Tuesday, 05 December 2023
Englishman in Dubrovnik Englishman in Dubrovnik

Surviving the Stages of Expat Life: From 'Disneyland' to 'Home from Home'

Written by  Oct 01, 2023

“Are you sure you can’t find that text you wrote?” asked an American friend. It wasn’t until I started to dig that I realised just how long I have been writing these columns. I had changed laptops countless times and the text she was asking about I had written before the popularity of websites. An analogue text in a digital world.

The actual text that she wanted to read was about the seven stages of a foreigner coming to live in Croatia. I guess the same text could apply to any country.

She is currently going through stage 3, a difficult stage to be in.

Yes, she is an ex-pat, although I’m not particularly keen on that description. Try as I might it seems that at least for now that text is missing in action. So I’m going to update that old text with my five stages of surviving Croatia!

Stage One – “Welcome to Disneyland” – rather like foreplay with a new partner. Everything is new, exciting and promising. The grass looks greener, the sea bluer and the sun bigger. You are like a baby in a new world and discovery is fun. You learn a few basic words and think you are a local. Spoiler alert – you aren’t! Armed with the vocabulary of a toddler and the optimism of a superhero, you're ready to conquer the world.

Stage Two – Rose Tinted Glasses – Nothing bothers you. Things that would have had you pulling out your hair in your home country just feel like you’re making memories. Grumpy staff in the supermarket is a “local experience.” Frustration with sorting out the piles of paperwork is a rewarding challenge. And getting charged twice what the locals do is “good for the local economy.” You can’t imagine living anywhere else. The first two stages last (at least for me) the first couple of years.

Stage Three – The Honeymoon Is Over – the first bump in the road. Obtaining a visa is like trying to break into Fort Knox armed with a toothpick. You'll navigate Kafkaesque bureaucracies, fill out more forms than you knew existed, and attend more interviews than a Hollywood celebrity. At some point, you'll wonder if a wedding to a local is a legitimate shortcut. What was once exotic is now excruciating! And this is the stage where many just pack their bags and head home. Your brain realises that this isn’t a holiday in the sun anymore. And a stage where I often here “back home this would be so much easier.” The truth is that yes; it probably would be.

Stage Four – Adapt or Arrivederci - homesickness creeps in like a relentless stalker. You'll long for the comfort of your favourite toilet paper brand and the TV shows you never watched back home. If you’ve managed to survive stage three, then stage four is the hardest. It’s all about complete assimilation. From conquering the language to getting to grips with forging a new life. I say new life because this is the stage that you have to leave your old life behind. I am not saying forget it, far from it, but you are now like a teenager in a new world and you’ve got to learn to live with those teen years of angst. By far my biggest piece of advice is learn the language. Not only for communication but it opens so many more doors, and is a sign of respect to your new home.

Stage Five – Home from Home – I would like to say “well done” you have made it. Although that wouldn’t be totally honest of me. Finally, after surviving countless mishaps and cultural faux pas, you'll start to feel like a local. You'll order food with confidence, master local customs, and even tell jokes in the native language that make the locals laugh (or cringe). You'll have an international posse of friends and become the go-to tour guide for visiting relatives.

In conclusion, moving to a new country is like participating in a never-ending sitcom. You're the lead character stumbling through hilarious misunderstandings and cultural clashes, with each day bringing a new episode. So, embrace the chaos, savour the laughter, and keep the aspirin handy for those cultural shock induced headaches.

“Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get.” – Forrest Gump.

Read more Englishman in Dubrovnik…well, if you really want to


About the author
Mark Thomas (aka Englez u Dubrovniku) is the editor of The Dubrovnik Times. He was born and educated in the UK and moved to live in Dubrovnik in 1998. He works across a whole range of media, from a daily radio show to TV and in print. Thomas is fluent in Croatian and this column is available in Croatia on the website – Dubrovnik Vjesnik

The Voice of Dubrovnik


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