On July 2, 2020, I was interviewed on the morning show Dobro Jutro Hrvatska on HRT1 by Ljiljana Vinković to talk about my Expat in Croatia project.
You can watch the full interview (dubbed in Croatian) as well as read the English transcription of the interview below.
English translation of my interview on Dobro Jutro Hrvatska
Ljiljana Vinković: Our today’s guest Sara came to Croatia by accident, although nothing in life is accidental. She came for a vacation in 2011, fell in love with Croatia and, as she says, with Croatian people.
She then decided to return here, settle down and start a new life. The Expat in Croatia project helped her stay in Croatia because it became her job, and it was through this project that she has helped many foreigners, in connecting them, solving their problems, adapting them to their new life.
I believe she influenced some of them to also stay in Croatia and become its residents. So, Sara Dyson, welcome to the show.
Sara Dyson: Good morning Lilly.
Ljiljana Vinković: So, tell us… You came to Croatia by accident, as I said, but it would be best if you could introduce yourself, even though our viewers have already heard that you are from Texas.
Sara Dyson: Yes, I grew up in Texas, but I knew from a very early age that I was born on the wrong continent. In my heart, I knew I should be living in Europe. That is why I have, throughout my life, taken steps to get closer to this continent and, by pure chance, I stumbled into Croatia.
I was planning a trip to Italy and came across a blog post by an American couple, which were traveling by kayak from Opatija to Dubrovnik. In that post, they said that they had been to Italy several times already, but that they wanted to explore a new place, so they came to Croatia.
What they discovered was a country that is even more beautiful, people who are kinder and more generous, and food that tasted more amazing. That was all I needed to know. I investigated Croatia a bit and intended to go to Italy for 7 days and to Croatia for three.
In the end, I completely skipped Italy and came here for my entire stay. So, in 2011, I was here on vacation and after that I moved here. I never thought I would fall in love with your country, but I fell in love completely and cannot imagine living anywhere else.
Ljiljana Vinković: Although everyone asks if you fell in love and stayed because of it, you didn’t. You studied photography, and I already mentioned that you prepared some special treats. I will also say that you have, along with photography, finished a special pastry school.
Nevertheless, you don’t do either of those things, at least not professionally, so I want to ask you how you found yourself in this project and what the Expat in Croatia project actually means. Could you please explain, so that our viewers could understand what it is and how it connects all foreigners in Croatia.
Sara Dyson: Of course. So, when I first got here, there were no tools or resources available for someone like me, who wanted to move to Croatia. Tourist resources were exclusively in Croatian, so I had to just figure it all on my own.
I went to Split and managed as best I could. As I started going through Croatian bureaucracy, I started recording my experiences. I translated detailed instructions I received from MUP and HZZO. I posted them on the internet and thought “Well, if I help only one person who comes to Croatia, if it makes it easier for them to find their way here, then this will be worth it.”
Over the past 7 years, Expat in Croatia has grown into something I could not even imagine. I have helped and guided thousands of people, not only foreigners but also Croats.
I write about daily life, culture and how the bureaucracy functions. It is the #1 resource in English for people who want to move to Croatia and for people who live here.
We cover how to get an OIB, how to get health insurance, a driver’s license, a residence permit, citizenship etc. That is something I’ve put my entire heart into and it’s very rewarding for me. I am very grateful that Croatia allowed me to live here and that I can talk about Croatia all day long.
Ljiljana Vinković: Well, you are one of the biggest promoters of Croatia. I think that you deserve an honorary Croatian citizenship if you did not already get it.
Sara Dyson: I am not a citizen yet. I am currently working on my application. There have been some road bumps. Most people that apply for Croatian citizenship are married to a Croatian or they come from another EU country or they have heritage, i.e. ancestors from Croatia.
There is a small percentage of people who do not belong to any of these groups and I am one of them. So, the next step is to naturalize, but when you naturalize in Croatia, you have to give up your other citizenship.
I do not want to give up my American citizenship. I don’t want to find myself in a situation where I can’t go visit my family in America.
