Who are you?
Jennifer Graf-Domijan: I work in the music and travel industries. My background is as a classical opera singer, but I’m currently working half of each year as a tour director in Central Europe. I also own and operate a successful Christmas Caroling business, which operates seasonally during the holidays in the Northeast United States.I’m a dual citizen of USA and Hungary. (Hungary through ancestry.) Married to a native Croatian.
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
I first moved “permanently” abroad in 2014 to be closer to my then-boyfriend (now husband.) I first lived in Vienna, because my husband worked on a river cruise ship at the time that frequently stopped in Vienna, and I was easily able to find work in Vienna as an English teacher. Now we have an apartment in northern coastal Croatia in my husband’s hometown.
During the tour season (April – October), my husband and I are both on the road in central Europe leading group tours. We are in the USA for the Christmas season each year.
What challenges did you face during the move?
The biggest challenge is that you can’t bring as much with you as you would like. I still have half of my belongings in my parents’ house in the USA.
How did you find somewhere to live?
To find our apartment in Croatia, we searched real estate listings in my husband’s home town.
Are there many other expats in your area?
I don’t know ANY expats in my current town in Croatia. But when I lived in Vienna, there was a thriving expat community that planned social events and get-togethers. I made many friends that way. I wish the same thing existed in Croatia.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
I have friends through my husband, and get along well with folks I know. It’s a small beach town, and most locals know who I am and why I’m there.
What do you like about life where you are?
I love the laid back beach town experience. And Croatia is beautiful – it’s great to have so many gorgeous beaches and historical cities all around.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
I really miss my family and friends back home. We stay connected via the internet, but it’s just not the same.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
You can’t find the samee variety of consumer goods as in the United States. For example, if I need office supplies back in the USA, I can just go to the large Staples in town and buy anything I need. In Croatia, we have to jump around between several stores, hoping that someone has what we need. And forget about any kind of variety for pet products. Even the designated pet stores don’t offer much in the way of variety of supplies.
I’d also say the difference in customer service (most of Europe is just not up to the level of customer service in the United States), and the fact that so many stores are closed more often than stores back in the States are two biggies as well. I like being able to go to the grocery store at 3am if I want to back in the USA. That does not exist in Croatia or Austria.
What do you think of the food and drink in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
I actually love the food in coastal Croatia – lots of fresh seafood and tasty pastas. Cheeses and truffles. And the olive oil is so flavorful! I love getting seafood pasta dishes that include truffles – delicious!
I dislike the lack of food variety. Back in the States, I can easily have Mexican food one night, Chinese food another night, Thai food the next… I can’t get any of that where I live in Croatia. Just Mediterranean food, and some of the inland region specialties. (Pork, pork, and pork! Haha!)
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Be prepared for a certain weird feeling of detachment at times. You can feel oddly out of place AND at home everywhere you go – all at the same time. You get very good at adjusting to new places, but at the same time, familiar places feel more distant. Try your best to maintain your old friendships while making new friends in your new country.
What are your plans for the future?
We plan to continue to live most of each year in Croatia, and spend just a couple months at the holidays each year visiting my family in the USA. Hopefully we’ll someday get our own place where we can rent rooms out to tourists during the summer season, and truly work all year round as our own bosses.
You can keep up to date with Jennifer's adventures on her blog, Jensop: The Singing Traveler.
Would you like to share your experience of life abroad with other readers? Answer the questions here to be featured in an interview!