I think I can speak for almost everyone in that 2016 was one chaotic year. For me, 2016 was a turning point in my life. It wasn’t a year of smooth sailing, which I take as a sign of taking some major leaps. I hit some milestones, like graduating college, kissing my life in Chicago goodbye and launching my own freelance writing career abroad. But between all the moments of success, there was a lot of struggle and even failure.
2016 has been one incredible chapter, and I’m pleased to announce 2017 will be the start of a completely new era. Here’s a recap of 2016 and where it’s taking me in the New Year.
I was lucky enough to ring in the New Year with my Croatian boyfriend, Domeniko in Ljubljana, Slovenia. I went to visit him over my Christmas break, and we took a roadtrip up to this little magical city. We stopped in Rastoke, Croatia on the way back, which is the real-life Narnia.
After all the fun of traveling together, we had to thinking seriously about what was our next step as an international couple. Our initial plan was to go to Brussels together and try to find traineeships in the EU institutions.
A month of break flew by and it was time to return to Chicago for my final semester of college. I was fortunate enough to live in a studio apartment in the Gold Coast area, right next to my closest friends, with the Windy City as our playground. I was ready to end my last semester with a bang.
It actually ended up being my hardest semester of college. I was working part time in communications/sustainability while taking 6 of my hardest classes in college. I also suffered daily with chronic back pain, due to problems with my spine. To top it off, my grandma, who I was very close with, died suddenly that winter too.
It was a dark few months for me, and I really had to push through it. The rough times made me realize how incredible of a support system I have in Chicago.
Things began to turn around by the time the days became longer and the snow started to melt. But after being so extremely stressed and mentally drained over the past few months, I had to take a hard look at what I wanted next.
I realized going into a life of being a “career woman” in Chicago was what I thought I wanted, but not what I needed at that time. I got so sick of people asking me what I was doing after graduation, and I honestly didn’t know myself. I knew I wanted a career in politics and sustainable eventually, but I wasn’t quite ready to “adult”.
That’s when I started playing around with the idea of starting a blog. I knew it wouldn’t be anything that would take off immediately, but I was drawn towards the direction of being a “digital nomad”.
I kept pushing school assignments and also job applications on the side, mostly abroad, and some in Chicago as a backup. I received a few offers in Chicago, but it didn’t feel right. My heart was still in Europe.
It was a bittersweet feeling turning in my last final of my college career. I received my BA in political science with minors in journalism and environmental action with a 3.8 GPA. That was one of my proudest accomplishments of not only 2016, but of the past four years.
People were confused when I said I really just wanted to go to Europe and start a new life. Since I had the support of my family and friends, I stopped caring about other irrelevant opinions. I had my heart set on starting my own website and finding a way to make it in Europe.
The Mindful Mermaid was born right after I graduated, in the midst of soaking up all my final “college” moments in the windy city with my best friends. I made some of my favorite memories in Chicago during those weeks. I left Chicago after a month of graduating, and returned home to Minnesota for a month.
I had little time to relax in Minnesota, as I was preparing to leave for Croatia. I sold about 50 percent of my possessions for extra money, to add any extra pennies into my savings. I continued to apply to jobs in Brussels, but still, no luck. I spent a lot of quality time with my close friends and family from home, while exploring Minneapolis.
I left for Croatia in the middle of the summer, and honestly felt a little scared out of my mind. I really had no idea what was ahead, and I brought almost everything with me, prepared to not come back. As cheesy as it sounds, as soon as I saw my boyfriend waiting for me with flowers, I knew I made the right decision.
The first few weeks in Dubrovnik were more or less the honeymoon stage. Then, the reality of adjusting to a completely new way of living hit, and it was quite a transition.
I continued to blog, while taking a breather from working. I went on various adventures with my boyfriend around Dubrovnik, and connected with old friends, but I still struggled with the feeling of being not a tourist, and not a local.
