Expat in Croatia turns 9

People clinking Croatian wine glasses
Me with the team in Hrvatsko Zagorje – June 2022

PUBLISHED: 10/07/2022

I have not reproduced, but that does not mean I don’t have children.

Expat in Croatia is my baby. Like a moose, I gestated my little krafna1 for 7 months. I carefully considered names. I crafted her exterior. I decided on a personality. I picked out her hair and eye color. I kept her cushy and safe until it was time for her to burst through the fourth wall and meet the world with no plans or expectations.

I wondered…would she be discovered? If found, would she be accepted? Would anyone want to be her friend? Would she be bullied? Would she make a mistake she can’t take back? Would anyone care what she has to say?

When she was barely 2 months, she got her first visitors. 10 people showed up on our doorstep to see what she was about. She told them what to bring to Croatia and shared stories of Croatian kindness. 19 people showed up the next day, and then 27 people the day after that.

Before I knew it, she was scooting her butt across the carpet. Zigging left, zagging right – unsure of the destination, and instead more focused on forward movement.

Early days

Me during bura wind in Croatia
Me in the bura in 2016

For the first 5 years, I wrote the blog anonymously – although anyone who did a modicum of due diligence could have put the pieces together. I never lied about it; I just didn’t offer it up on a platter.

It was mighty entertaining to see the discussion in the Expat Facebook groups of “who was behind Expat in Croatia”, which would usually kick up whenever I’d post one of my rants.

Though I enjoyed the speculation, my motivation was primarily fear driven. The anonymity served as a protective cloak. The veil of mystery hid me in the safety of the shadows, free of critique, exposure, judgment, and ridicule – the four horsemen of the social anxiety apocalypse.

I didn’t want to be known. I didn’t want to be out there. I had no interest in people knowing my name or being the center of attention. I didn’t even like having my photo taken for any reason.

But then, one day, I fell into a crevasse and got stuck between a rock (leaving Croatia) and a hard place (MUP).

It was either open a company or get the f*** out. Since leaving Croatia was an “over my dead body” kind of situation, I said jebiga2 and called the notary public3.

Of course, it wasn’t that easy. I had to pay myself a salary. That money had to come from somewhere. For a while it came straight from my pocket, which I did not like because it meant less money for the important things like rent, dresses, and coffee.

I had to start taking EIC seriously. Branding, revenue streams, and marketing, oh my! I never thought about any of that. The blog was never supposed to be a business, but now it was.

So, I started from scratch. I bought a marketing course and followed all the instructions. The most valuable advice was to speak to friends who are also fans of what you do. Ask them what they think you can do better.

To my overwhelming dismay, they all said the same thing to me.

“You need to be the face of the company. It’s not going to work otherwise.”

I didn’t want to be the face of anything. My anonymity and I got on nicely. In time, I realized those silly, yet honest and insightful people were right. DANG IT.

First, I put my name on the blog. EEEEEK. That was hard, but it was nothing like what would come later.

Marija

Marija Tkalec and Sara Dyson
Marija and me in Split – March 2022

For 6 years, the blog was pretty much me. I threw some cash to locals here and there to help me with research that would support my blog writing.

I replied to every single person myself, wrote the posts, managed all the social media, and built the web site – alongside my day job, which funded EIC completely for most of its existence.

I just couldn’t do it all myself anymore. I put a job ad on Moj Posao seeking a copywriter and got 86 applications from across Croatia (though not a single one from Split).

It came down to 5 women – all amazing.

The candidates were asked to complete a series of tasks as part of the interview process. One woman rose to the top because of her response to one of those tasks.

I asked the candidates to make a list of every single LGBTQ organization in Croatia. The purpose was to see how well they researched and organized data, but also to see how they would react to such a request.

Love is love at Expat in Croatia and I’m only going to hire people who agree. Period.

Marija responded, “Why are you asking?”

“Uh oh,” I thought. “I guess she’s got a problem with this. Let’s see what she has to say.”

I explained that the task was meant to test her skills as well as her tolerance.

Marija replied, “I’m so relieved. I wanted to make sure this list wasn’t going to be used to target anybody.”

That tipped the scales and we’ve been together ever since.

