Who are you?
My name is Maribeth Theisen. I’m an American married to a British man.I’m a psychotherapist, photographer and travel blogger at MBsWorld.
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
I’ve actually lived abroad previously; as a child in Germany, a teenager in Vietnam, recently in France, and now Croatia.
I learned so much about life from my early experiences and find my perspectives are broader and richer than they would have been. I am also passionate about learning of the natural history, wildlife, cultures and customs of the regions on this planet. The insular nature of life in the USA felt limiting to me.
What challenges did you face during the move?
The move from France to Croatia was geographically quite easy. Because we bought a furnished apartment, we brought clothing and personal effects in one carload after selling our French house. The rest of it was not so easy.
The smaller adjustments involved are the same in any new place: obtaining bank account, utilities, phone, TV, etc. in a foreign country; and learning what to buy at the supermarket and mall when I can’t read the labels at first. Our local friends have been a godsend in translating documents and even going to offices with us.
The real challenge is trying to accomplish administrative tasks. My expat friend told me he is happy if he accomplishes three items on his five-item ‘to do’ list in a day. I do find that it tends to take about three visits to resolve government tasks— like registering a vehicle, for example. It took 18 months to buy our apartment, though buying a boat happened seamlessly. And after two years of dead ends we hired an attorney and finally got residency.
The hard challenges resulted with me feeling we had made a mistake and we should back out of the home purchase. Now that we’ve been enjoying our lifestyle and friends in Croatia, I’m happy we stuck it out.
How did you find somewhere to live?
When we fell in love with Croatia and returned to Hawaii (my other home), I made a beeline for the dive shop. I recalled one of the scuba instructors reminiscing about fun times on a friend’s sailing yacht and in his home in Croatia. I shared that we wanted to buy a home and sailboat in Croatia and he said, “My friend is selling his apartment and his boat.” That’s how it all began. We now live in that apartment and sail on that yacht.
Are there many other expats in your area?
We live about an hour from Split. In our village we are the only expats. There are one or two Americans and a Canadian in the nearby town of Omiš. But there are many expats in Split and it is an active community with meet-ups around fine wine, dining, exercise, book swaps, photography, day trips and other activities.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
We are lucky to have many local friends, with whom we go to the beach or meet for a coffee or a meal. My husband enjoys visiting with the men who work in the boatyard. Our friends help with documents and phone calls, which we appreciate.
We’ve been honored to be invited to pick olives, which is a big event with a picnic at lunch and a big feast that night. And, we get to have some of the freshest olive oil you’ve ever tasted! The Croatian people are generous and loyal friends when you get to know them.
What do you like about life where you are?
We enjoy sailing and the beach. Split has great restaurants and malls, as well as a cinemas which include American films. There are also museums and a grand old opera house where theatrical arts are still performed. The old town with Diocletian’s Palace is unique, historic, and architecturally fascinating.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
I miss the conveniences and excellent customer service of the USA. I tire of the hour-long visits to the bank, the three visits to administrative offices, hearing that something I can usually ‘ take for granted ‘ is ‘impossible’ and the hassles of daily life.
Living away from the city, it is harder to make friends and to meet up with them. Sometimes it is difficult to connect because during summer tourist season residents often work two or three jobs, while expats travel a lot and are gone.
I am interested in alternative health and spirituality. These are very new areas locally, so I have not found services nor friendships I would enjoy that include them.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
On the positive side, life happens at a slower pace. If you meet someone for coffee you can expect it is a three-hour event, which may then lead to cocktails and dinner. The emphasis on enjoying life and spending time with friends and family is wonderful. The slower pace is a downside when offices close for coffee breaks, long lunches, or mid-afternoon for the day.
What do you think of the food and drink in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
The food in Croatia is fresh. Produce, fish, meats are all locally sourced. The cooking is simple and wholesome. I love the eggs, which are so rich the yolks look orange. I love the olive oil—best in the world! The cherries and figs are off the charts! Many of the wines are fabulous. The California Zinfandel’s DNA is actually from nearby here. My favorite red wine is Dingač—so rich and bold.
It is difficult to find specialty items, but it is getting easier with time. If you’re on a special diet like Keto or gluten-free, you are going to have a problem. I tend not to eat chicken at restaurants where it is sliced as I prefer to eat a piece of chicken like a thigh or breast.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
1. Rent for a year and see if you like day to day life. After a year you will also know what areas you might wish to buy in.
2. Get a lawyer immediately, especially if you are making a large purchase or involved in administrative hassles.
3. Get to know your neighbors. Make friends with locals and learn about holidays, events and customs.
What are your plans for the future?
Because I’ve missed long-time friends and family, I would like to balance time spent in Croatia with time in Hawaii. We will keep sailing and living in Croatia for years to come because we love it!
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