Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Meet Black Swan, Kasteel Well’s magazine by students, for students

Emma Bowen
An Instagram post announcing the return of Black Swan for the Spring 2024 semester.

As Kasteel Well students approach the final weeks of their semester, they’ve likely already collected plenty of souvenirs and trinkets across Europe. But their most unique memento will be the semesterly edition of Black Swan, the castle’s official magazine that dwellers receive at the end of their time in Well.

Black Swan is a student-led cultural publication that features a diverse collection of student work, from photographs to poetry to journalistic articles. Leading the charge are its co-editors-in-chief, sophomore visual media arts student Fiona McMahon and sophomore journalism student Meg Richards, the latter of whom has previously served on The Beacon’s editorial staff. Office of Student Affairs staff member Bronwyn Vermaak supervises the student committees, and she has been in the role for the last two years.

“The main thing is that it’s a way for students to express themselves,” Vermaak said. “The whole idea behind Black Swan is that we would give students kind of a keepsake … and give them a little time capsule that they could read through and re-experience the moment.”

During the 90-day excursion abroad, the magazine helps to capture the whirlwind experience through Emerson’s favorite medium: art. 

“It’s just a really special souvenir that castle dwellers can take home,” McMahon said. “It’s really just a culmination of all of our experiences here at the castle, which I think is a really lovely thing to take home.”

The publication consists of personal essays, which reflect on the joy and turmoil of traveling and studying abroad, McMahon said. It also includes journalism in which people go out into the community of Well and talk to some of the locals there. 

“[They] have covered stories that are within the community, which is really special,” McMahon said.

While it is unclear when Black Swan was created, Vermaak believes it has gone back to the early 2000s. The earliest edition found at the castle came from the Fall 2009 semester.

Though Vermaak is tabbed as the magazine’s supervisor, she believes in letting the students take control of it.

“My whole idea is that I don’t want to take ownership of the magazine, I’m more there just to guide the students,” she said.

She has been intrigued by the varying themes and collections of work that students have put together.

“Depending on the vision of the group, the magazine turns out in all these different ways,” she added. “We’ve even had pages with food reviews or just a page of haikus. I love the difference between the magazines each semester.”

The magazine’s semesterly production leads to several unique themes, from “Astrology” in Fall 2015 to “Dark Fantasy: Light vs. Dark” created last semester. This semester’s theme is “Ugly Duckling,” which is a nod to “the unruly and raw aspects of our experience abroad,” according to an announcement made through the Kasteel Well Instagram.

McMahon was motivated to join Black Swan to help create a tangible memory of castle dwellers’ experiences.

“I love the idea of having a physical representation of an experience—a shared experience,” she said. “I think a magazine is perfect for that, and it can be displayed through so many different mediums. It’s really wonderful to have a copy of other people’s experiences on this study abroad trip.”

Aside from producing the magazine, Black Swan also hosts various events during the semester aimed at increasing awareness of the publication while bringing people together.

“People who are not directly involved with the magazine can come and have fun,” McMahon said. “We’ve also been advertising ways people can contribute to the magazine at these events. We have little art stations or photo stations, and people can actually create things they can then submit to the magazine.”

“We’ve had students who have done a murder-mystery party that was actually a wedding at the castle,” Vermaak said. “We’ve had a Black Swan Soiree, we’ve had a St. Patty’s event.”

The St. Patrick’s Day event was held on Monday evening. Students gathered around tables to create collages, friendship bracelets, and vision boards as Irish music played over the speakers. Vermaak also provided a series of green treats, ranging from cupcakes and candy to green punch.

Kasteel Well students enjoyed the green treats at Monday’s St. Patrick’s Day event, provided by Black Swan supervisor Bronwyn Vermaak. (Courtesy of Emma Bowen)

McMahon believes the best part about working on Black Swan is seeing the group’s values shine through their work.

“This group really values beauty and precision, and they’ve really displayed that every week,” she said. “We have very specific committees, and they have different responsibilities. But all of those responsibilities are very important, and they work very well together.”

Black Swan has five committees—Public Relations, Editing, Design, Journalism, and Social Media—who all work together to seamlessly create the issues that both go home with castle dwellers and stay on coffee tables in the student lounge, Dulcia’s Place.

Jonathan Chung, a sophomore theater and performance major, is one of two leaders for Black Swan’s social media committee, along with sophomore creative writing student Olivia Cowie.

Chung said his duties included attending these events and creating promotional content through photos and videos, advertising what Black Swan is up to at the castle.

“Because I’m an avid social media user and it’s something that I love so much, I love that I’m putting it to good use [with] Black Swan,” Chung said. “There’s so many creative processes, and I’m very glad to be a part of that.”

Though the magazine has run smoothly, McMahon admits there’s one challenge the group has had to push through: “balancing everyone’s schedules.”

“Everyone is so hard working and wanting to travel on the weekends [and] do well in their classes. It’s been a little bit challenging to balance everyone’s needs, but I think we’re doing it really well,” she said. “People are really dedicated and putting in the work, while also balancing travel, school, work, and other responsibilities.”

McMahon and Chung have both learned a lot from their time with the magazine.

“I don’t have to rush into things too much, sometimes I could let it come to me,” Chung said. “It really is about cooperation and [having] a collaborative environment.”

“What it means for me to be in Black Swan is to be in a community that shares the value of hard work,” McMahon said. “It’s motivated me to stay positive throughout the semester, because it can be really tiring to study abroad—as amazing as it is. Being in this community that has a shared goal and shared deadline and a shared need to complete something has been really motivating.”

Ultimately, McMahon believes that being part of Black Swan means joining a dedicated team that produces a meaningful issue in a limited amount of time.

“Our semester at the castle is very short, so being a part of Black Swan means that you are committed, hard-working, and dedicated to make something that is beautiful and special,” she said. “If you join Black Swan or contribute in any way, you are wanting to share an experience with people.”

Vermaak echoed those points, and noted how involvement in Black Swan can lead to a multitude of experiences. Many people are often deterred from joining because of lack of experience, but there’s always a space for everyone, she said. A major plus is that it allows members to add something to their Curricula Vitae or resumes when applying to jobs outside of the castle, she added.

“We want people to join no matter if they have experience or not,” she continued. “Join in for the good vibes and the experience.”

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About the Contributor
Jordan Pagkalinawan
Jordan Pagkalinawan, Managing Editor
Jordan Pagkalinawan (he/him) hails from Burbank, California, and is the Beacon’s Managing Editor for news and sports. A junior journalism student with a minor in Sports Communication, Jordan previously served as the Kasteel Well Bureau Chief, sports editor, and staff writer. Outside of Emerson, he has interned with the CBS Sports Editorial team and currently writes for Last Word on Sports and YRMedia. When Jordan isn’t working on a story, you will find him either playing basketball, listening to music, reading multiple books, or buying a cup of coffee.

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