It was Marija and I for 2 years while I tried to figure out how to make this adventure a real company. There were a lot of ups and downs. I’ll be forever grateful that she took a chance on the crazy American with the weird business that didn’t exist and had no money.

She’s been managing all the content for expatincroatia.com since.  While she may be working behind the scenes, her voice is in nearly every post you read on this site, all over the Tuesday newsletter and literally in the Croatian lesson recordings that we offer to subscribers.

I cannot imagine being on this journey without her. Not only is she immensely talented, Marija balances out my manic brainstorming and brings me down to earth.

Becoming the face

Ugh, gross. I hate that section title, but that’s exactly what it has been.

Know what it’s like to get tired of seeing your own face? Or worrying that others are getting tired of seeing your face? Or scared that nobody wants to hear what you have to say? Or being so exhausted and worn out that you don’t think your face is fit to be seen, but you’ve got to make a video anyways? Or having every piece of hate mail be directed at you personally?

I do!

So…I put my name on the web site as the author, but apparently, that was not enough.

In July 2020, I was given an opportunity to be interviewed on Dobro jutro, Hrvatska (Good morning, Croatia) for 18 very long and very live minutes. You can watch it here.

I was a total wreck for a month. I thought about cancelling many times, but quitting is not me and if I can’t do this, what the hell am I doing this all for anyways?

I prepared the same way I did for a test in college. I made a packet of answers to the interviewer’s questions and carried them everywhere with me for weeks, reading and memorizing and practicing.

The day came…

I put on my brand-new Croatian-designed dress bought specifically for the occasion, pushed down my panic attack and Uber-ed over to the HRT studios in Zagreb.

They placed me in a dressing room and slathered me with makeup and hairspray, pushing this makeup-less girl further outside of her comfort zone. I didn’t even look like myself, but I’m here! I’m doing this!

Ljiljana Vinković and Sara Dyson
Ljiljana Vinković and I before the filming of Dobro jutro, Hrvatska in July 2020

Ljiljana Vinković is the goddess journalist who interviewed me. Every step of the way, she was kind and supportive and helped me not walk off a ledge.

For all of the 18 minutes, Ljiljana asked me questions in Croatian, which I had to act like I was listening to but completely ignore so I could instead listen to the man in my ear translating her in real time.

It took all of my energy to focus and not mess it all up. I was a deer in headlights, and I’m certain I blacked out for part of it.

Apparently, it was a big success. I was just glad I didn’t puke on camera. It took me days to calm down and return to neutral.

But that wasn’t the end of it.

It became clear I had to start making videos to support our content. On October 6, 2020, I launched a series called “A Texan Says Croatian Words” on Instagram. Every Tuesday, I spoke our word and phrase of the week. And every Tuesday, I had to talk myself into doing it.

I did 40 episodes – this was the first and this was the last. Even though it set my skin on fire to open up my Croatian to critique, it forced me to be vulnerable in a very public way – in the way I needed to be, to become more confident and comfortable with being on camera.

Our audience wanted more videos and it was proving fruitful for the growth of the business, so I pushed myself farther outside of my comfort zone.

On February 9, 2021, I launched Five Question Friday. Every Friday, at 5 o’clock Croatian time, I go live on Instagram and answer 5 questions from people who have sent them in across social media, this web site, email, my consulting sessions, carrier pigeon or by flagging me down on the street. People also ask questions in real time, which is where I truly thrive.

I absolutely LOVE it. It took a bit of time for me to hit my stride, but now I look forward to it every week. Through FQF, the real me was revealed. I get to be 100% me, without a filter, without fear, without a mask. Sometimes I’m awkward, sometimes I fidget, sometimes I stammer, I’m generously imperfect and for the first time in my life, I don’t care at all.

It is a common trend that people on social media are showing curated versions of their lives and only reveal the representative they want the world to see.

For me, it was the exact opposite. Making these videos helped me discover the real me, which I share with our audience – good, bad, ugly, stupid, silly. Sometimes I make mistakes (like I did in the below video) and I own up to them. I don’t put up a front, I don’t lie, I just am. Take it or leave it.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Expat in Croatia (@expatincroatia)

Expansion

Teri Maxey and Sara Dyson of Expat in Croatia
Teri Maxey (Coordinator) and me in Split – March 2022

When the pandemic hit, EIC started to snowball.

