The other day I woke up with an illumination. I am the kind of person who cannot remember her own dreams, but I am pretty sure that that night Albert Einstein came to visit me. The quote “the only source of knowledge is experience” resounded in my ears and I was pretty sure that the old Albert wanted to tell me something.

After having realized that he did not want me to find out if the universe was expanding, I came to the conclusion that he was trying to show me the right way to answer my obsessive questions:

Who are the volunteers who contribute to make Aarhus a European reference point in the volunteering sector?”, “What are their motivations?” and “How is it to be a volunteer?"

So, what I thought he wanted to tell me is that after listening to so many volunteers it was time to try in person what it feels like to be a volunteer in Aarhus.

As a result, I looked for an opportunity to give my contribution and I stumbled across an advertisement promoting the NorthSide Festival. At that point it came to my mind a curious scene which happened just a month before. It was the moment when the sun decided to organise an early summer just to steeply increase the affluence of Danes going to the church to pray so it would not stop.

Of course, I was as excited as anybody else and, thrilled by the idea of having a social life outdoors, I started questioning people about the nicest things that are worth doing during the summer in Aarhus. From my inquiry it came out that the women suggested to enjoy a glass of wine on the rooftop of Salling, to take part in the Kvindeløb or go to NorthSide Festival. On the other end, according to men you should go fishing at the harbour, wait to watch Denmark playing at the Football World Championship and party at NorthSide.

Astonishing, isn’t it? I mean, if it is true that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, their meeting point is definitely at Northside Festival.

NorthSide does not need an introduction, but for those who do not know it, it is a music festival which since 2010 entertains Aarhusians and people from all over Denmark with three days of music. It is held at Ådalen in Åbyhøj and last year was attended by 40,000 people each day.

What surprises me the most about NorthSide Festival is the amount of people who every year decide to join the event as volunteers. However, I should not be so amazed. Indeed, it is part of the Danish culture to volunteer in a festival and to contribute to the success of it and that was the reason that encouraged me to give it a try. Ok, I must admit that listening to N.E.R.D. and Liam Gallagher for free was already a good motivation but it was not just about it. There is a thing that I heard so many times while interviewing volunteers and it is:

I like volunteering because I feel part of something.

Would it be like this also for me? Would I feel part of Northside, one of the more representative event in Aarhus? I took it as a step closer to Danish citizenship and without thinking twice I applied to volunteer there.

My work at NorthSide Festival was to prepare and serve food to volunteers. The first task that I received was to take the orders. At the beginning I thought that there must have been a mistake. For sure there were Danish people in my team who were more qualified than me to speak with the Danes? I was waiting for the moment when someone would have started to insult me because I was living in their country without speaking their language properly. But that moment never came. On the contrary, the Danes were just switching to English if I could not follow their conversations. After a while it was clear to me that my Danish level did not matter as long as I was smiling and accurate in my job.  

It did not take much time before I realized that serving meals to the volunteers was a good opportunity to find out what constitutes the typical volunteer at NorthSide Festival as I was meeting so many of them. I started observing them, asking casual questions and with the time passing by I got more and more disappointed. In fact, my goal was obviously impossible to reach as there is no standard profile of a NorthSider.

I met people of any age, any nationality, any occupation in life. I met a woman from Chile who moved to Denmark two weeks before, a man who I will remember forever as the first Icelandic person I have ever met, a woman in her sixties who normally works as an accountant. Some of them were volunteering for the first time, whereas others had had that experience before.

Asking around I found out that behind the choice of volunteering there were different motivations: trying something new, meeting new people, having fun with friends by volunteering together, discovering more about the Danish culture and, of course, enjoying the concerts without paying the ticket. What was astonishing to me was that no matter what our backgrounds or personalities were, we were all part of the same mission and we were the power which was making the engine of the festival going.

Indeed, by walking around the festival I realized that almost every task was carried out by volunteers: checking people at the entrance, collecting garbage, selling food and drinks, being responsible for the security of the festival, selling tickets… 

That is when it occurred to me that it is true that great things are done by a series of small things brought together.

Of course, it is not all so easy and sometimes your shift seems endless. Nevertheless, in those moments of despair there was always something which saved me: the kindness of my boss. I got immediately surprised by his words of welcome and cordiality and during the days he kept asking if everything was fine, worrying if we were taking enough breaks and encouraging us to enjoy the festival. They might seem like little things, but I can assure you that they really make the difference, especially because they can make you experience in person the famous Danish “arbejdsglæde”.

I am the kind of person who is always wondering if I am in the right place, doing the right thing in life. That is why I will never forget the first day I arrived at the festival. As I got off from the bus before my first shift, I found myself following a stream of people heading to the same place with the same blue t-shirt I was wearing. A sort of wave which was carrying me ahead as long as I was following the flow. In that moment I felt as if there was no other place I should have been in in the world.

There is a thing that I always ask in my interviews and that is what people associate with volunteering. After NorthSide Festival, my answer is SMILES because I saw so many of them during those three days, AUTOPILOT because you will need it when your energy is running low and PRIDE because that is what I felt when I realized that I was contributing to the success of the most important music festival of the city that I currently call “home”.

To know more about NorthSide Festival, visit their website:

Are you curious about what is going on in Aarhus while the city is holding the title of European Volunteering Capital? Don’t miss the next stop of my pilgrimage around the city.

Genny Cabas is an Italian taking a European Volunteering Service in Denmark. In February, she started working at Studerendes Frivillige Netværk (SFN) based at VIA University College and she finished her project on 1st October.

To know more about her and SFN visit the Facebook page SFN - Studerendes Frivillige Netværk.