Kasteel Well’s assistant director of student affairs embraces life’s challenges and community building

By Maeve Lawler, Kasteel Well Bureau Chief

Each semester, a new group of students participating in the Kasteel Well program are welcomed by a medieval castle tucked in the countryside of Well, Limburg. For many students, the unique setting of Emerson’s Netherlands campus is a substantial transition compared to the city life on Boston’s campus. Viviana Garcia Roqueta, assistant director of student affairs at the castle, helps students embrace this change—like she’s done much of herself throughout her life.

“The main theme of life that I’ve learned along the way is that change is the only constant in life,” Garcia said in an interview with The Beacon. “Being able to have the tools and skills to move through change is one of the most vital life skills you can learn.” 

Garcia joined Emerson’s faculty in July 2022, and her first spring semester at Kasteel Well is underway. Her job includes managing the castle’s Office of Student Affairs, a “one-stop shop” for students, Garcia said, where they can access housing, academic, and crisis services. 

Working with students has helped Garcia share her philosophy with those who need it since many face challenges navigating and adapting to new locations. 

“I hope people lean into the discomfort and the dissonance of traveling and meeting new folks, not just within the castle, but within different communities in different countries,” she said. “Do the hard things, even when they feel impossible.”

As someone whose career path has taken her from Puerto Rico to the mainland U.S.—and now to the Netherlands—Garcia welcomes the changes to her environment. 

Before her current role, Garcia served as assistant director of residential education at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. Even though Garcia wasn’t looking to leave Dartmouth, when a friend recommended she apply to the position at Kasteel Well, it turned into an opportunity to combine her undergraduate study-abroad experiences with her higher education expertise. 

Even her previous study-abroad experience, she said, came about rather serendipitously. During her undergrad at the University of Georgia, Garcia was a server at her local Applebees when she was trying to figure out how to study abroad—and there she met, by chance, the president of the University of Georgia.

After being impressed with Garcia’s table waiting service, he asked her, “What’s one thing you want to do while you’re in college?” 

“I would love to study abroad, but it’s never going to happen,” she said at the time. “I pay for my way through school.” 

After their conversation, the president introduced himself and offered to sponsor her trip. 

“Without that person, I would have never studied abroad,” she said. 

After finishing her undergrad in 2018, she completed a master’s in Student Affairs Administration in Higher Education at Texas A&M University in 2020. There, Garcia learned about identity development, law, education, and counseling skills as it relates to college students, easing her eventual transition to working in higher education.

During undergrad, Garcia moved from her home in Puerto Rico to Georgia to study marine biology on a volleyball scholarship. She didn’t expect a career in higher education, but her passion for working with students was fostered in her leadership roles in different student organizations. 

“I was passionate about creating change in the college because I felt a lot of things in my college did not represent my community as a Latinx woman,” she said. “Creating access for diverse communities is what fueled my path.” 

While pursuing her master’s, Garcia continued to lead student groups, serving as a resident director and taking a group of first-year students on a study abroad experience to South Africa. 

Down the line, she hopes to earn a Ph.D. and teach college students marine sciences or critical race theory. 

Some students already knew about Garcia’s welcoming personality even before meeting her. 

Owen Mitchell, a sophomore visual media arts major, learned about Garcia’s welcoming personality from his friends who met her the previous semester. 

“Before I even got here, this name, ‘Viviana,’ was in my head,” Mitchell said. “And when I met her, she had a very nice energy—she seems to connect with people our age very well.” 

Allie Pollack, a sophomore writing, literature, and publishing major, noticed Garcia’s willingness to help students, especially when it comes to planning travel. 

“She goes out of her way to get to know us,” Pollack said. “Last night, we talked to her for a good 20 to 30 minutes about our trip this weekend and she genuinely wanted to listen and cared about it. It just feels great to talk to her.”

When not working with OSA, Garcia lives with her partner and two dogs in an apartment at the castle. Living on campus gives her the opportunity to watch students’ relationships grow throughout the semester.

“I get to witness the students’ experience and development, and being able to [get] to know each other and building community, that’s the heart of this place,” she said. 

For students studying abroad, Garcia encourages them to embrace obstacles and a sense of community.

“If you’re looking to build community and engage with other people, this is the place for you,” Garcia said. 

When Mitchell recalled Garcia helping him and a group of friends find cheap flights for a weekend trip, he noted her commitment to engaging with and helping students. 

“She will go out of her way to make sure that we have the best experience possible,” he said. “She puts us first.”