What a month in Croatia taught me about entrepreneurship in the U.S.
By Nikki Dabney
They say travel changes you. But you can travel the entire world and never actually change. To be impacted by travel, you have to travel intentionally – you have to engage people, explore places, and embrace ideas. Thanks to Vela Wood, I spent the last month doing just that.
Understanding the many benefits of travel and work-life balance, Vela Wood allowed employees to participate in working remotely, from another country, for a month at a time.
I spent the month of May living and working in Zagreb, Croatia and was also able to spend some time in Venice and Greece as well. My time abroad changed my conception of what work looks like, as my work days looked different than they ever have before. I explored the city in the morning and connected with my colleagues when the sun rose in the States in the afternoon. Some days I picked up fresh ingredients at the farmer’s market, then worked from my apartment and cooked myself lunch. Sometimes I worked from a co-working space and shared a pot of coffee and ideas with business owners from around the world. And other days I worked in a park or from a café and let the world around me infuse itself into my work.
Not only did my experiences open my eyes to what work can look like, but the lives of the people I met did as well. For working Zagrebians, most afternoons include a long lunch break of drinking coffee at a café with friends. For my tour guide in Greece, her job meant working seven days a week with no holidays for 9 months out of the year in order to save enough money to make it to the next tourist season.
I hope to take a few aspects of the eastern European work culture back with me to America. The day I arrived in Zagreb, it was Labor Day. I planned to get myself settled and prepared for the month (stock up on groceries, get a SIM card, etc.) but was surprised to find that everything was closed – the grocery stores, restaurants, the co-working space. Not working on Labor Day? What an interesting idea. Most Americans view a day off as a day to get ahead. Working in Croatia reminded me of the importance of rest and the joy found in a slower pace of life.
What was abundantly clear, however, in all I saw and did was that our work life in the States is one of immense privilege. Croatia has only been independent for a little over 20 years, and its political, economic, and social spheres are still recovering from the effects of socialism. I met a middle-aged government employee who said she had nothing to do at work, so she just spent the time writing her memoir. A mother of four I met said it took a year’s wages to purchase a washing machine. And clothes lines throughout the city told me that only the wealthy could afford a dryer.
Greece’s economy is completely dependent on tourism. And despite the never-ending floods of tourists everywhere you go, I learned from my taxi driver that the average income is only 9,000 euros and the unemployment rate is 23%. The same is true in Italy. In Venice, there are literally more tourists in the city than there are residents, year-round. Our guide in Venice said they train for tourism jobs in school. A gondolier is the career path for many.
With our focus on startups, small businesses, and venture, Vela Wood would be out of a job in these countries. The entrepreneurial spirit in America is something we should never take for granted.
If I visited these places solely as a vacationer, I don’t think I would have left with the same observations and understanding. Working remotely provided a unique experience. I lived alongside the locals. I was forced to translate my life and see what it looks like in a different country. Truly, I feel my life was more full working while traveling. I felt productive, adventurous, and alive. My eyes were opened to how much can be done in a day. Work doesn’t have to be done in a continuous stream of 8 hours. My life didn’t begin at 5pm. My work flowed into my life, and my life flowed into my work. And my time abroad made me thankful for them both.