A product of dreamers: Højskoleøen

Diana Marckmann, Jannick Siebert and Rigmor Schwarz Bose. Privat photo

In the middle of the South China Sea there is an Indonesian archipelago called Anambas. One of these islands is called Nongkat, but it is also called ‘Højskoleøen’, as it has been rented by three Danes to create a school. The island is not very big, but is hosts a small oasis of Danish culture in an absurd remote corner of the world. How did this school come to be? To answer that question one must understand the three characters that founded the school: Jannick Siebert, Rigmor Schwarz Bose and Diana Marckmann Hansen.

Jannick Siebert has been interested in the water since he was a kid. However, he remembers when the desire to explore the world by boat began:

“I was on a family vacation in Thailand, and I was trying to swim to a nearby sailboat. While I swam to it I realized that it was sailing under a Danish flag. I just remember being amazed by the fact that this ship had sailed all the way from Denmark to Thailand,” Jannick explains.

He shakes his head as he elaborates: “Of course it was mostly a childish dream at that point, but that was the moment I decided that I had to sail around the world at some point in my life”.

Jannick spent years of his life learning about sailboats. He bought his first boat when he was fifteen years old. With the true curiosity of a child he learned as much as he could about it, while he restored it. Afterwards he realized that the boat was worth a lot more now than when he bought it. He sold his first boat for almost double the amount he bought it for. This was the beginning of his first business. With time as he got more experienced he began restoring better and bigger boats.

Many Danes think back on the time when they were twenty years old as the time they graduated high school and maybe moved out of their parents house. For Jannick Siebert the age of twenty became the time in his life where he had a big enough sailboat to begin his journey around the world. Making his childhood dream a reality.

The importance of community

However, at this time in Jannick’s life he had also discovered the importance of living with others, and he wondered if there was a way he could include this in his sailing plans. He knew the concept of being a ‘gast’ on a ship. This is a term classifying people who sail with ships for a short period of times. However, when Jannick Siebert was about to set sail the concept was mainly popular within the sailing community. However, he decided to see if some of his friends would be interested in it as a way to travel.

“It began with me including some friends on the trip. Just for a couple of months, and then they pitched in so it to made sense economically. Then, when they went home, other people, friends of friends, reached out. Suddenly the concept just took off,” Jannick states.

Suddenly he had hundreds of messages from people he didn’t know who wanted to join the sailing. The concept of being a ‘gast, as a way to travel was definetly something people responded to.

“It was quite impressive as it was mainly spread by recommendations in the beginning,” Jannick explains proudly.

As the demad was rising, Jannick bought his second and third boat to expand the experience for more people. He underlines however, that  the decision to invest in a second boat wasn’t solely to accomodate more people. It also ensured more safety for the people sailing, when two or three boats were sailing alongside each other.

Two boats eventually turned into seven. However, the seeds for Høsjkoleøen already began to spout on his first boat when Jannick met two girls who arrived as gaster, but would be a part of his life for much longer than the planned 3 months.

Privat photo

A six month pause from reality

Rigmor Schwarz Bose had planned to take a break for six months before she began her Masters. She had just finished a Bachelor as a Building Designer, when she left to join one of Jannick Siebert’s boats.

Her dad had sailed with her as a kid, but she had only just gotten back into sailing when she applied to sail with Jannick for three months:

“I remember I applied on a gray autumn morning back home in Denmark. You know one of those days where life just isn’t that fun. I saw a post by Jannick, and I spontaneously sent him a message,” Rigmor explains and continues: “It wasn’t a well thought out message, and I didn’t expect to get a spot, but then I did”.

Rigmor was excited, but also uncertain on what to expect. She had earlier traveled quite a lot and had experienced both the positive and the negative aspects of it.

“I was happy that I was only agreeing to three months on the boat, then I could leave afterwards,” she says as she felt like agreeing to more time at that point would have been too much.

However, whatever concerns Rigmor Schwarz Bose had beforehand faded when the everyday life on the water began:

“It was just so relaxing. I don’t think I realized how much I needed to just get away from the world until I was on this boat off the coast of Australia,” Rigmor says while smiling.

She quickly jumped at the opportunity to extend her stay on the boat by another month, and suddenly Covid-19 swept over the world.

“You kind of had to decide to either stick it out or to go home immediately. I decided to stay,” she states.

And that is how the comfortable three months turned into seven months. Rigmor Schwarz Bose arrived back in Copenhagen the day before she had to start working, because she wanted to stay on the boat as long as possible.

“I needed to get completely off grid”

That is how Diana Marckmann Hansen describes her state of mind before leaving to be a ‘Gast’ on one of Jannick Siebert’s boats.

Earlier in her life she had done a lot of musicals and acting, but had decided to give it a go with physiotherapy. However, it didn’t seem to be the right fit for her either. She had been on sick leave for six months from her studies when she decided that she needed to get away for a while.

Diana had no sailing experience. She has grown up on the small Danish Island ‘Bornholm’, so she was used to the water, but she had never actually sailed before.

“I never had a doubt in my mind that it would be something that I would enjoy. Of course I got really seasick in the beginning, but it passed,” She says and pauses. “It was just a perfect fit you know”.

In sailing Diana found the sense of belonging that she had searched for.

Much like Rigmor Schwarz Bose, Diana never had a doubt in her mind about firstly extending her stay and later also to stay through Covid-19.

Diana was on the same boat as Rigmor Schwarz Bose, and a friendship quickly blossomed.

“The girls started this Youtube video thing while we were sailing,” says Jannick Siebert. “I am not good on camera, but they really went all out on showing how life was on the boats”.

These seven months were the beginning of several years together for Jannick Siebert, Rigmor Schwarz Bose and Diana Marckmann Hansen.

