Albert Anthony Bozulic grew up in New York and decided to go and live on the island of his ancestors in the archipelago of Zadar, Croatia, where he could combine his career with the discovery of his roots from the island Dugi Otok.
Author: Luana Matosevic
Albert, tell us about you and your story.
I was born Albert Anthony Bozulic in 1981 to a family of first-generation immigrants from the Zadar area, growing up in the diaspora around New York City and in later years living and working in Texas as well. During the last 4 decades, my relatives always kept close ties to their roots in Dugi Otok, an island of the Zadar archipelago, which is how I got to know this rural island and more recently became interested in helping it to become a destination for remote work and technology professionals, to promote a year-round island economy that is sustainable and robust, which would make me smile to see the island of my ancestors becoming a sought-after destination by young professionals… Not just seasonal tourists!
I’m an American leadership & management author on Amazon, writing under the pen name of Albert Anthony. Also, I am a Founder/CIO at Albert Anthony & Co, a management firm that I run remotely on my own. The firm manages family capital assets, including agricultural land. My prior experience was working remotely in the US in the information technology (IT) sector at several Fortune 500 companies, including a top 10 bank, helping troubleshoot help desk issues for internal users. I also served my nation in federal uniform for homeland security, developing leadership skills as a federal officer too.
My upcoming book in 2023, expected to be published in a few months, will be called “Leadership & Management: 5 Steps to Increase Productivity”.
Why did you choose the life of a digital nomad?
Because I have family roots in the Zadar region of Dalmatia, I have travelled here many times and have become a dual citizen, it was only natural that in recent years I have also been able to get things done remotely, not just from the city of Zadar but also from the village of Savar on Dugi Otok, the ancestral home of my paternal grandparents. Because of great Wi-Fi connections in both Zadar and on Dugi Otok, you can not only work remotely here but also take online courses too, and take part in webinars, which I do a lot of… When not writing my next book!
When new working conditions emerged in the US during the outbreak of Covid-19, many of our offices were closed, and we quickly learned how to work from home. It was a new way of adapting and doing things. So, I thought about how a rural island like Dugi Otok could also become a destination for the next generation of work-from-home professionals and businesses.
How and where do you find accommodation and working spaces? Which resources did you use?
The historic village of Savar has already had Wi-Fi connections for some time now because it works as a DSL line along the existing phone infrastructure, which has existed for decades. If you have Wi-Fi, a phone connection, electricity and space, you can work remotely. The more challenging issue for those without family roots here is finding accommodation because, as we see, the cost of housing has skyrocketed and during the tourist season there is a short supply. However, I would argue that it is still far more cost-effective than trying to find housing in major European capitals like London or Berlin, as those are global cities with an even higher cost of living overall.
Though not all work is suitable for remote, of course, since many jobs require being onsite, those jobs or businesses that can be done partially or fully remote will in coming years look to spread out from urban centres, I predict, and look for more cost-effective remote work options that also combine some type of experience, such as experiencing local farming, hiking, cuisine, and history. It will be about the holistic “experience” itself, not just about accommodation or a workspace.
As someone who writes about increasing productivity, I can say that it is obviously not “productive” to sit in New York City rush hour traffic for 2 hours every morning and evening to do a job you can do from a home office overlooking the sea.
Did you receive any support from the local organisations when settling in the area (municipality, development agencies, youth centre …)
Because I was already familiar with the area due to my family roots, I did not need a lot of support. However, I did dive into various digital nomad and expat groups pretty quickly. I attended events where I learned from other people who have spent time here remotely and from their experiences, you really can learn a lot from that.
I was surprised at just how many expats and nomads I got to meet and how many call this area home now. One main development in Croatia in recent years is the increased digitization of the public sector: now you can get some documents online without waiting in line to ask for support at the local tax office or courthouse. This is one way to increase productivity because the time spent by digital nomads waiting in those lines can be time spent more productively.
How did you meet people in the countryside? Is it more difficult than in urban areas?
