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From New Mexico to Zagreb: Hungry Little Elephant
11 October, 2012 09:03
Hi! I’m Elaine. I was born in Indiana, but I call New Mexico home. After spending a couple of years in Texas for grad school, I moved to Zagreb, Croatia.
1. Why did you move abroad?
I suppose you could say the stars aligned. Last August I finished up my Master’s program, and I had been itching to get back to Croatia. After a job I was hoping for fell through, I contacted the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb to see if they’d be interested in me helping out there for a while. They were. Around the same time, a friend in Croatia and I decided to try a relationship. So, I packed up and moved to Zagreb!
2. How do you make a living?
At this point, I can’t really say I make a living. I do some freelance writing, and between that and volunteering at the Museum of Contemporary Art, I keep pretty busy. But I’m always interested in new projects – I’d love to do something that allows me to combine art history, museum education, and travel.
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
Thanks to Skype, I talk with my mom once a week or so, but I’m still trying to get the rest of my family to jump on the bandwagon. I also Gchat with friends, and we use applications like WhatsApp and Viber to text each other. Of course, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook are also great for keeping up with friends and family, albeit on a less personal level.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Croatia?
When I moved to Zagreb, the Croatian lifestyle was really good for me. (And yes, I am generalizing a bit here.) At that point in my life, I really needed to relax and take some time out. For years I put myself under so much pressure to perform and plan the next big thing, and that just didn’t feel healthy to me anymore. Giving myself a break and drinking coffee did. And there’s no better place to do that than in Croatia. Also, I love that everything continues to be so novel: even after nine months in Zagreb, the clickety-clack of trams rushing over their tracks still makes feel so excited to be here.
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Croatia?
Well, wouldn’t you know it, a few months after I moved, giving myself a break and drinking coffee just didn’t cut it anymore. I found myself yearning for direction, a career, a purpose. Even taking language courses and volunteering at the museum couldn’t fill that void. You see, it’s almost impossible for a foreigner (specifically a non-EU citizen) to obtain a work visa in Croatia, meaning that I am unable to really establish myself here professionally. That’s been difficult for me. Going about day-to-day business can be exhausting too, simply because it’s unfamiliar, and, let’s face it, there aren’t Targets in Zagreb to provide for my every material need.
6. What do you miss most?
Is family a given? Let’s say it is. In that case, I miss culinary variety and being able to get avocados, limes, and good almond milk at the store anytime I want them. Also, brunch.
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
I had been to Croatia several times before my move, and during my first visit I Couchsurfed, so I made some wonderful friends even then. I’ve kept a pretty small circle of close friends here, most of whom I’ve met through my boyfriend. I’ve also met a few good friends (fellow Americans, actually) through my language course and my blog. Of course, learning the language does wonders for integrating into any new culture. Though most people here speak amazing English, it’s always rewarding to go about daily business in Croatian.
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
Oh gosh. I love Croatian sensitivity to atmospheric conditions. They blame air conditioning and drafts (as in household air currents) for a number of physical ailments, like headaches and sinus problems. A sleepless night can be explained by the full moon, and temporary insanity is a result of the wind.
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
For some reason, many people continue to believe that Croatia is a dangerous, war-torn country. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
Some things, like apartment rent, fresh produce, a cup of coffee, or a great massage, are much cheaper than they are in the U.S. But most household products, appliances, and even restaurant meals can be painfully expensive. I saw a Kitchenaid toaster the other day for about $450. Of course, regional brands are less expensive, but still far pricier than I’m used to paying for such items. How has it made a difference in my life? I buy a lot of coffee, I don’t feel bad about treating myself to massages, and I try to bring things like sheets and small electronics with me from home.
11. What advice would you give other expats?
Have some sort of plan, goal, or activity to keep you busy and give you a sense of direction, particularly if you haven’t already secured a job or figured out an alternate career for yourself. Also, don’t be afraid to befriend other expats. You hear so much about how important it is to evade the “expat bubble,” but my American friends here have enriched my life and been an endless source of emotional support.
12. When and why did you start your blog?
I started my blog last fall, but I didn’t really commit to it until around February. Admittedly, I was a bit conflicted about the whole thing, but I have to say, it’s been a wholly fun and positive experience. I started Hungry Little Elephant for a number of reasons – primarily as a way to keep family and friends updated on my life in Zagreb, and also to share tips and anecdotes about Croatia with travelers interested in visiting. Of course, the blog is also very much for me. I like to call it an open journal, and though I’ve never been very good at journaling, blogging is a fun way to record my life here. I enjoy being able to look back and see where I was even a few months ago.
Elaine's blog, Hungry Little Elephant
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