The island the three danes rents. Privat Photo

Seven months were far from enough

“I think I was home for four months, when Jannick called and asked if me and Diana wanted to be co-captains on one of his boats. Of course it was a big decision, but I also really missed life on the water when I came home,” says Rigmor Schwarz Bose.

Diana Marckmann Hansen underlines that it truly was a comforting thing to take that leap together with Rigmor. They were both leaving a life behind at home. Family, friends and education. After the decision was made: Rigmor, Diana and Jannick began sailing all over the world together.

“It is weird to look back at. I mean if we had never met each other, we might have been in three completely different places in our life today,” Diana Marckmann Hansen reflects.

The girls agreed to sail as co-captains for two years, but after about a year and half a new idea started to blossom.

Having spend more than 4 years sailing the world Jannick Siebert was ready to try out something different:

“I had seen how much these unique experiences of being on the water and seeing new parts of the world had meant to the travelers we had on the boat. I wanted to expand on that concept. I might have a bit too many ideas sometimes, but then the girls are good at catching the truly good ones and leaving the rest,” Jannick Siebert explains.

Diana Marckmann Hansen also remembers something about them trying to make the school on the water in the beginning:

“Luckily we moved away from that,” she states while laughing.

The Danish concept of a ‘Højskole’

The concept of creating a school was present from the beginning. They decided to adopt the Danish concept of a ‘Højskole’.

A Danish Højskole is historically an opportunity for grown ups to go back to school. Today it is very common for younger people between the ages of 18-30 to take approximately half a year at a Højskole before they start their studies, or before they begin a Masters degree. It is normal for the students to live at the school while attending. Usually a Højskole also has a specific focus on creating community within the student body.

The trio joggled with the specifics of the concept in the beginning, but three things were for sure:

It had to be abroad, it had to have something to do with the water, and it had to have contact with the local community:

“In our opinion you can’t travel in a different country and culture without recognizing and respecting that culture,” Rigmor Schwarz Bose states.

The idea of renting an island was involved in the decision on where to place the school geographically.

“I have sailed many places in the world, but I have never seen anywhere as remote and naturally beautiful as here in Anambas,” says Jannick Siebert.

The Anambas consists of 255 islands where only 26 of them are inhabited. A few of the islands has deserted resorts on them, and the owner of Nongkat was open to renting the island to the Danes on a yearly basis. All that was left was to make the decision.

the three founders working. Private photo

Taking the final leap

Actually deciding to get fully involved was a big step for both Diana Marckmann Hansen and Rigmor Schwarz Bose.

“It was a difficult thing to explain to some people back home. Stating that I wouldn’t want to come home and finish my studies, but instead open a school abroad,” Rigmor explains.

Diana was also a bit concerned in the beginning:

“It can easily sound all rosy when you tell the story today, but of course there were also a lot of difficult and hard conversations that needed to be had,” she says.

However, it all came down to the fact that the girls were also finishing up their time as co-captains, so would they call it a day and say, that was that. Or would they jump into a new adventure face first.

Even though they had no idea if anyone would actually attend their school, they decided to give it a go. The next six months were spent on restoring, finding teachers and trying to advertise the experience back home.

“We decided to accept the first round of students at half price, just to make sure that someone would join,” Rigmor Schwarz Bose says with a smile on her face, and adds that it also allowed them some room to make mistakes, when the students were paying so little for their semester. This was an important factor for the founders as they were still learning how to make everything run smoothly

A well oiled machine – almost

“It was very much learning by doing in the beginning,” Jannick Siebert says.

Luckily many of the students also knew that it was a new concept, so they took it lightly when something didn’t work out the way it was supposed to.

The school was named Højskoleøen, Danish for ‘Højskole’ Island, and was officially established in 2023. It has up to 30 students per round. Every round varies between 8-12 weeks. They have classes in various water sports and sailing. They also have Indonesian language classes and culture lessons, which includes visits to the local schools.

“We just finished up our first year ,” Diana Marckmann exclaims, “I am so happy with how it is going”.

Rigmor underlines that in the long run they wish to have more collaboration with the locals, but it is a bit difficult, and it demands a lot of attention to create relationships.

“Right now we only have happy students leaving the Island, so that seems like a good sign,” Jannick states.

In the future the founders are considering expanding the number of students to 60 people:

“The Island can’t host more than that anyway,” states Rigmor.

Eventually the plan is that Jannick Siebert will have the overview on the seven boats he currently owns that continue to sail around the world, and then Rigmor Schwarz Bose and Diana Marckmann Hansen will take turns staying at the school to make sure everything is running smoothly.

“I just love that we have created this opportunity for young people to see something completely different,” Jannick says with a proud look in his eyes.

the entrance to the school. Privat photo

What does the future look like?

Jannick Siebert has always been a restless person. Never striving to do the expected, but rather to do what he truly enjoys, and that is what he plans to do going forward:

“I guess I might go home to Denmark if I ever have a family, but right now I love that home is more a feeling than a place at the moment”.

He might see himself divide his time between traveling and being in Denmark. Rigmor Schwarz Bose has the same thought when it comes to talk of the future:

“I really love what we have created here, and I am excited to see where it goes, but oh I miss Copenhagen,” she states.

It is clear that Højskoleøen has become some sort of home for the trio, but at the same time it is also obvious that none of them are certain as to what the future holds. There are many travel plans and thoughts of the future, but when it comes down to it, one can only wonder. They had different plans before they met each other, and who knows who they might run into in the future that once again changes their plans.

About Lærke Kobberup

Lærke Kobberup is a Journalist working with ScandAsia at the headquarters in Bangkok.

View all posts by Lærke Kobberup

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