There comes a time in every young adult’s life when we must actually face the age-old question our aunts, uncles, grandmas, and grandpas have been consistently asking us at every year at the annual family Christmas party: what are your plans after high school? My answer had always been the same - college. It was definitely my next stop, but which college that would end up being was still a mystery. Having lived in Boston my whole life; loving its charm and history, staying local was definitely an option for me. Many of my friends would go on to attend University of Massachusetts Boston, Boston University, Boston College, and the likes, while some would choose colleges in one of Massachusetts’ surrounding states. But I wanted to try something different. I had already experienced life in the States, and the wanderlust in me drove me to explore college options a little further from the place I had called home for most of my life.
So how did I choose Croatia as my next ‘home sweet home’? My family is originally from Croatia, and I have spent every summer since I was born having fun in the sun running around the beautiful country. Getting back into touch with my roots, not just during a holiday, but really seeing how it would be to live my life in Croatia as my family had for so many generations was something I wanted to experience. Every time my parents would complain about me moving so far away from them, I would blame their own travel-seeking genes that have clearly been passed on to me.
My parents moved from Croatia, never having been outside of Europe, with nothing but a suitcase’s worth of clothes to attend college a world away in beautiful California. After California, my parents relocated to Baltimore, where I was born. We followed my dad’s career next to Trieste, Italy, back to the States to North Carolina, and finally found a permanent home in a little suburb 20 minutes outside of Boston where my parents still live. My own life story is still being written. I currently live in a cozy little apartment in Croatia’s enchanting capital, Zagreb (recently voted Europe’s best festive city 2015). I am studying international business at an American University, Rochester Institute of Technology (Zagreb campus).
The only thing Boston and Zagreb have in common is that I consider them both my home. In all other things, Boston and Zagreb are quite literally and figuratively a world apart. When I first moved to Zagreb, everything was new to me and I was experiencing culture shock to the max, but one of the things that seemed the most strange to me was the coffee culture in Zagreb. A coffee café graced every street corner in Zagreb - literally. Every. Corner. If a street happens to be a longer street, it is not uncommon to find a row of cafes next to each other. The more shocking part about this to me was that at any hour of the day, Monday-Sunday, each café I would pass would be at least half full. I started realising why each café was always so full: the question “so, coffee?” followed every meeting with every person I would come in contact with in Zagreb! When I got my first coffee in Zagreb, I was surprised at how small the cup was, and drank it within the first 20 minutes of sitting at the café. It was only after a few strange looks and a few hours of conversation passing by that I realised drinking coffee was a social event, rather than a means of getting caffeine. In Boston, coffee equated to caffeine and nothing else. Boston has its own special way of drinking coffee however. A majority of Bostonians walk into Dunkin Donuts and order some flavoured variation of (forever and always) a large iced coffee, be it spring, summer, fall, or winter.
The cuisine in general is extremely different in Boston and Zagreb. Croatian cuisine is typically a mix of healthy and delicious coastal Mediterranean food which is marked by fresh seafood, wine, olive oil, fruits and vegetables, as well as northern Croatian cuisine, which includes lots of meat, potatoes, and rich stews.
Whenever I visit the coast, I go squid fishing with my grandfather. The squid often go from the sea to the frying pan in a matter of minutes, and are always enjoyed with a glass of homemade red wine. Coastal foods also make for interesting and surprisingly fitting combinations, such as figs and prosciutto – who would have thought!
Of course I do love my Americanmeals though, and all the grease, sugar, and cholesterol that comes with it. I have only been to McDonald’s in America once however, because my chicken nuggets tasted like a shoe box, and the restaurant itself resembled one. McDonald’s in Croatia however, are made with fresher products and better meat, and the taste is significantly better. McDonald’s in Croatia are also decorated more like a classy restaurant than a fast food joint, and are nothing like the ones I picture back in Boston with McCafes becoming much more prominent (classier versions of the traditional fast food joints). We love our burgers and hot dogs in America, but we also somehow find a way of Americanizing other cultures’ cuisines as well. Leaving an all-you-can-eat Chinese food buffet in America has you feeling significantly less healthy and significantly more comatose than leaving a restaurant in China would. Luckily Zagreb also has foreign food restaurants, one of which is my favourite sushi joint called Takenoko. The only food that is missing is a Boston hometown favourite, and locally known dish – lobster
Although I live in Zagreb for most of the year now that I am studying here, I miss Boston’s fall season the most. The changing leaves, apple picking, and Halloween are such great memories there and thinking about everything about autumn makes me nostalgic while I’m in Zagreb. However, to wash away the nostalgia, the best season in Zagreb comes along soon – Advent season. I love seeing the city all decorated with lights strewn all around its streets, skating around the ice rink on a plaza, and enjoying mulled wine and sausages from one of the many food stands that get put up around the city.
Summers in Boston are amazing, and include bonfires and many beach days on some of the local sandy, shallow, cold water beaches. They are quite a difference from Croatia’s gorgeous pebbly warm water beaches! I had an incredible summer experience in Croatia this year, which made this summer the best one of my life: hopping aboard the Oh! So Croatia bus as a brand ambassador. The bus took me and a group of young travellers all over Croatia, from Zagreb to Zagorje, and then all the way down the coast to lovely Dubrovnik, on a sight-filled, fun-filled adventure unlike any I had ever seen before, and I got to know Croatia and its charms and beauty better than I ever had before!
Nights out in Zagreb and Boston are incomparable. In Zagreb, it is all about the clubbing. A typical night out would consist of both boys and girls getting all dressed up and going from club to club. The drinking age is 18 in Croatia, but it is not particularly strict - younger people tend to go to certain clubs and older people to others. In Boston, going out is a bit different. As for the nightlife scene, it is 21+, as that is the drinking age. People enjoy clubs but also bars and pubs a lot, where it is not necessary to dress up, and a casual t shirt and jeans suffice. Boston is a city with a high population with an Irish background, which shows in many of the Irish pubs around Boston. Zagreb has some great pubs as well, such as Pivnica Medvedgrad that has authentic Croatian craft beer, as well as the Irish Sheridan’s pub, where one can find many foreign craft beers! Outings in Boston can also very often include house parties, college/frat parties, and tailgating before concerts or sporting events. Tailgating is an American phenomenon – sitting in a massive parking lot, music blaring from cars, barbequing, and playing games such as America’s favourite pastime. Baseball? No. Beer pong, of course.
Boston and Zagreb are two separate worlds that I have the honour of getting to live in and experience. I would not give up my time in Zagreb studying and living the Croatian life for anything, nor would I for being born in the USA and growing up in the states! I would recommend both of my home cities to any traveller looking for a historic cultural experience as well as a good time!
Thanks Lara for sharing with us your experience of living in Croatia after growing up in the USA - have any of you done the same?