Luckily, Croatia offers another way to get citizenship – you must show that you are offering something positive to the country. That is how Ashley Colburn got her citizenship. That’s what I’m working on right now.
I’m collecting support and recommendation letters from my clients, from my Croatian colleagues with whom I collaborated on this project Expat in Croatia, or foreigners in Croatia whom I have helped. That’s what I’m working on and I’m hoping I can submit my application by the end of summer, and I hope it will be accepted.
Ljiljana Vinković: Since Ashley has being promoting herself in a lovely manner and often, we have given you a chance to come and share your experiences with us. I hope that your coming to Dobro jutro Hrvatska show will also help you do that.
You have been in Croatia for many years now, but of course we are all interested in how you chose Split to live in and not Osijek, Zareb or Rijeka, for example.
Sara Dyson: Split has stolen my heart, truly. To me, it has everything that somebody could need, it is not too big, nor too small. It is exactly the right size. It’s one big village.
Everybody knows your name, but in a good way. I love the fact that is located on the seaside. I had the privilege of living in California, by the ocean, for a few years just before I moved here.
In Texas, the gulf was a 6-hour drive away. I really like living near the sea in Split. The city is also beautiful. It still blows my mind when I run errands in a 1700-year-old palace. It’s surreal to me.
Ljiljana Vinković: If we were to compare the Texans’ and the Dalmatians’ temperaments – who do you think is more temperamental?
Sara Dyson: Well, when it comes to driving, Dalmatians and Texans are absolutely the same. The rules do not matter. But when it comes to everything else, Dalmatians are much more relaxed and I am trying to learn to be more relaxed. At the end of the day, Texans are Americans and we, as Americans, are born knowing that we must work until we die. Working is our purpose on this Earth.
Ljiljana Vinković: I don’t think there is a better person in Croatia to promote America, because I love America just as much as you love Croatia, and I know exactly what I miss from America. What do you miss the most from Texas, New York and all the places where you lived in America?
Sara Dyson: Well, of course, I miss my family and my friends. I wish they could all be here. But I have to say I really miss my BBQ brisket from Texas. Most American states have their own kind of BBQ with their own little twist.
In Texas, we have brisket. It’s a fatty piece of cow that is smoked for 18 to 24 hours. By the end, the fat melts and you have a beautiful crust on the outside. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. This is the first dish I eat when I return home to America, and the last one I eat before I return here, home to Croatia.
Ljiljana Vinković: I, too, miss the perfect American steak. Do you think that we, in Croatia, can raise cattle and age steaks like you do in America and produce food that you and I and all the Americans living here miss?
Sara Dyson: I don’t see why not. This is a great place to raise cows and here, in Croatia, a lot of people eat grilled meat. I really don’t see why you couldn’t.
I can’t do that because I live in an apartment without a balcony and it would really upset my neighbors if I started smoking meat.
Ljiljana Vinković: We already have a lot of American things in Croatia. We have an American shop and we have chocolate chip cookies that you brought us, but I don’t know what else is in the box. In order to present your specialties, please tell us a little bit about what you have brought us.
Sara Dyson: The other cookie is a snickerdoodle. It is a sugar cookie coated in sugar and cinnamon. It’s one of my favorite cookies.
Ljiljana Vinković: Have you thought about opening a pastry shop in Split?
Sara Dyson: Ha, ha, I’ve gotten that question a lot. To be honest, it sounds like a nice idea, but I would have to give up everything else I do.
As I said before, I am very fulfilled with Expat in Croatia project and I want to focus on that. Maybe sometime in the future something like this will happen, but for now I am quite happy with how things are.
Ljiljana Vinković: Croatia can definitely be much better and much richer. Now we will ask you the most important thing for all of us: If you could – what would you change in Croatia or, rather, what would you do for Croatia if you had that power?
Sara Dyson: Well, I brought some notes with me about what we talked about it in preparation for this week. So I want to read it.
I think that the taxes, specifically PDV and contributions on salaries must be lowered. High taxes are slowing down this country, killing its potential for improvement.
If taxes were reduced, then Croats could buy more, companies and trades could hire more people, and employees could be paid higher wages.
