Emerson students at Kasteel Well unfazed by Netherlands lockdowns

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Photo: The Berkeley Beacon Archives

Emerson’s Kasteel Well campus in Well, Netherlands.

By Bailey Allen, Deputy Enterprise Editor

Amid a rise in COVID cases throughout the Netherlands, Emerson students studying abroad at Kasteel Well face a three-week partial lockdown, which has limited their ability to go out to local establishments since last Friday.

Beginning Nov. 13, according to the Netherlands government official website, non-essential shops and services are to close at 6 p.m., while essential shops and services are to close at 8 p.m. Face masks are required wherever citizens do not need to show a coronavirus entry pass—a smartphone application that proves whether someone has been vaccinated, recently had COVID-19, or tested negative.

According to the World Health Organization, the Netherlands saw 290,563 cumulative COVID-19 cases over the course of the last month—from Oct. 17 to Nov. 17—resulting in a daily average of about 9,000.

The lockdown comes during the first semester the program has operated amid the pandemic. For the entirety of the 2020-21 school year, European travel regulations prevented Emerson students from entering the country, forcing the cancellation of the program.

To many students at the castle, though, the rise in cases didn’t come as much of a shock—especially given what many saw as a relaxed approach to mask mandates in various areas across the small Western European nation.

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“We all agreed going into this lockdown that Amsterdam was one of the cities that definitely didn’t really enforce mask mandates,” Drew Mitchell, a sophomore visual and media arts major said, regarding the country’s capital where many Emerson students spend their weekends. “Maybe on public transportation we were wearing them, but not really when going outside or even inside. I can kind of understand how their cases rose.”

Lida Everhart, also a sophomore visual and media arts major, said Emerson students were oftentimes the only ones wearing masks on their outings to Amsterdam.

“I remember we went on an academic excursion to the Jewish Historical Museum where we were split up into groups,” she said. “In my group, the tour guide was really confused by all of us wearing masks. She was saying, ‘Oh, they don’t have to wear their masks,’ and a [staff] member of Emerson was like, ‘You guys can do whatever you feel comfortable with.’”

According to Maya Raman, a sophomore visual and media arts major, the Kasteel Well program has been mostly business-as-usual.

“Within Emerson itself, within the Kasteel campus, nothing has really changed with the lockdown,” she said. “It’s more about how we interact with the outside world.”

“Since we are kind of in a bubble [on the castle grounds], we don’t have to wear masks as much as [students] do on the Boston campus,” Raman continued. “If we’re outside, nobody’s wearing masks, or even sometimes in classrooms we’re not required to wear our masks if we’re sitting down, which is kind of strange. In general, the COVID procedures here are more relaxed than they are on the Boston campus; they haven’t really changed very much with a lockdown.”

When it comes to fears about contracting the virus, Mitchell is not too concerned.

“Throughout the week, we’re in such a tight community here at the castle, [so I’m] not too worried,” Mitchell said. “Traveling-wise, I’m pretty sure other countries are doing okay. Not many people have been traveling recently just because of the end of the semester burnt-out vibes… for traveling, we honestly respect all the orders like wearing the masks and social distancing in each country we go to.”

According to Mitchell, Kasteel Well staff have not imposed any travel restrictions upon the students.

“I’m actually planning on going to Amsterdam this weekend,” Mitchell said. “I’m just staying there overnight, but I’ve been looking up a lot of the Amsterdam rules and a lot of places there are closing down early. It’s not going to be a crazy, exciting, ‘fun night’ trip.”

“For a lot of it, you just need to have proof of your vaccine and obviously follow the mask mandates and social distancing orders,” he added. “I’m curious to see how that’s gonna go this weekend.”

Many students noted that the most tangible effect of the lockdown had been in the nearby small town of Well—namely, the cancellation of ‘American Nights’ at Onder de Linden, a local cafe and bar frequented by Emerson students. 

“We all go over there and get trashed and hang out with the Dutch locals, but because of the lockdown, you can’t get trashed at 7 p.m. It’s kind of sad,” Raman said.

Mitchell explained how disheartening it was for him when the local bar shut down.

“The bar owner always lets us play our music there and a lot of locals come out to hang out and chill with us,” Mitchell said. “It’s such a good time because we’ll all go together around maybe eight or nine o’clock to unwind, relax, play music or dance. But now you just recently have the new restrictions they put in place so we had to put that on hold. Seeing that kind of sucks.”

Despite the lockdown, Everhart explained that her time in Europe has still been fulfilling due to the traveling she did throughout the semester.  

“Going to Paris or Berlin or wherever, people are going into really packed clubs where no one’s wearing a mask,” she said. “We’re having a lot of experiences that we wouldn’t have been able to have in the U.S., while still being a completely COVID-free campus. We’re really privileged to have gotten that—and we’re not really mourning the increasing cases in the Netherlands just because we’ve already experienced so much. It’s just status quo right now.”

The college has no intentions to cancel the remainder of the semester nor the Spring 2022 semester in light of the lockdown, according to Assistant Dean for Global and Equity Education Tikesha Morgan, despite the Netherlands’ National Institute for Public Health and the Environment expecting a peak of 500 COVID-19 patients in ICUs this winter.

In a recent email sent out to students and parents signed up for the Spring 2022 cohort, Morgan wrote that the Netherlands also classifies the United States as a “high risk” or “red” country, discouraging its citizens from traveling to the U.S.

“It’s important to note that these designations sometimes have a political element, and are not necessarily 100% based on science,” Morgan wrote. “EU countries have been upset that the United States only just began to allow their citizens to travel to the US. There has been a tit-for-tat on travel restrictions.”

The castle has yet to report any positive COVID-19 tests, Morgan wrote.

“The Fall 2021 castle group have been traveling around Europe, and so far all of them have tested negative on their weekly COVID-19 tests,” Morgan wrote. “There is no way to know what the future might bring, but if the past is any guide, this spike should peak and then diminish by the time January comes around.”

Adrianna Pray contributed reporting.