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Thursday, December 22, 2016

‘Living in Ireland I have things I could never have dreamed of in Serbia

New to the Parish: Darko Bucan arrived from Serbia in 2013

Darko Bucan: “The amount of money I earn in a month here, back home I’d be working three-four months to earn that.” Photograph: Daragh McSweeney/Provision

Darko Bucan was 20 years’ old when he moved to the United States on a basketball scholarship. The young athlete had spent his life playing the sport in his home city of Belgrade and hoped to pursue a career as a basketball player.

“Basketball and soccer would be the most popular sports back home, especially when I was growing up the national team was doing very well. I tried soccer and wasn’t very good but I needed to do something with my hands so I tried basketball and it stuck.

“I’m an only child so my parents were sad about me leaving but they always said they weren’t going to be selfish and keep me around just because they were lonely. They said ‘you should go, you can always come back’. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The first year of his scholarship was spent in Missouri before he transferred to Ohio for three years. Unfortunately, after sustaining a number of sports injuries in his final year of university, Bucan had to accept his dream of becoming a professional sports person was no longer attainable. He moved back to Serbia aged 24 and began searching for a job.
“After studying in the USA, I went back home hoping to use my skills and knowledge to find a job. But finding a job in Serbia is very hard due to the lack of available jobs, the poor economy, corruption and overall situation in the country.”
Bucan spent a year in Serbia doing a number of internships but found it difficult to settle. “It was quite depressing. In the States I was working in a gym as a student three days a week and was actually earning the same amount as my parents. Moving from the States where I was a student making more money than working full time in a bank in Serbia, I really struggled to cope with that.”

He describes his upbringing as “middle class” by Serbian standards – his mother is an accountant and his father has an office job – but luxuries in Belgrade were rare.
“We never struggled but at the end of the day we still couldn’t afford normal things like a car or going on holidays. That was a bit [of a] luxury.
“In Serbia, you have to know people to get a job and the pay is very low. A qualification means nothing. You would be working 8am-5pm every day and earn just €300-€400 for a month’s work.”

Homeless charity
He eventually decided to apply for a Croatian passport (his father is Croat) so he could look for work in the European Union. He applied for a number of jobs through the European Voluntary Service and was offered a 12-month volunteer position with a homeless charity in Cork city. The placement covered the cost of accommodation, travel, food and provided a small weekly allowance for volunteers.

His new passport arrived shortly before Croatia entered the European Union and on July 10th, 2013, he flew to Ireland. In Cork, he lived and worked with people from Germany, France, Italy, Spain and New Zealand and over time he developed an ear for the strong Cork accent. After 12 months volunteering, he was offered the position of care and support assistant with the charity. He recognises the severity of the State’s homelessness crisis but says the situation is better in Ireland than in Serbia.
“In Serbia if you’re homeless there’s no support for you. You’re left on your own because the country is very poor and people don’t have enough money for themselves. In Ireland, I think it’s very well-organised and the supports are there.

“People definitely deserve better and in the 21st century, when somebody doesn’t have a house or food, water or clothes and someone else has three of four houses, I can’t understand that.”
Like many new arrivals to Ireland, he was shocked to discover how hard it was to find affordable housing when he completed his volunteer position. “Going to viewings was especially frustrating as often 10-15 people show up at the same time. The 10-minute window to make an impression and secure a room makes the process difficult and frustrating.”

Bucan now shares an apartment with a colleague and up until recently he played basketball with the UCC Blue Demons team who won two all-Ireland trophies last year. Basketball is far more popular in Serbia and the US, but he says interest in the sport in Ireland is building momentum again.

“There’s definitely a lot of young, talented players here and the teams are only getting better. As far as I was told it was huge in the ’80s in Ireland. It’s starting to look brighter again with a lot of Irish players and players coming from abroad.”
Living in Ireland has opened up work, travel and educational opportunities he never could have pursued in Serbia. “Comparing it to life back home, I have things here I could have never dreamed of in Serbia. The amount of money I earn in a month here, back home I’d be working three-four months to earn that. I see myself staying here to hopefully move up in the professional world.

“People in Ireland can experience more in life. They do more travelling and socialising and have broader views on different issues. Back home, people are so closed-minded because they can’t afford to look at the broader picture.”

The first time he returned to Belgrade after moving to Ireland, he saw his home country in a totally different light. “It was overwhelming; my eyes looked at the city in a completely different way. Before I would walk along and see a cafe but never looked at it because I couldn’t afford to go into it. The city looks completely different to me now because I can afford different options.

“Apart from the accommodation struggles, I have found Ireland very easy to settle into. The people are extremely helpful and accepting. I am fortunate to work for an organisation that helps people and values diversity as one of the core principles.”

Sorcha Pollack