Mate Vukorepa is a shipbuilder in Split, Croatia. (If the name sounds familiar, that’s because we’ve already met Mate’s wife, Tea, in our first installment of Meet the Locals.) Mate loves Split’s beautiful scenery, fresh air, and the people. “We’re like Italians,” he explains. “We’re very cheerful, we talk with our hands, our mentality [is similar].”
Mate specializes in welding the aluminum parts of ships at a small shipyard in Split. He’s worked in that role for five years, primarily making small, private boats for tourists and boats sold to people in other countries. Demand is high; they’re already booked a year in advance.
Before that he worked with iron, building tankers and ferries in what was then the biggest shipyard in Croatia. It was owned by the Croatian government, explains Tea, who helped with translation for this interview. When Croatia sought to join the European Union—they applied for membership in 2003, eventually joining in 2013—EU officials said the shipyard needed to be privately owned. “They don’t build big ships anymore,” says Tea, “So it’s probably a matter of time when it will be closed.”
The work is difficult, especially during the heat of summer. It’s very physically demanding. But Mate enjoys his work. “I love my job, because when I finish, I see my boat on the sea,” he says. “My heart is so big when I see that.”
“He always says he loves it, he doesn’t want to do anything else,” adds Tea.
Also helpful is the general attitude about work-life balance in Croatia as compared to other countries. “Usually we hear from friends, they work 9 to 5, then they go home. It takes an hour to go home, an hour to go to work,” says Tea. “But here everything is near.” Mate works from 7 AM to 3 PM, so he has the whole afternoon to spend as he pleases. Every weekend is free, too.
Hobbies and Passions
One of Mate’s many passions includes collecting comic books. “We have a whole library at home,” says Tea. Mate’s 7,000-book collection comprises mostly adventures and westerns. “In Croatia, so many [people] like Marvel and DC,” he says. “But to me, these superheroes are untouchable, strong. Italian, Belgian, and French superheroes are normal people.” When you read them, you can see yourself in them.
Mate also loves to support the local football (soccer) club, Hajduk Split. He buys a year’s worth of tickets at once—about 30 games—and attends with friends from elementary school, high school, and beyond, cheering and singing together at each match. “This is Split,” he says, by way of explaining the passion for football. “And I love my people, the local people.”
Speaking of singing, Mate is also in a band. “I’m a rocker,” he says. “A rocker and writer.” The five members of his hard rock group, Ultimatum, have been together for 22 years, writing original songs in Croatian and putting out two albums through Croatia Records, the country’s largest major record label.
Tea and Mate met in church, where Mate also sings in the choir. “Can you imagine, in the evening, rock concerts and everything in black,” says Tea with a laugh. “And in the morning: choir.”
And although in 2014 he lost his first shipbuilding job of 17 years, it ultimately led to Mate and Tea reconnecting. As he was leaving a meeting with a career counselor, he ran into Tea on the street. “This was the only day in the week that I worked this shift…so it was really like destiny that we met that day,” she says. They got together for coffee and the rest is history.
Sharing His Hometown
Like Tea, Mate recommends that visitors to Split see Diocletian’s Palace, along with the Cathedral of Saint Domnius, right next door. The cathedral was built in the fourth century as Roman emperor Diocletian’s mausoleum, with the tower added later, in the thirteenth century. The structure is the oldest Catholic cathedral in the world and still has its original stones.
And the next time you’re taking in the sunny Adriatic sea around Split, maybe you’ll see one of the boats that Mate built.
Be on the lookout for Dreams Abroad’s ongoing Meet the Locals series. Get to know the work and lives of more global professionals who turned a passion for travel into their livelihood.