Growing up on an island is a truly unique experience, especially in these modern times. Which is why our Danish member Nina Jensen spoke recently about her special upbringing (as part of TLR’s monthly TGIF series of talks) telling fellow members all about island life and how it shaped the person she is today.
The smallest school class sizes nationwide
Growing up on the Danish island of Venø, where the population hovers around 200 people, I experienced a very unique upbringing. When I started my education there, I was one of only three pupils in my entire class. The whole school, in fact, only had 9 students. The main teacher in the school was the local priest. For many years (around 250 to be exact) whoever was the priest would also be the teacher. This is because we also had the smallest church in Denmark. Since there wasn’t too much for the priest to do, he doubled up as an educator.
This unfortunately caused problems in the past. Because it was such a remote location, there were problems attracting priests to the position. And considering its dual role as an educator of children, it actually tended to attract the wrong type of priest. There were some historical problems with child abuse, because of this.
That all ended long before I arrived, thankfully, and I had a very good experience at the school. The priest who was involved in the school during my time was actually very interested in drama and the arts. So our education wasn’t even all that religious. Because of small class sizes, we would spend many classes learning with pupils from different years. It worked. I really loved it.
Living on the edge of Denmark
Life in Venø is extremely remote, despite being only a two-minute ferry ride from the mainland.
Anyone who wants to go to the mainland has to use this ferry, which runs from 6am to midnight every 20 to 30 minutes (depending on the schedule). Passengers can go by foot or bicycle, or bring their cars on board if they wish. Locals with cars can buy an annual pass for the ferry, which is affordable, and residents can always go back and forth on foot or by bicycle for free.
I often get asked if you can swim from the island to the mainland, but it’s not really possible because of the strong currents there.
Growing up, I loved living on my island so much that I never wanted to leave it. I did, however, have a few activities on the mainland, such as choir practice, and I hated having to go to it because I didn’t want to leave Venø.
Then, in 2004, after four great years at my school, it closed down and I had to go to the mainland for my education. I hated that too. I did not want to go to the mainland, but now I had to. Those were not good years for me because my comfort zone didn’t really extend past the island. I was a very shy and introverted child and a class size of 25 was a little traumatizing for me.
Remote, but not cut off
I am often asked about facilities on the island. The Internet, for example. It exists but it’s relatively slow. Cell reception is not great. In the past you had to stand outside if you wanted to talk on the phone!
We do have a small newspaper called Venø Posten where you will read about events that have happened or are going to happen. Just send a message to the editor and you can print any announcement you have to make. I’m proud to say that even the TGIF talk I gave to the TLR family (which this blog post is based on) got it’s very own article in Venø Posten!
There’s no supermarket on the island, apart from a small kiosk in the summer months, so everyone has to shop on the mainland. Also, apart from those who are teachers and farmers and a few others, mostly everyone works on the mainland.
There’s no hospital, and there’s no doctor. If there is an emergency, like a windsurfing accident or someone stepping on a sharp mussel and getting a very bad cut, an ambulance will come from the mainland. They will call ahead to the ferry and the ferry will come immediately to bring the ambulance to the island. The emergency services have priority over the ferry schedule. And there is always someone on call for the ferry, so an ambulance can get to the island even in the middle of the night when the ferry is not scheduled to run.
High trust equals no need for a police presence
On my island, we have no need for the police. They come over to Venø maybe once a year and when they do we know in advance thanks to a Facebook group all the islanders are a part of. A message will go around that the police are here, and for everyone to be on their best behavior.
We don’t need police because everyone knows everyone on the island and everyone trusts each other. Some people probably don’t even lock their doors at night.
Whenever an incident does happen, it’s so rare that it always sticks in your mind. A couple of years ago, for example, someone tried to steal oil from a building you can rent for parties – so the building is empty a lot of the time. Someone came in a truck and tried to steal the oil. But because it wasn’t a scheduled thing, it was out of the norm, the operators of the ferry became suspicious. So when the truck returned to the ferry, the operators decided not to sail. Instead, they called the police and the thieves were caught because they literally had nowhere to go.
A few years ago there were some break-ins, attributed to troubled youths from the mainland. But, in general, there is very little crime. There’s no drugs on the island at all, and I guess there are a few men who like to drink a bit too much, but they are not the type to cause any problems.
An unwavering sense of community
There is a lake in Venø and it’s shaped like a heart. This is why it has the nickname, ‘Heart of the Fjord’. Even the name, Venø, means ‘Friend Island’.
Venø lives up to both names – it is an island of extremely friendly people who have very big hearts.
Once a month, the islanders will get together for a movie night at someone’s house. They will watch the movie and cook the food of the country from the movie. The islanders are also very active and have a lot of clubs – book club, swimming club, yoga, knitting… everything really! Which is impressive for a population of only 200.
Everyone helps each other. The Facebook group, which I mentioned earlier, isn’t only for messages about the police! If you need anything, you ask. You need eggs and don’t want to go to the mainland for them? Ask in the group and someone will have eggs for you. You need a car ride from the ferry to your house? Ask in the group and someone will give you a lift.
That’s something that I have always really, really appreciated.
People are fundamentally good
While I no longer live on Venø, my mother still does and I get to go back whenever I want and still be a part of this special community. I am grateful for that, and for my entire childhood on the island, only moving away when I was 18 and ready to experience the rest of the world.
My time on the island taught me a lot. It taught me that people are fundamentally good, and to trust in others. It taught me to value a sense of community. And also, since the island is essentially self-policing and operates in the purest sense of the word anarchy – when people are so peaceful that laws and government are unnecessary – this taught me to think critically about rules and laws.
Overall I think it’s very healthy to grow up the way I did and I consider it an extremely positive experience.
Venø will always be my safe haven – the place I return to when the rest of the world gets me down. I’m grateful for that. But I’m also grateful to have this coworking space in Malaga. TLR is another warm and friendly community I consider myself lucky to have found – one which mirrors the community in Venø in a lot of ways. The people here are kind, helpful, and operate like a close-knit family. Anything you need, just ask and someone will have an answer. In that way, I’m even doubly lucky – I don’t just have one safe haven… I have two.
My personal healing journey
With a background in business administration, economics, and marketing, Nina can usually be found with her head buried in a spreadsheet – checking the indices and talking dollar-cost averaging with anyone who wants to listen!
Originally from Denmark but currently living in Malaga, Nina is self-employed and works with ecommerce and recruitment.