June 24, 2022 – 7-year-old itch or continued bliss? A reflection on 7 years in Split by Daniela Rogulj from TCN.

June 24 marks my birthday in Croatia. It’s officially the place I’ve lived the longest outside of the small town of Fallbrook, Calif. – the so-called “avocado capital of the world” and an agricultural oasis an hour north of San Diego, where I was born and raised. San Francisco took the cake before Split, where I spent six years attending college and launching myself as a fresh-faced 21-year-old into the fast-paced world of startups. I had no idea then that I would end up in Croatia, let alone in Europe, at 24. California was my home. The state that made me. But Croatia transformed me into who I am today.

I know I’ve said this many times, and anyone who knows me or has followed my journey here knows that I moved to Split by accident. After spending six months in London, I was desperate to finalize my Croatian citizenship to stay in London or move elsewhere in Europe (like Berlin). Meanwhile, my parents moved to Split to retire, and a month later I visited them to sort out citizenship papers and enjoy the same Croatian summer I’ve had since I was a little girl.

I arrived on June 24, 2015. It was summer that changed my perception of Split. It was no longer the port town I remembered. It had transformed from the transport hub we visited as a family on the way to Hvar to a short stopover for a Hajduk game. Split had come to life in a different light in 2015. There was a new renaissance. Lively restaurants and bars. Expatriates. And the locals whom I still call friends.

After the change of season and the approval of my citizenship, I was convinced to stay in Split a little longer. It wasn’t easy to find work here at first, and it took almost a year after I arrived to find the job that changed my path in Croatia. My work experience has been in marketing and communications, first as a sales and marketing intern at a San Francisco startup before taking on the role of community manager for a new photo/video app rivaling Instagram, then finally to co-found an e-Commerce application. What could I do with that in Split? Was technology even a thing here? Did a bootable environment even exist?

I got a university degree in political science, which I completed to become a political journalist. Otherwise, I’ve always been right-brained, favoring creativity, imagination and the arts. I knew I was a good writer. I knew what I was capable of in terms of marketing. But I also knew that my job in the hospitality industry was limited to running a cupcake shop while in college. I didn’t want to take a seasonal job in the hospitality industry because that was the norm. I was motivated and eager to start something, but I knew I had to start somewhere first.

My first “job” in Split was working alongside a booking agent known for his roster of big bands like TBF and up-and-coming artists like Sara Renar. With my dad’s background in the music industry as an entertainment travel agent, this seemed like a good fit. It was a great insight into how things worked in Croatia and how coffee meets were king, but that was just the beginning.

A few months later, my mother messaged me on Facebook about how Total Croatia News’ Total Split was looking for a new writer. Well, that sounded perfect, but I hadn’t blogged in a few years, and I still didn’t know Split that well. I applied anyway. I didn’t hear anything for a few weeks and assumed that was the end of it. In the meantime, I had to make a last-minute trip to the United States, which would keep me in California for three weeks. I received an email from TCN the second I landed at LAX. The TCN team were still eager to continue my application process and I met Paul Bradbury the day after I returned to Split. I started working with TCN the next day and celebrated my 6th anniversary with the company last month, which is also officially the longest time I have spent at one location.

My role at TCN has evolved over the years from writing for Total Split and Total Inland Dalmatia to covering travel news and lifestyle events. Although it really took shape when I took over as sportswriter in 2017, especially after a former colleague told me I would never see a press pass for national team games from Croatia. As a passionate footballer for most of my life, the daughter of a coach and the granddaughter of a FIFA referee, I was not going to let anyone get in the way of my love for Croatian football. Since then I have been an accredited journalist at almost all Croatia national team matches, Hajduk matches and have traveled across Europe for the Europa League, UEFA Nations League and EURO 2020. I recorded more than 20 international radio interviews during the 2018 World Cup and even became the Croatian correspondent for the biggest sports radio station in the world. Today I am not only the sports editor of Total Croatia News, but the COO. Is this all from a local who said to me: “I will never have X in Croatia”? It was certainly part of it. Do I think I would have achieved the same success in the United States? I am not sure. But it also shows that if you focus on something you can achieve it, and it’s even better when you do it in Croatia.

