We’ve all got our own corner of the world. Some place where we carve out a home and make it our own. I grew up in a small country town in Australia with only a hundred people, there were more sheep than citizens. Flat plains for hundreds of kilometres stretched to the horizon in all directions. The limits to my world only went as far as the farm gates. But what if you grew up in a place which was actually a corner of the world? In Slovenia the borders of Italy, Hungary, Croatia and Austria are at times just kilometres away. In the nations north lies, Radlej ob Dravi, a town of about two thousand people. It was here that I met Malkom and his mates, all in their early teens, and we spoke about what it’s like to call Radlje home.
‘I love growing up here, it’s got everything that I could possible need,’ Malkom tells me. ‘Everybody knows me here in Radlej and the next town over, for better or worse.’ Growing up in a small town there is very little privacy, there is even a monument in the centre dedicated to town gossip. Malkom and his mates went on to tell me about their lives. Even halfway across the world from where I grew up I could relate to what they were going through. When we’re in our early teens we all get into trouble, know more about alcohol then we should, and either struggle or succeed with girls. We spoke for some time, all entirely in English. When I was fourteen I was struggling to grasp the basics of English, let alone being able to hold a conversation in my second or third language. This is where things begin to differ. Growing up in Slovenia means that the world is on your doorstep, all the major cities in Europe are less than two hours away. Studying in London, moving to Austria or even a family holiday through multiple countries is something most young people in the world wouldn’t dare dream about. As a young person in Slovenia you have access to the world, it’s open and it can be your playground.
It hasn’t always been this way, Malkom is part of the first generation of youth which is being fostered for a better future. There is a revitalisation going on in Slovenia. The second largest city, Maribor, was the European City of Culture in 2012 and the following year it was the City of Youth. There is a change in the power base where people in their thirties and early forties have gained a control. They recognise the importance of young people in securing a better future for Slovenia. Part of what’s going on is the development of ten different Youth Centres across the nation with the assistance of the European Union. They are places which are fast becoming the focal points of the town. I’ve visited four of them and they are all like no other Youth Centre I’m familiar with. They’re actually dedicated to assisting young people in all facts of life and all of them have always been full. Attached to Centers is a cafe, restaurant or music venue which gives young people a chance to hang out in a place which is built on their terms. What makes them even more unique, is that the hostels in which I stayed are actually a part of the Youth Centre. This means that for Malkom and his mates entire new opportunities are opening up to meet people from across the entire world.
A phrase that I’ve heard multiple times in Slovenia is ‘if we got a problem then we can sit around and complain, or we can solve it.’ Like most small nations across the European Union there is a problem of retaining the youth, but Slovenia is entirely proactive about taking it on. From my own perspective I can entirely understand if youths like Malkom want to break free from the boundaries of their town. The desire to explore is inherent within us all. I’ve come so far myself since looking out beyond that farm fence as a kid in Australia.
The most important thing we can have as we grow older however, and after all the adventures and journeys, is to know that we can always come back home.
From Buenos Aires, to Milan, to Moscow, I’ve lived across the world for the past decade. At the beginning of 2014 I started again and began the first of five long haul trips around the world, the Pan-American Highway. Along the way I will seek the stories of those incredible people whose tales remain unknown. Follow along at See Something and his Facebook page.