Many people around the world got up at the same time and decided they needed a dramatic life change. The citizenship act was substantially modified making it easier for diaspora to obtain Croatian nationality. The digital nomad permit came the following year.

A perfect storm gathered and EIC was braced for the squall. We did have an 8-year head start, after all. In the last year alone, 5 more people joined our crew – all true believers excited that we get to do this job every day – and we opened an office in Split.

Expat in Croatia has become a family. We are not only colleagues, we are sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles.

Given this, it is no surprise that we do not see our audience as strangers, but instead, as cousins and neighbors. Many of them are just as invested as us. They cheer us on, support us, invite us into their homes and introduce us to their families. A community sprouted from the earth.

It makes us feel like we are part of something bigger, like we are really making a difference in people’s lives – not just foreigners, but Croatians too by funneling money into local businesses and non-profit organizations and shining light on other entrepreneurs. Helping others is the whole reason I started this in the first place, even though I never imagined it evolving into what it is today.

The best part is now we get to help infinitely more people than I could when I was all on my own. I’ve got enormous dreams and I can’t wait to share what comes next.

Thank you for your support, your questions, your love, your kindness, and even your critiques. Thank you for sharing your stories and the stories of your family. Thank you for believing in what we do and putting your trust in us to guide you through the Croatian labyrinth.

I know I speak for the whole EIC team when I say it’s a privilege for which we are deeply grateful and honored. We are happy to be on this journey alongside you. I’ve become the matriarch of a growing brood, and it’ll only get bigger from here.

For many years, I did not believe my existence held value or that I deserved good things. Through this journey as Expat in Croatia, I found myself, my family and my place in the world. I’m ready for what comes next.

Click here to jump to a rundown of our most popular posts (and my favorites) from the last 9 years.


If reading this post is your first taste of Expat in Croatia, here are some links to get you started:

  • Read about us and meet our team here
  • View our services here
  • Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and very soon, YouTube. Better subscribe now!
  • Check out our press, interviews, and speeches here
  • Subscribe to our Tuesday newsletter here
  • Browse all of our posts here, but also see a rundown of our most popular posts (and my favorites) from the last 9 years by clicking here

We’re happy you found us. Thanks for being here! 🙂

From left: Me with Marija Tkalec (Content Manager), Steve Fierens (Account Manager) at Paklenica National Park

A rundown of our most popular posts (as well as my favorites) from the last 9 years

2013

Most popular: Krolo winery in Trilj (This was the place that made me fall in love with pašticada)

My favorite: The kindness of strangers

2014

Most popular: How to find an English-speaking doctor

My favorite: 5 things I love about Split

2015

Most popular: How to find an English-speaking doctor

My favorite: Best places to drink in Split (No longer live. Too much changed after the pandemic.)

2016

Most popular: ZET Zagreb Tram Map

My favorite: Eeeek! None.

2017

Most popular: ZET Zagreb Tram Map (yep, again!)

My favorite: Do I need to open a bank account in Croatia?

2018

Most popular: Promet – Split’s Bus System

My favorite: The most important lesson you need to learn about living in Croatia

2019

Most popular: Tipping in Croatia

My favorite: 5 (kinda harsh) reasons to learn Croatian

2020

Most popular: How to apply for citizenship in Croatia

My favorite: 8 ways Croatia has changed me in 8 years

2021

Most popular: How to apply for the digital nomad residence permit

My favorite: How to be a bad tourist in Croatia

2022

Most popular: How to apply for the digital nomad residence permit

My favorite: The hardest part about being an expat in Croatia


Footnotes

  1. Krafna is like a donut. It’s a fried circle of dough that is filled with chocolate, vanilla cream, nutella or marmelade. It can be glazed, dusted with sugar or dipped in chocolate. Click to return.
  2. “Jebiga” is Croatian for “fuck it”. Click to return.
  3. If you are not a Croatian citizen, then you must open up a company using a notary public. Click to return.

Please note: All information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. For legal advice, you must consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, you must consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant. We can recommend one if you contact us.

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