Most island people I have met are eager to meet you and are hospitable, often urging you to try their wine or olive oil. You also will likely be asked to sit for coffee since coffee is a major part of socialising here.
In a rural area like Dugi Otok, you will meet more people during the peak tourist season in the summer since that is when it is most populated, and less so in the off-season. If you have Dalmatian roots and speak the language, it is easier to meet people and understand their way of life in the countryside, which often is very different from that of big cities like Zadar or Zagreb. A lot of the routine of local folks living on Dugi Otok revolves around caring for their farmland, particularly olives & vineyards, along with some fishing for those who still do that. In the summer many island residents focus on renting out apartments since the demand is high and it can be a lucrative business, much more so than raising olives.
Share with us valuable experiences you had with locals while working in the countryside.
I am one of those IT folks who does not want to be on the computer all the time and enjoys the smell of nature and the sea. So naturally, I learned a lot from people living in rural areas of the Zadar region when it comes to agrarian skills: learning about planting trees, controlling pests, watering, what is in season, droughts, and so on. In my experience, spending time in the outdoors goes hand in hand with working remotely in rural areas since you are so close to outdoor recreational and farming opportunities, but also no shortage of untouched and pristine coastline in Dugi Otok during the swim season, which we see has extended this year well into late October. Fishing could be another year-round activity, but also picking olives and canning them or raising oranges which are harvested in winter months. They are an evergreen that is “green” all year. Some of these hobbies I started back in the US, both while growing up in the New York City area when we used to go apple picking 2 hours away at a farm during apple season, but also in later years while living in Austin, Texas, which is a large metro area with a big tech scene yet also has so many opportunities to be out in nature as well, all relatively close by. This also adds value to your overall physical health, I believe, because by doing a variety of outdoor activities you use muscles that you just don’t use by sitting in front of a laptop for too long.
If you look forward to rural life, you should also be ready for a lot of physical work too. Much like you would on a ranch in America, ranch work is very physical, but for many is also a form of exercise and recreation.
What would you recommend to other young digital nomads before coming to rural areas on islands?
First, make sure your employer, company, or client allows for remote work for a longer period away from the office. Then, make sure you have stable accommodations arranged, and arrange it in writing. Third, make sure you have a place with good heating for winter months, stable Wi-Fi, and good ferry service back to the mainland in case you must pick items up at the store or run other errands. Fourth, one issue I see is that many digital nomads drop everything and move to a certain area because it is the latest “hip” place to be a nomad, yet many don’t know anything about the local culture, history, language or traditions. I recommend investing time in learning all of that, so you first feel some connection to the area where you want to be a digital nomad.
What would you like to learn? How can living in the countryside help you with it?
One personal research endeavour I launched last year was learning about my own family roots and their ties to rural Dalmatia. I learned, for instance, that Dugi Otok and Zadar were, for many centuries, part of the Republic of Venice, a very successful and influential commercial power of that era. In fact, our last names used to be written in Venetian, and there is evidence of this that I found. So, I learned that my Dalmatian culture is very diverse and has always been so. The agrarian and seafaring economy of the rural areas around Zadar was for centuries a way of life for many people. In fact, in the small town of Nin, home of the Nin saltworks, the production of salt dates back to Roman times!
I would like to, and would like other young folks to, learn more about this history, which is centuries long, and one only needs to take a hike around parts of Dugi Otok to see handmade stone walls that possibly date back to Illyrian times. The countryside can reveal many other such remnants, in their original and natural state as when they were built many centuries ago without the help of computers.
When one takes time to learn this history from objective and reliable sources, one learns that this region of Dalmatia was a centre of trade and that southern Europe was a cultural, architectural, and commercial centre of the world. We can tap into our roots as traders and farmers to reawaken our rural areas once again and adapt them to the needs of 2023. By not concentrating everything on the city itself but spreading it out across the region, we can grow the regional economy too as more and more young professionals get used to a work-life situation on our local islands and rural areas, and the local infrastructure becomes adapted to support that growth.