Faith Barton – Croatia
Moving to Croatia, I knew that cultural differences would be real and so I’d had some teaching about contextualisation and cross cultural work, before leaving; but despite this, I can tell you that culture shock is REAL! British and Croatian people are so very different. As Brits we are very particular about how we express our politeness, but it’s different here. There is no excuse me or sorry! None! And it’s so funny how many times you catch yourself repeatedly saying things like, “Sorry, were you sitting here?” Sorry is the starter for so many sentences when you’re British!
Loneliness can be a struggle too – not just in the physical act of being alone due to the absence of work colleagues or friends; but also the feeling of being out of sorts. There are times when I’m out and about or gazing out of my window or returning from a short trip to England when I think, “Ah this is home now. I love it here.” But then, the next day, something will happen and I have that juxtaposed feeling of Being out of sorts (of not belonging) once again.
The view from my window...
Currently, we’re pushing through to an initial five year goal of staying here; but at times we wonder if we will really be able to be here this long. I know a lady from Bolton who has been here for forty years and is married to a Croatian. She is still a foreigner to her neighbours and friends, even with fluency in language, so I think it’s something we must learn to push through, accept and adjust to.
Some Cultural Differences I’ve Noticed
- The church notice to sign up for once a week cleaning duties, is directed at the women only.
- Inclusivity and diversity are internationally minded/foreign ideas to a lot of people.
- Local school children can be mistreated by other school children, if they are Serbian.
- Migrant workers do the lowest paid jobs, locally, and are not viewed positively.
Some Surprising Challenges I’ve Discovered
- The inability to do some simple things that I once took for granted can sometimes be a bit debilitating.
- Crossing the road – because you look the wrong way first as the traffic travels on the opposite side of the road.
- Getting a bank account – four trips in total and about fifteen slips of paper to be signed.
- Going for a blood test, where do I start! I can’t even take the right number from the machine in the waiting room, because I can’t work out what the options are.
- The absence of familiarity in simple things such as road names and peoples names.
- The huge and constant challenges of not actually being able to speak the language.
Cultural Misunderstandings but making new friends.
Despite everything that I have mentioned above, I have found people to be very generous and hospitable, with a willingness to help others out when they can. People here really enjoy their food and drink and the country is safe, with low crime rates. Also, I’ve noticed that people here have a very healthy approach to life and work – they work to live, not live to work and there is a high quality of life, with many people having access to coastal property for the summer months. And I see strong, Catholic values here too, values that are rooted in society, especially those that promote and protect family life.
Learning new ways…
Over the last fourteen months, I have revisited decisions that we made about our “things” – the stuff we had in England that we did not bring with us. Around these decisions I have had some anxiety, doubt and fear and so I’ve had to seek God afresh for his provision for all our needs, for both now and the future.
In the two years before leaving the UK for Croatia, I went through our possessions a dozen times, clearing out stuff and throwing things away, donating to charity and friends. We sold some stuff and we ended up giving away things (large and small) including all our furniture and a car, not to mention our precious pets! My rationale for this at the time was that I did not want to store things in England, as the thought of returning to it all would have been too great a temptation. But at the same time, I did not want to ship it over with us because it would be easier to take apartments that were furnished. I was also living with the question: Do I need all this anyway? So we ended up leaving England with just six suitcases!
I have thought over this decision many times and sometimes my reflections have been mixed with fear: What if we need to go back to England in the short term? We have left nothing behind – there’s no car, no furniture…just an empty flat!” And not only this, I also reflected upon leaving brothers and a sister and nieces and nephews behind too.
But I can see how God has prepared me for these moments in many different ways. I have always loved the hymn, “When I survey the wondrous Cross”, the last verse, particularly:
“Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small,
love so amazing, so divine demands my soul, my life, my all.
Oftentimes, when I sing this, I know that I am being prompted to mean the words that I am speaking from my heart. The truth contained in these words helps me greatly as I understand in a fresh way that God knew he would call me one day to give everything, and that I would need to count it all as loss for the sake of knowing Christ. As part of our period of preparation to go, we attended the “Multiply +” online course, led by Paul and Kate Worth; and during this time I had a dream about finding a pearl.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Mt 13:45) and Jesus said, Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sister…..for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now….and in the age to come..(Mk 10:29)
Wendy, a new friend in Croatia who is in her late 70’s, has spent 28 of these years on mission in Zagreb, Croatia. Recently, she said simply to me: A key to happiness is not having “stuff“. And so, I am learning to trust him for the present and for the future, and to find my joy and peace in the gospel, in Jesus, the pearl of greatest value.