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With love for the Adriatic Sea, food, and fellow digital nomads!

Nikolina Kukoč

Nikolina Kukoč

07.12.2021.

We met Cyndie at the third “Locals’n’Nomads” meetup and knew right away she had an interesting story to share. Born in Cape May, New Jersey, USA, she arrived in Split on March 1st, 2020 – a truly peculiar time, to say the least: “Yes, I came here and covid-19 arrived two weeks later. I had to decide to go home or stay. Croatia was very responsive concerning the pandemic restrictions and precautions and things were safer here than in the U.S., where cases were surging. I had a gut feeling that I should stay and I followed it. A year and a half later, I still live here!”

Cyndie might have come here at a time when Croatia and Split were handling things better than some other countries, but since the world re-opened its borders, she can go anywhere. That is why we were curious about the things that make her stay here: “It feels like every day I learn something new about the culture, people, food, or lifestyle here, and this place is definitely growing on me. Also, I grew up a beach kid, and living so close to the Adriatic resonates with me deeply.

It honestly soothes my soul to see the sea and walk along the shore every day.”

Many internationals and digital nomads share this same insight with us about the nature that surrounds us and how it positively affects them. Nature and history were given to us, but to round up the overall wellbeing of a person, other things need to align, as well. We are aware Croatia has room to grow in some aspects.

And because Cyndie has been living here for some time and has also gone through the process of applying and obtaining Croatia’s digital nomad residence permit, we wanted to know her honest insight into life here and possibly all that can be improved upon with a little bit more targeted effort:

“There’s the overwhelming bureaucracy that can completely baffle the mind and sometimes makes no sense at all. People in customer service positions are often indifferent toward customers. If you ask me, restaurant food is mostly blah and over-priced. Getting a package shipped here is painful – it will be stuck in customs for a long period and be quite expensive because of Croatia’s fees.

My advice to digital nomads and others traveling here: Split has its own way of doing things.

Don’t try to figure it out, change anything, or complain. Take deep breaths, remember you’re not at home, and accept what is. I struggled with the things mentioned and took my own advice. I also try to remember to adjust my expectations. Talking with locals always gives me insight, plus, it helps to know that some of the things that drive me crazy drive them crazy, too.”

However, Cyndie absolutely wanted to stress that these downsides are by no means too horrible to make her want to leave. The positive things far outweigh the negative: “On the other hand, you’ll meet locals who are amazing human beings! You’ll find outstanding homemade products – wine, olive oil, cheese, meat, honey, and much more!

The mountains and the sea are gorgeous and there’s no lack of outdoor activities to keep you motivated. You can also have a good life on an affordable budget. Connecting with people who are open to having honest conversations about the situation here has been super helpful in understanding the way of life and the people. It helps put things in context and has broadened my perspective about Croatia and even the region.

One thing that would be extremely helpful would be to have a website or other means to find out about local events – in advance, in one place, and in English.

It isn’t very easy to find information about day-to-day things in Split. I follow Croatia’s expat groups on Facebook, where I find information on what those people are interested in, but that doesn’t give the broader scope of what’s happening here or my other interests. I love all different activities, but I often don’t know about them until I read something after the fact.

Someone told me I have to check every venue individually to see its schedule. I don’t have time for that and I don’t know what organizations or activities are here, to begin with. At home I was super active in sports, arts, theater, music, festivals, you name it. I’d love to do more here but I feel like I’m missing out.

The government could explain information better with direct language and by providing English translation at its institutions.

A lot of ‘rules‘ are difficult to understand, or not explained at all, and usually not given in English, which means you don’t know about them. Something quite different from the U.S. is that you have to pay your bills in person at the bank or the post office and you’re charged an additional fee for the privilege of paying your bill. There’s no option for mail-in or to pay online. Knowing this in advance would help people manage their budgets and expectations.”

We would have to agree with Cyndie on this one – more transparency and information are needed for foreigners who decide to stay here. That is the reason why we did our best to provide a digital nomad visa guide, the article with tips and tricks for handling your visa application, the guide to life in Split, as well as the status of coworking spaces in Split for this year and also some tips on where to get good coffee combined with a quiet spot to do some work. We also realized this information is needed for all who wish to stay in Split as more than tourists.

We can’t expect to appeal to foreigners just with the beauty of our sea alone, even if this is a huge benefit of life in Split for Cyndie: “For me, living near the beach has had a big impact. I came here from New York City, where I’ve lived for over half of my life, and while I love that city’s high energy and activity, the chance to experience a completely different lifestyle, and one that’s much slower, took some adjustment.

When I realized that I felt calmer and less stressed overall, especially because of being near the water, it was a positive move that I embraced and found a way to fit into. Also, I’ve met some locals and expats here and I really like the community.”

Coming here from New York City has certainly changed Cyndie’s life in many different ways. That is why we wanted her to share more about herself – what she does, what she is passionate about, as well as how living in Split influenced her work and life: “Well, let’s start from what I do, as it is closely related to who I am and what I’m passionate about. I’m a certified health coach, wellness entrepreneur, and founder of a small startup called Appetite4Life. I help digital nomads and remote workers optimize their health so they can enjoy all the local food and culture in a destination, without feeling guilty or depriving themselves or going off the rails, and still stay fit, keep the weight off, and enjoy life.

