World traveler is not my title…yet. My husband and I began our international journey last August, but we hope to earn that title in the next few years. My husband’s career took us on this journey, and as a result I gave up my five-year sales career. I tend to be a bit of a romantic and see this as an opportunity to create my “dream job.”
While I search for my dream job, I stay active in the community to avoid homesickness and to meet new people as an expat in Croatia. One of the ways I do both of those things (and make a little spending money) is by teaching English as a foreign language.
Going into both of my tutoring gigs, I expected to share the English language with my students. What I did not expect was for my students to share so much about Croatian and European culture with me. This side benefit has been a great way to learn about the place I now call home.
I teach at a private French & German school in Zagreb, but many of my students are Croats. In this school, the students are taught in either French or German (depending on which side of the school they attend) and have Croatian and English classes twice a week. Then, when they reach middle school, they learn the language of the other side (French or German).
By the time these kids graduate, they have at least four languages under their belt.
Full disclosure: I only speak English. This fact makes me feel like a huge underachiever. Sure, I took two years of Spanish in High School and two years of Italian in college, but those were for grades and not for practical use. So I lost them. It was so frustrating being in Italy this past Fall and not being able to say anything I had learned besides, “Ciao.” (Italy photo)
The need to learn other languages in Croatia is understandable – they want English to communicate globally and one or two other European languages to be more connected to their neighbors as Croatia is a newish member of the European Union.
Although I feel a little inadequate, I am encouraged by my students to learn Croatian. I can do more to be a globally minded traveler, and I can show appreciation to my host country by speaking their language. It is not an easy language to learn, but if I can converse with my elementary students by the time I leave I will feel that my goal is met.
The American coasts
When Croatians talk about the United States of America, they most often talk about cities on the coasts like New York City and Los Angeles. People are fascinated with these big, high-energy cities!
Now, being a Kansas girl myself, I recognize the “fly-over” states may not be as well known to the world.
There are a ton of reasons why the US coasts get extra love from foreigners, but one reason is that they long for a city more rambunctious than Zagreb. Zagreb is very safe and relatively small for a capitol, but this also brings about a lack of nightlife and activity for younger generations. Families love staying in Zagreb, but younger Croats want to see the world. They want to explore new cities and meet people from all over the world.
I must admit I love to watch sports. In fact, I am almost unbearable to be around during the NCAA Basketball Tournament, aka March Madness, and during any Chiefs NFL game. Sports tend to be a unifying event all over the world, and this holds true here in Croatia as well. (Chiefs shirt photo)
However, there is a wider range of sports with large followings in Croatia. I have found that most adults enjoy soccer, hockey and NBA basketball, but passionate fans follow other sports such as tennis, handball and rowing. It has been fun talking sports with people we meet and I look forward to attending local games and matches while posted here.
Sidenote: my football fan heart jumped when I saw my elementary kids express their love for American football. It is becoming a much more global sport to watch, and I wonder where the sport will be internationally in five or ten years.
Subtleties in language
Every once in a while, I pick up on similarities among the many Croats I have met. It is so funny to recognize it and then compare it to how Americans act or speak.
For example, in the US a moment of realization usually brings about an, “OH!” You know, when you finally understand a concept or you realize the point of a lesson. In Croatia, though, that moment of realization is followed by, “ah, AH-HA!” You see a big smile cross their face, followed by an enthusiastic nod.
This may seem like a small thing to pick up on. But think about it – there are many American subtleties that give you an “ah-ha” moment when you recognize the pattern. Language patterns such as using “like” as a filler word or making statements sounds like questions (also known as upspeak).
I have also noticed popular phrases used here in Zagreb. As soon as I find out what it means (and how to use it), I throw the new phrase around in public. It makes me feel more like a local and I feel accomplished having learned new vocabulary.
Enjoy every outing
Like many other European countries, Croats take their sweet time having coffee and meals with friends. They spend as much time as possible enjoying each others’ company. A meal that would last 30 minutes in the US may be a three-hour event here.
No, the restaurants are not unable to prepare a meal in a short time; instead, the restaurants allow you to catch up, talk, laugh, connect and digest so you have room for dessert.
And grabbing coffee is not running out in your leggings with your hair in a bun for a Frappuccino (like I used to). People put their full faces on, fix their hair and dress in adorable, fashionable outfits. Coffee is a social even for Croatians. Zagreb is small enough that you see many people you know when out-and-about, so they make sure they are ready for any encounter. (coffee photo)
It has taken me awhile to adjust. I am a tee shirt and jeans kind of girl, but that is the equivalent of sweatpants and a hoodie here. The children I teach tend to dress in line with adult fashion, and the retired professor with whom I work always looks chic when she arrives for a lesson. Croats take pride in their appearance, and I have taken steps to try and do the same.
Carbs? Who cares!
The overwhelming diet culture of the US has not made its way to Croatia. In fact, I rarely see an overweight person. Sure, there are a few advertisements circulating and a few diet products at the store, but it is not as prevalent as in the States. At first it was puzzling; breakfast consists of pastries, bread is a common meal staple and pasta seems to be a popular dinner choice. But it quickly became apparent that the carbohydrates consumed are burned off throughout the day.
People eat their pastries as they hurriedly walk to work or school. During lunch breaks, people walk in nearby parks before returning to the office. Dinner is eaten slowly so people avoid overeating.
Additionally, most people are active in their free time. Tennis clubs, pick-up basketball games, local gyms – Croats find ways to work out socially. Before we moved, one of my two-year goals was to learn a new sport. I chose tennis, and I immediately found an abundance of tennis coaches. Sports are just part of everyday life here.
Take every chance to learn
We are only four months into our international journey, but I have already learned so much about Croatia and myself. Each English lesson I teach is an opportunity to learn from others, and I do not plan to take that for granted.
You may be saying, “Well I am not living overseas!”
You do not have to live globally to be globally minded. Make an effort to meet people from different cultures, appreciate the differences and find ways to embrace their best practices. Your perspective can only benefit from surrounding yourself with a diverse crowd.
If you are a frequent international traveler, enjoy every second. Find opportunities to connect with other travelers and Expats through organizations and Meetups. Make the most of your time abroad. And open your mind to every opportunity you are given. My tutoring started as a way to put myself out there and make a little money, but it has surprisingly turned into a rich cultural experience.What Tutoring English Taught Me About Croatian Culture- a must read! #Travel #Culture #Europe… Click To Tweet
Morgan Province is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Croatia with her husband. As American Expats, they enjoy eating and drinking their way through Europe. Besides traveling, writing and photography, Morgan also enjoys playing with her two Westies, reading and binge-watching too many television shows.