, you’ll find your way, things will make sense, and you’ll be so glad you did.

Do you think this Jersey Girl ever imagined she’d be an entrepreneur and meditation coach living and working remotely in Croatia?

Listen and surrender to the relentless nudges and gentle voice inside as your intuition wants to take you places beyond your wildest imagination. Who knows, it may even take you to Croatia.

Contact Rebecca via:

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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