Always in contact with people who needed my native English flair for various tourism projects, I also started a writing business in 2017, which now has more clients than I can handle on my own. It’s a niche, but it’s necessary, and the growing demand for storytelling in Croatian tourism has undoubtedly helped. I’m busier than ever and my work doesn’t stop when the seasons change. I’m forever grateful to everyone who gave me an opportunity here, told me I couldn’t, or motivated me to do more. I work from home, have flexible hours (which, let’s be honest, are 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day) and can afford an apartment I like, on my own, without any help from money that I won in America (it was all spent in 2015). I’m proud of what I’ve achieved here, but I appreciate even more what Croatia has taught me about myself.

So, after 7 years in Croatia, what have I learned?

Paul Bradbury is famous for saying “don’t expect Dalmatia to change but expect it to change you”. And that’s the case.

For starters, has it aged me? A lot, because I’ve never worked harder in my life. But I’m grateful that my continued work ethic has helped launch a career here that I love, which is mine, and which has given me a world of opportunity I never imagined, making the wrinkles of lion growing easier to watch each morning.

I learned to stop making comparisons between Croatia and the United States because it’s impossible. Croatia has what the US doesn’t – both good and bad. Although I probably work as much as I would have in the United States, uh, maybe more, I’m happier. I don’t follow the rat race of the working world in America. I wake up every morning facing the Adriatic Sea. And I feel at peace. The anxieties that come with living in America alone aren’t worth the higher salaries. And I make sure to tell every Uber driver who wonders why I’d trade California for Split, how bad we have it here, and how the grass isn’t always greener on the other side (circus politics and bureaucracy apart).

I remember I was so scared to make new friends in Split when I arrived, but the truth is it was easier than I thought – and much more genuine than some of the relationships I had in California. I quickly found my pack here, and although it has evolved over the years, the base has remained the same. It’s not hard to surround yourself with equally motivated people. Most of my friends are business owners, many foreigners, and amazing locals doing amazing things. I learned that the Split community is more than special, but you have to be careful who you choose to be part of yours. That said, I still maintain the importance of staying in your bubble and leaving only those you trust. You never know when someone’s pride can get in the way. And you know how proud some Croats can be.

I only recently learned that setting boundaries is essential. Once you present yourself as a yes woman, people expect that of you and you hold those standards for yourself. Maybe a part of me needed to do this for the past seven years to finally be in the place of comfort where I am now and earn that respect, but people can just as easily take advantage of your eagerness, and during let them get what they want – it’s you who suffers. Transparency and communication are essential in any work here, as misunderstandings or misunderstandings often occur. It’s important to work with people you trust completely and build those relationships because they will ultimately bring you more.

And back to “don’t expect to change Dalmatia but expect it to change you”. Dalmatia – is a beast. The best of the best and the worst of the worst sometimes. Overall, you learn to adapt, to get softer and harder simultaneously, and to navigate between what works and what doesn’t. You can push for something for years without seeing the light of day, or something can fall in your lap. You never really know what will and won’t take off, which can be daunting. But that doesn’t mean you should give up if you believe in something.

Also, it’s okay to celebrate your success. I know it’s sometimes ‘taboo’ in Croatia, but we should all congratulate ourselves on what we’ve achieved here, because even the smallest victories can have the biggest impact.

In the past year alone, my experiences in Split have shaken me. I was heartbroken, my world shook and I thought about leaving Croatia for good. But I kept coming back to the same thing – could I really Leave this place? The place that gave me everything? I could not. And I wouldn’t change the passion and pride of the people of Split (or their frustrations) for the world.

Seven years in Split and at least seven more – this is the place that changed me for the better.

To find out more, see our section dedicated to lifestyle.