I’m also a trained photographer and a storyteller, which has led me on some exciting travel adventures.

I’ve been the chief photographer on an expedition ship through the Baltics, documented a food trek in Sicily and a historical excursion around Israel, captured portraits in Cuba, shot a sports program for kids in Rwanda, and lived outdoors in the Canadian Arctic. When I left home in 2019 I was thrilled to combine my passions.

I set out to travel and live in 12 countries in 12 months to learn about health and wellness in different societies and I created a visual storytelling project to document my adventures, which I shared on my blog along the way. I intended to learn about healing practices and things that constitute wellbeing around the world so that I could help my clients more deeply and effectively.

I expanded my knowledge, maintained my own health, and developed my international network. I’m interested in lifestyle and culture, especially the differences and similarities between people everywhere, and this project very much picked up on that theme. I was doing the work I do now in different capacities before coming to Split.

Traveling and the pandemic changed my focus.

Both staying in Split and the digital nomad visa influenced me. Being a digital nomad myself and part of this growing community, I realized that digital nomads are my ideal clients. There are a lot of similarities there I feel connected to – we all enjoy visiting new places and the blend of food, culture, socializing, and bonding with people is a big part of the experiences and the memories we form on the road. Sometimes, however, it’s hard to balance the excitement of eating and drinking all the new traditional and local dishes – ćevapi, peka, black risotto, etc. – and beverages – wine, rakija – with living a healthy lifestyle.

Digital nomads can fall off the wagon with healthy habits and find themselves overeating, drinking too much, and gaining weight. There are different aspects to it and some people find this situation stressful to manage. People want strategies, guidance, support, and accountability, which I offer. Digital nomads usually tell me they want or need my services, so I adjusted my focus to meet their needs.

Figuring out how to create and build my health coaching business online is my biggest challenge. I previously met people in person, both for networking and as clients. Everything points to doing more business online – from digital nomads working primarily via the internet to covid-19 restrictions that limit in-person meetups. I still have a lot to learn, especially effective online marketing and sales, and I still need help. I’m not experienced with the nuances of online marketing or building a profitable startup.

Ideally, I’d like to collaborate with an organization and create a unique offering for digital nomads.”

Even though it seems Cyndie has always done what she does now because of how passionate and knowledgeable she is about her work, that is not the case. Appetite4Life is something she created for herself because she wanted to do a job that truly aligned with her own values: “I was a corporate marketing professional in New York for many years and I always wanted to follow my passion and be a photographer and storyteller. I’m also committed to health and fitness and I wanted to pursue a career in that field as well.

I decided to create the work I wanted to do instead of pursuing jobs that didn’t align with my real desire.

I combined these passions when I traveled to learn about wellness in different parts of the world and documented my experiences through a visual storytelling project. I love that work and I’m looking to create something innovative with Appetite4Life. My tip for others? Know your ‘why’ – what makes you truly happy, what you really want in your heart, and then go for it. I’ve known for a long time what type of work I want to do and what lights me up. Moving to another country, and the timing of the pandemic, helped further along some of my thinking and decisions that were already in place.

I have marketing knowledge, project management expertise, and business skills that I can draw from. I listen to my intuition a lot to guide me on decisions and in that way, I’m tapped into what really resonates with me. There’s still a lot to learn being a solopreneur, of course. But doing what I do now feels right for me.

Regarding my passion for photography and storytelling, I’ve been creating stories about my experiences around Split that are published in Total Croatia News. It’s great to explore this city and country, get to know the people and the amazing things that happen here, and share the stories.

I’m fascinated by lifestyle and culture, especially the differences and similarities between people.

Creating connections is one of the most rewarding things for me about traveling and I’m grateful to say that I have friends from all over the world, including many in Croatia.

As for health and wellness, I’m doing workshops with different people and places here in Split and meeting more of the community. I hope to build clients and connections with the digital nomads, locals, and expats here. I’m always interested in health, wellness, and fitness events to participate and collaborate with.”

You already know how we usually wrap up our chats with the people whose stories we are sharing – by asking what is it that they love about Split as a city and Split’s people: “What I love about Split is the Adriatic Sea; homemade olive oil, cheese, and pršut; the climate; living among so much history; the possibility to explore all the islands on my bike.

As for the people, I love that they’re friendly to foreigners and will help you with anything.

That they’re resourceful with making things like food and skincare products out of natural resources at their disposal. I also love their laid-back attitude about life and good humor!”

Before we parted ways and left Cyndie to do what she does best, we asked if there was anything else she would like to share with you: “I absolutely love meeting new people and hearing their stories and experiences. I also love chatting over a meal. Anyone interested should contact me and – let’s meet up!”

There you have it! We wish Cyndie many more enjoyable days in Split filled with that calmness only our sea can bring!

Photos were taken by Bruno Dubravec at TheWorks coworking

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About author:

Nikolina Kukoč

Researching is woven into my DNA, but I am a musician at heart. Interested in too many things and always curious. Forever in love with Split and enchanted by people who teach me new things. When I am not writing about Split's tech community, you will find me somewhere in nature, in the theater, or with my head stuck in a book. I do my best to live by the verse from the opera "Fedora" by Umberto Giordano: "Love forbids you not to love."

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