Why I stayed

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Photo: Petra Ignjatić

I came to Croatia in 2011 on what’s called the US State Department’s Fulbright program (Croatian President Kolinda  Grabar-Kitarovic is a fellow alum of the same program… hmm… President Cody… um …anyway). After the program ended (and the money was gone), my family was left with a choice: do we stay or do we go? Last week I wrote about the difficulties in Croatia. This week I’m posting about the opportunities and why we stayed. 

Back in 2012, I didn’t have a PhD, I didn’t have a book, and I didn’t have a blog. I didn’t have a job. What I did have was a rented apartment in Zagreb and a wife with a free-lance job. And yet we looked around, surveyed our situation and decided there was more opportunity in Croatia than back home in the US. And right now, you’re like Whaaaaa? Yep.

The luxury of a doctor’s visit

First, being an aspiring academic who hasn’t attended the Ivy League, and with a family is a miserable existence in the US. I likely would have had to spend months applying for temporary teaching positions, that paid very little and offered no benefits, like health insurance. This means we would’ve constantly been moving around the country, uncertain how long we’d be staying anywhere, hoping for that elusive tenure-track job.

Meanwhile, we’d probably make just enough money that we wouldn’t be able to qualify for government health-insurance. Maybe our daughter would, but enrolling in such a program year after year, especially when moving, is very difficult. The process can take up to six months. That’s six months of not knowing if my then toddler daughter’s trip to the doctor might costs us 75 to 1000 dollars or more! In such a situation I might be tempted to wait and see if she’s ‘really sick,’ which is a horrible position to put any parent. It would also mean my wife and I would not have health insurance, as private health insurance is too costly.

Midnight walks

The US is of course less safe than Croatia (remember those 979 meth labs in my hometown that I mentioned two weeks ago?). Violent street crime, random acts of violence are a way of life there. And yes, the likelihood of living in a neighborhood that experiences more crime is linked to the wealth of that neighborhood. In Croatia conversely, my wife can walk the dog at midnight and encounter… other dog owners walking their dogs at midnight! In many parts of the US this seems unimaginable.

And while I didn’t have a job or much money, what Croatia provided for us was peace of mind. My wife, daughter and I had health insurance. We had affordable, quality daycare for our daughter. Our neighborhood was safe. More importantly, there is something about the tranquility of life in Croatia. For whatever reason life here is not consumed by anxiety, and the frenetic, fretful worry that seems to pulse through the rhythm of life in America.

Unburdened by failure

Life in Croatia, for all its other types of difficulties, is calm. Where American culture exudes  competitive individualism, a fierce race between winners and losers, Croatian culture embodies a collective cooperation, where no one blames you for your misfortune. Instead its the fault of your lack of connections or the elite’s corruption and incompetence. And with the burden of failure removed from your shoulders, at least in my mind, it can be easier to try and achieve something.

Croatia afforded me enough peace and space that I could finish my dissertation, begin a blog, and eventually write a book. I don’t think I could have easily done any of those things if we had moved to America. I hope that my story will be the rule, rather than exception and other people will chose to stay.