More than Words

Zagreb Expats: Discovering My Mother's Homeland

Would you be brave enough to move from one continent to another at only 18 years old? Well, that's exactly what Dora did and here is her story.

Mexico and Croatia are countries on two different continents divided by the Atlantic ocean, but for Dora, these countries have a certain connection. This born and raised Mexican has strong Croatian roots since her mother is from Dubrovnik, so she decided to move across the ocean and get to know Croatia first hand.

Why Croatia?

I was born in Mexico and lived there for 18 years until I moved to Zagreb a year ago. I enrolled at dental college back in Mexico, but I decided to come to Croatia for a while since I had finished high school earlier. My mom is Croatian, and my dad is Mexican, so that’s why I chose Croatia. My mom is from Dubrovnik. After a while, I decided to give it a shot and live here in Croatia to connect with my mom’s culture and to understand a little bit more how she used to live here.

Image credit: Dora Matošić

Tough start

It was actually a huge change for me since I had to start living alone and I didn’t know Croatian. Luckily, everything was going great for me, except for the državna matura part. They told me that to enroll at dental college here in Zagreb I had to compete with all the Croatians and go through the same process they go to enroll at University. I thought to myself “there’s no way I can compete with them!” so I started getting ready for the exam.

By living alone I started cooking more than usual, and I always loved to cook but suddenly I realized that cooking is something I wanna do for the rest of my life and I enrolled gastronomy school here in Zagreb. I can tell that Croatian culture is completely different from the Mexican one, especially because Mexico has 127 million people and Croatia only 4 million! So you can imagine how different it is, and how different people are. I think Croatia is a great country with a lot of potential. I hope people realize that in the future and stay here!

What are the biggest differences?

I was asked that same question many times before and I need to admit that it is very difficult to answer it since everything between Mexico and Croatia is completely different! From the way people eat to the way the toilets are made!

I think that in general people in Mexico seem happier and more open, and Croatian people, they need a little bit of time to be confident and open. Oh, also... having to survive winter was an adventure! The place I used to live in Mexico is never that cold. You can wear the same clothes all year round so learning how to turn on heating and how to dress properly was crazy!

One thing I realized, sadly, is that most people here think Mexico is just drugs and problems but it has so much great things to offer! Of course, it is not as secure as Croatia which is a really safe country, but hey, nothing ever happened to me while living in Mexico.

What I love about Zagreb is that it is of perfect size! It has around 800,000 people, so it is not too big and not too small. There is not as much diversity as in Mexico City, but that also has some charm because you can feel how Croatia is a growing country. There is nothing that I don’t like really. I just wish there were even more tourists in Zagreb so that people get to know Croatia a little bit better!

Did you enjoy the World Cup madness in Zagreb during June?

I am delighted that despite winning the second place, people were happy about it! I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t know where Croatia was exactly on the map until I was like nine years old, and many people don’t know where it is. So, I think that now the whole world will know Croatia!

In Mexico it gets crazy! We have never won anything significant in the World Cup, but we basically celebrate everything so every four years it’s a party every day.

Image credit: Dora Matošić

Have you learned to speak Croatian?

I can tell you that Croatian is hard for me! You have so many exceptions and rules. But learning any language is hard, and it requires a lot of practice. I tried teaching Spanish for two months to a Croatian, and he also had troubles! I just have to practice every day, and I’m sure I will learn.

What do you miss from home, except your family of course?

What I miss the most is food. I think Mexican food is amazing! There are some Mexican restaurants in Zagreb, but I have to say that it’s nothing like Mexican food! And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just that we have a lot of ingredients in Mexico which don’t exist in Croatia, so it’s harder to create an authentic Mexican dish, I have tried it myself! Anyways, Croatian food is also amazing, especially during spring and summer when there are a lot of different fruits and vegetables!

Do you see yourself living in Zagreb forever?

Honestly, that’s hard to answer. For now, I’m still discovering Zagreb, but most likely I will return to Mexico once I finish college. I think it’s a great city for students since it’s safe, public transport is good, and the size is perfect, but my life plans are quite different. I think it depends on a person. Some people tell me they would never move away and others are looking for something else. All cities have good and bad things. I am thankful to Zagreb and all its people who have welcomed me with open arms!

Header image credit: D.Rostuhar, TZGZ 

Author: Darija Ilić