Dutch Diaries: Kasteel Well travel tips and tricks

When you head off to spend three months in Europe, the whole point is to discover new things. And before you leave, you always get a slew of advice, things like “put your camera down and enjoy the moment,” or “keep your hand on your bag at all times on the subway.” But attending Emerson’s Kasteel Well program is a completely unique experience, and there are a few things all students attending should know beforehand, more than just the regular tips.

As Emerson students, many of us know how to function on little to no sleep, but the draining experience of constantly traveling is something even us overcommitted, underrested students can’t really be prepared for. The castle is exhausting: Be prepared to be tired every hour of every day for almost the entire three months.

“Try to stay back a weekend, because it’s more fun than you’d expect and it’s relaxing, which you’ll need during the crazy semester,” said Alaina Belanger, a resident assistant and sophomore marketing communications major.

Not traveling for the weekend doesn’t necessarily mean sleeping the whole time or getting caught up on the homework you’ve neglected while traveling. There are many cities to visit in the Netherlands that are easily accessible for a day trip.

“It’s really cool to see multiple cities within the same country because the differences will amaze you,” said Kayla Tostevin, a sophomore writing, literature, and publishing major who said she traveled within the Netherlands for five weekends. “It’s just like back in the states, but on a much smaller scale. It’s just so fascinating and fun to explore.”

And even Well has some sights to offer, like a walk to what residents call the Blue Lake or dinner out at one of the local restaurants along the river. Although everyone technically lives in the village for three months, few castle dwellers really get to know the area.

The one place almost every castle student knows in town is the one local pub. This is where American Night is hosted every Wednesday, where students have the opportunity to mingle with Well residents and enjoy a few drinks midweek.

American Night is a great time to get to know other students you don’t hang out with as much, like the people you don’t travel with. And of course, try to introduce yourself to some of the Dutch people, especially the bartender Jack. 

These nights can be really fun, but it can also be miserable if everyone is so drunk that they’re falling over, puking in the bathrooms, and just generally a mess. Just because you can legally order drinks doesn’t mean you have to drink yourself under the table. Have a good time, but remember it’s not a frat party. You’ll thank yourself for not getting totally wasted when you have to get up for classes on Thursday.

“I wish I had spent more time in the Netherlands,” said Codie Higer, a sophomore performing arts major. “Even though the program is about traveling, it’s important to get to know the place where you’re living.”

On the weekends you do travel, always pack light. You really only wear half the items you bring, and then there’s no room for souvenirs on the way back. And make sure before that your travel bag adheres to the very strict size restrictions of the cheap airlines.

When faced with what seems like an unsolvable situation, a rite of passage for every castle dweller, whether it be getting lost on the way from the airport to your hostel late at night in the rain or getting your credit card frozen mid-weekend, take a deep breath. The incredible part of this program is that everyone is in the same situation as you, and traveling together makes fast friends. Find a cab, ask to borrow money, and know that anything you’re going through is something another student survived.

One last piece of advice most castle students would agree with is that you’ll be surprised at how much you change. Whether you’re a writer or not, keeping a blog, journal, or photo log will help you remember the overwhelming amount of memories you’ll accumulate over the three months in Europe. You don’t have to be happy every moment, and there will be days that seem impossible to get through. But you will make it to the end of the semester, and, speaking from experience, probably faster than you’ll want to.