I attended my first Croatian wedding in late summer, which is a day-long celebration filled with flags, fire, and accordions . This piece more or less launched my travel-writing career. I started writing for the magazine Croatia Week shortly after, and began to pick up on other freelancing work online.
I started to get a bit stir crazy at the end of August. I decided I needed to get away for a bit to clear my head, so I decided to take my first solo travel trip. I went to Split, Zadar, and Zagreb, and came back feeling refreshed and confident in myself.
Suddenly it was already September, and reality hit even harder. After we both were applying to jobs all summer, many of which we were overqualified for, nothing was working. No one wanted to sponsor my visa as an American. We both started to get nervous about what was going to happen next.
My back pain started to flare up from a slipped disc, and I was in so much pain I had to put blogging, writing, and applying for jobs aside. I spent a few weeks in and out of physical therapy and the doctor’s office. I doubted myself, and felt like I was in a complete rut.
Just like I did in the winter, I really had to push through it and take it a day at a time. I started to appreciate life in the small village of Plat even more. I worked with the police station to stay in Croatia a bit longer, while I began to establish a plan for myself. I put my health first, and suddenly had more energy to blog and pick up more freelance writing pieces.
In the fall I was able to connect with The Dubrovnik Times, and began writing cultural columns for them. They took me in as a member of their team, and it was one of the highlights of my year.
It finally felt like things started to move in November. After writing more columns for the Dubrovnik Times, the local media suddenly wanted to interview me, and I even got to be on the cover of a magazine.
Preparing for 2017
Despite these wins, we had to be realistic about what was happening next. It was impossible for me to stay in Croatia and work full-time, and we weren’t getting any other bites from jobs elsewhere in Europe. That’s when we decided that we would try to go to Ireland together after the New Year.
My boyfriend previously worked in Ireland for one winter, as many Croatians go there to work. I also found out that as a recent-college graduate from the U.S, I could get a working holiday visa in Ireland, which would allow me to legally work for up to one year.
I decided to keep this quiet until most of the plan panned out. I decided I would go home for the holidays, drop off all my visa stuff in Chicago, and come back in the New Year. The cheapest way was for me to fly out of Budapest, so we decided to visit Zagreb’s Advent Christmas festival on the way, and then explore Budapest for a few days.
I flew from Budapest to Dublin and Dublin to Chicago on December 4th. I took a risk and bought it as a round-trip ticket going back to Dublin in January, despite I hadn’t even turned in my visa application. I caught up with old friends in Chicago, dropped my visa stuff off at the embassy, and headed back to Minnesota hoping for the best.
I’ve now been home for about three weeks, which has been more work than a vacation. I’ve been doing a ton of freelance writing and marketing work to save up money, and getting as much as I can set up for Ireland. It’s been great to be home and be with old friends and family. However, I really did not miss the intense pressure in terms of living a “normal life” with a shiny corporate career.
In 2017, I’m moving to…
Now, a more long-term plan has finally worked out. My working holiday visa is officially approved, and I am moving to Ireland! Our immediate plan is to go to Cork, Ireland in mid January. The rest of the details will unfold in blog posts to come.
I’m going to say it again because it doesn’t feel real. I’m moving to Ireland! It still feels so surreal that my boyfriend and I will actually be able to live and work together in a new place. So yes, that means I won’t be living in Croatia going forward, but we will be returning in the spring for a little bit.
For those of you that read all the way through this blog post, you deserve a gold medal. I could have added a lot more details, but I wanted to emphasize that it has taken a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (AKA a lot of mental breakdowns) to get to where I am. I’ll be the first to tell you that “living the dream” does not come easy. It didn’t work out exactly as I planned, but I’m determined to take 2017 by storm.
Make sure to stay tuned for future posts to come, which will give more details on moving to Ireland. I sincerely appreciate all the support and encouragement throughout this year. My New Year’s resolution is to stop doubting myself, and have faith that everything falls into place, with patience.
Cheers to being young, broke, and restless. Watch out 2017. I’m ready to set the world on fire.