College begins annual Kasteel Well alumni trip after initial success

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Beacon Archive.

By Dana Gerber, Deputy News Editor

The college plans to introduce an annual alumni trip to the Kasteel Well Emerson campus in August following the success of a previous four-day trip, according to a college official.  

Dulcia Meijers, the Kasteel Well executive director, said eleven individuals attended last year’s four-day trip organized by the Office of Student Affairs in the Netherlands as well as Boston’s Alumni Office. Meijers said the trip will happen again this upcoming summer from Aug. 23-28. 

The trip costs approximately $2,000 to attend, excluding airfare, and will include an additional day from last year’s trip in response to feedback from last year’s participants. The trip included alumni both who participated in the Kasteel Well program as students, as well as those who had not. Spouses and parents of some alumni were also in attendance. 

“They loved it, and they wanted more of everything,” Christina Del Favero, the director of alumni relations at the Boston campus, said in an interview. “We’ve taken that feedback and updated the itinerary for this year accordingly.” 

Meijers said in a phone interview that she wanted to start an alumni event at Kasteel Well for years, but restoration and renovation work done over the summer deterred her. According to Meijers, the first renovation project began in 1997, and the last one began two years ago. The college renovated the entire campus, including the floors, foundation, electricity system, and the sewage system. 

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“We’re so ready to show the castle and its transformation to former—as I always call them—castle dwellers,” she said. 

Meijers said the profit the trip earns will go into the Let’s Go Fund, which offers financial support to Emerson students who want to study abroad. 

“We want that fund filled [for] the years, so that more students can benefit from international education opportunities that Emerson offers,” she said. 

The trip featured many of the same events as the Kasteel Well student program, including excursions to Amsterdam and the Rijks Museum, a canal tour, and dinner at an Indonesian restaurant. Other events were specific to the alumni trip, such as a beer tasting session in Belgium, a falconry experience, a medieval singing troupe performance, and career-building workshops. 

“It’s all centered around going down memory lane,” Meijers said. 

Last summer, the alumni office advertised the trip through the college’s alumni newsletter. An interest form for the 2020 trip is on Emerson’s website, and Del Favero said they plan on launching a full website soon. She added that initial advertising was kept intentionally small to gauge interest and feasibility, but the department plans to expand and refine the program in preparation for this upcoming summer. Meijers said she believes increased advertising will increase interest in the program. 

“My mailbox was filled with emails of former castle dwellers that said, ‘We would love to come, are you still offering it in the next years to come?’” Meijers said. “And I said ‘Sure. If you cannot come this year, we would like to make it a yearly event.’”

Meijers said Kasteel Well faculty were also welcome to participate in the experience, and noted that many faculty members expressed an interest in seeing old students. 

Daniel Cox ’93 participated in the castle program twice as a student, once during his sophomore year, and a second time as a Resident Assistant during his senior year. After hearing about the trip in April, Cox decided it was too exciting an opportunity to pass up. 

“I’d always had this daydream of returning to the castle campus,” Cox said in a phone interview from Colombia. “When the alumni office sent out that letter, I turned to my husband and I said, ‘We’re going to Europe.’”

Cox, who had Meijers as a professor when he was a student, said seeing the castle decades after graduating gave him a new perspective.

“I just love Holland so much, and not having seen it since 1993, I wanted to go back and re-experience it,” he said. “I’m close to 50 years old—all 26 years later and I’m still seeing things with fresh eyes, which sort of is that little seed Dulcia planted as a student, still inside me, growing.”

Sean Couglin ’08 and Elyse Ruback ’10, who met while at Emerson and later married, said that not attending the Kasteel Well program was the one major regret of their respective college experiences, which is why they decided to go on the alumni trip. 

“There was this feeling that there was a small piece of the Emerson experience that we missed out on,” Couglin said in a phone interview with The Beacon. “When there became an opportunity to go to the Castle, it just seemed like the perfect opportunity to engage with the school as alumni.”

Although the trip featured alumni from a range of different classes, Coughlin said they all bonded over their shared experiences instead of becoming divided by generational gaps. 

“As soon as we got there, we realized that the reason we went to Emerson in the first place was because it draws a certain type of person,” he said. “We just had a great experience.”

Ruback added that although many of the workshops were career-based, such as a storytelling workshop to learn communication skills with potential coworkers, she appreciated that many of the experiences were ones she would have had as a student. 

“It was cool to feel like you’re getting a similar experience to the students who are… studying in the castle program,” she said. “It definitely felt like it was geared towards an alumni trip.” 

Meijers agreed that the trip attempted to blend teachable moments with the fun of a vacation. For example, since the Dutch colonized Indonesia until the 1940s, Meijers took the group to an Indonesian restaurant to explore that part of the country’s history. 

“There’s a lot of entertainment, but it’s all educational,” Meijers said.

Del Favero, who attended the trip as an alumni office representative, said the trip succeeded not only in connecting alumni to the Emerson community, but vice versa as well.

“The castle is [so] warm and welcoming,” Del Favero said. “Everybody there just loves this opportunity to connect with alumni. So it’s a gift all around.”