More people could open businesses and trades. This would lead to more employment, which would lead to people earning more. More people could be honest in declaring their income, and not hide it.
Lower taxes would also encourage global corporations to build offices and production facilities in Croatia, which would then give Croats better-paying jobs. Perhaps it would also lead to a program specifically to train and transfer redundant government employees into more attractive private jobs that are better paid and thus relieve burden on the government and the public sector.
This would also encourage young Croats to either return to Croatia or not leave Croatia at all. It seems to me that everything here is focused on short-term gain and not long-term prosperity. It’s a losing battle. Given the difficult economic situation in connection with COVID, it seems that it is time for serious changes in Croatia.
Ljiljana Vinković: Very nice. Now that you have mentioned COVID – when was the last time you’ve seen your parents? When were you in Texas last?
Sara Dyson: My grandmother had a stroke in January, so I got on a plane and went home to spend some time with her, and I then also spent time with my family. My parents were supposed to be here right now to visit me, but now those plans have been postponed.
I was also supposed to go there in the fall, but because of COVID, those plans were also postponed. That’s why I’m so glad I was able to see them in January.
Ljiljana Vinković: I still hope that there will be opportunities for them to come because Croatia has opened its borders and I believe that there are many reasons for them to come because you like a lot of things in Croatia. So, tell us – what do you like the most, what did you see in Croatia, what parts you’ve traveled to and what will you show them when they come?
Sara Dyson: Well, my favorite part of Croatia, even though I live in Split, I have to say is Istria. I go there almost every year, to a small villa on the top of a hill where Motovun is located.
There is a lovely couple who make olive oil whom I rent from. A few years ago my parents visited them with me. I really think they are a kind of my extended family and I love going to Istria.
What I like most about Croatia is the community. It’s at the very top of my list when people ask me this question. There is no such kind of connection in the States, people socialize differently, everything works differently.
And here I feel strongly accepted. Whether people know who I am or not, whether they know my name or not I have felt very cherished. I feel very safe. Every Croatian seems happy that I am here and I know that if I ever needed anything, they would drop everything in a second and help me. It really makes me happy and I feel very welcome.
Ljiljana Vinković: Although you told me not to say this, I will say it anyhow. When I asked Sara what she had missed about America, I thought she would say Starbucks. But Sara prefers our coffee, which is certainly a compliment to us, but she advises the Croats not to drink coffee every day, right?
Sara Dyson: I don’t drink coffee every day. I know that might be a bit shocking. I am a valid supporter of long coffees, but it is something I cannot do every day otherwise I would never get anything done. I very rarely drink coffee on a working day. I try to do this over the weekend. Then I relax a bit, I sit down and hang out with my friends, over coffee.
Ljiljana Vinković: Are you saying that we would be more productive if we reduced those coffees a little and rewarded ourselves only on weekends?
Sara Dyson: I don’t know that I want to say that. To be honest, I want to be less productive. Each person must decide how productive they want to be. Everybody is different.
Ljiljana Vinković: I think we received a good message, anyhow. How do Splićani (people from Split) address you? I know that you understand Croatian and that you speak Croatian, but you have not mastered it yet. But the people of Split have their own dialect. Do you understand them?
Sara Dyson: Hmmm, well, I’m getting better, bolje i boje svaki dan (every day) but it can be very hard to understand Splićani. They combine their words, mash them together, and they take out the middle.
When you learn Croatian, you learn the official language. But if you live in Split, you have to learn a completely different language in addition.
So, I have difficulties with understanding, I speak and read better, in fact much better than I understand Croatian. For example, in my neighborhood, there are no tourists.
I’ve lived there for 5 years. There’s a pazar (market) there and all the vendors know me, they have been seeing me for 5 years. They talk to me, they help me practice, they compliment me when they notice I’ve improved. It seems to me that they are trying to help with my Croatian, and I am very grateful to them for that.
Ljiljana Vinković: Sara, thank you for coming to our show. We will invite you again and then you will talk to us in Croatian, okay?
Sara Dyson: Deal.
Ljiljana Vinković: Thank you for coming.
Sara Dyson: Hvala (thank you) for having me.