I feel like 2 years was a good amount of time to really be immersed in the culture here. The first year was all about adjustments. Getting used to the sound of the language, getting used to how things work, asking a lot of questions, and making a lot of mistakes. But by the second year, things didn't seem so new anymore, we had pretty much adjusted to feeling like the stupid Americans and we were actually okay with it. And life just become normal.
We have absolutely loved living in this country. But it hasn't always been easy. I thought a good way to wrap up our experience was to write a top ten list of things we will miss and things we won't. I hope I don't offend anyone by the things we won't miss. They are mostly things that I found hard to get used to. So here goes...
Top 10 things we will NOT miss about living in Croatia:
10. Walking in on men in the ladies room- So Europeans seem to be a lot more okay with peeing in general. I was just talking to Kelly yesterday about how she sees men in their business suits and briefcases, peeing on garbage cans in the morning. But I also don't like walking into a public bathroom anywhere. There might be a men's/women's combo with a urinal outside of the ladies room, there might just a man in the ladies room because he couldn't wait...Sorry men, but you're messy and I don't want to pee where you pee.
9. Traveling a REALLY long way to get back home- My family lives in Ellensburg, Washington, a 2 hour drive from SeaTac airport. To get home, we have to take a 30 minute taxi ride to the airport, check in two hours early, fly to Frankfurt, have a layover in Frankfurt, then take a 10 hour and 45 minute flight to Seattle. It's a LONG way home. It's a scary feeling to be so far away sometimes. And don't even get me started on packing for the trip. I can tell you the size and weight limits of most major airlines that fly out of Zagreb because we've agonized over these numbers for hours, trying to be sure we won't be charged extra for our luggage.
8. Flying...a lot. I really don't like flying. There is nothing fun about it. First you have to pack (see #9), then you have to check in, go through security, get to your gate, then be trapped inside for hours on end. I really love traveling, but I really hate flying. It has gotten easier the more I've done it, but I'm happy to be done for awhile.
7. MUP- So if you're from our school, you know what I mean when I say MUP. It's a very sad building in the center of Zagreb where you have to go and wait in line for a really long time to get a stamp and a sticker on a piece of paper that says that it's okay for you to be in Croatia. Luckily we've had a lot of help with our visas and paperwork, but MUP is never a fun experience.
6. Cigarette smoke- This one is pretty self explanatory. A LOT of people smoke here. It's especially bad in the winter when you're stuck indoors in a smoke box.
5. Not having a dryer- While living here, we've gone back a few decades and have had to air dry our clothes. For the most part, I love having sun dried clothes. But there is really something amazing about a nice, fluffy, dryer dried towel.
4. Lack of variety in food- Don't get me wrong, the food here is amazing. You have seafood, pasta, gnocchi, ćevapčići, the list goes on. But there is not as much variety of foods here. And if you want something that is not originally Croatian, you're going to pay for it. I miss a good Penang curry and I'm excited for some spicy food again.
3. Being far away from family and friends back home- This one is pretty obvious, but there have been several times over the past two years where I have missed very big things back home because I was so far away, and that's hard. I'm so excited that little baby Mirk will be close to family back home.
2. Driving in Croatia- the fact that we made it out of here with only 1 minor accident in a roundabout is a true miracle. For one thing, I will not miss getting honked at if I take 2 seconds to press the accelerator after a light has turned green. I will not miss having people swerve into my lane or cut me off in the freeway. I will not miss having 4 lanes of ferry traffic, all merging onto the ferry at one time (ONE LANE AT A TIME! That's how it's supposed to be! The people who got in line first, get to get on the ferry first!) No, I will NOT miss driving here.
1. Feeling like an idiot- This is not to say that I won't feel like an idiot ever again, because after all, we know that's bound to happen. But being a foreigner is hard. And I have learned that back home I need to exhibit more grace to people who are not originally from America. It is hard to learn a new way of life, all of the rules, and the language. Even things like going to the grocery store can be a long process because you don't know if you're buying corn starch or grits or bread crumbs. I've tried to learn enough Croatian to get by, but it's still so very frustrating to not be able to communicate with people.
Top 10 things we WILL miss about living in Croatia:
10. Healthcare- Bottom line, we are having a baby because we lived in Croatia. The procedure that I had done here was ONE TENTH of the cost of what it would have been in the States. It would have been a huge financial stress for us to try this procedure, especially twice, back in Washington. But here, it was not even an issue.
9. Living in a city- I've never really lived in a city before. I'm definitely a country girl. But I've really enjoyed living in Zagreb for the past two years. I love the variety of things there are to do, the different restaurants and shops. I don't know if I want to always live in a city (hence the move to Langley) but I've really liked living here.
8. Dolac Market- We have been spoiled by eating such fresh, homegrown fruits and veggies over the past two years. All I can say is that I need to get planting when I get home!
6. Teaching at a school with 11 or 17 kids- So I've really been spoiled in class size these past two years. Last year I had 11 students, this year 17. I cannot tell you the difference it makes to have a smaller class size. Less paperwork, less wrangling, and more personal relationships with each of my students. I can't imagine going back to 26 or 27. Ajoj.
5. Location, location, location- Europe is so small compared to the U.S. and we have really taken advantage of living so close to so many different countries. Over the past 2 years, we've visited 13 countries: Austria, Slovenia, Italy, Bosnia, Germany, Russia, Estonia, England, Portugal, France, the Netherlands, Norway, and Hungary.
4. Living in a different culture- This is something that I will and won't miss. I didn't like feeling like an idiot, but I really did enjoy living as a foreigner for awhile. It's so interesting to learn how another country functions, how it does things. I've loved learning about the different customs of Croatia, about the different regions, costumes, foods, and dialects. I feel really lucky to have been able to live and experience life here.
3. The cafe culture- Croatians know how to s l o w d o w n. When you go to meet for coffee, it isn't a quick chat while both of you are checking your iPhones constantly. It's a 2 or 3 hour session of talking, talking, talking, and sipping coffee. I love how they are able to take their tiny little cups of espresso and sip them for hours on end. I really wish that America would learn something from the Europeans in this aspect.
2. The coast- There are no words for how beautiful the coast of Croatia is. It's breathtakingly beautiful and will always remain one of my favorite places on earth.
1. Friends- When you are thrown into a new country, a new culture, a new job, you tend to make friends in a different way than back home. For one thing, we were very fortunate to have a staff at school who welcomed us. I know it must be hard for the locals who stay at the school and see people come and go every 2 years. They didn't have to open up and let us in, but they did and I'm so very thankful for that. We were lucky enough to find an amazing group of people who quickly became our Croatian family. Thanksgiving in Budapest and Vienna, girls' nights, trips to the coast, Head Trauma and Oliver Twist, dinner at each other's houses, watching and rooting for various soccer teams on Tkalčićeva, crying together, and laughing so hard we're crying together. It's hard to believe I've only known them for 2 years, but I know they will be lifelong friends. Even if we are going to be scattered across 4 continents next year. I'm so very thankful to have met them, gotten to know them, and shared this experience with them. It is definitely what I will miss the most.
Our last night