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

Nothing could have prepared me for the Kasteel Well culture shock

Illustration by Rachel Choi.

Adjusting to a new environment is never easy. My semester studying abroad at Emerson College’s Kasteel Well campus has made that obvious.

In the 1980s, Emerson acquired Kasteel Well, a 14th-century medieval castle in the Netherlands that houses up to 90 students each semester. The castle is beautiful, scenic, and placed in a relatively unpopulated area—making for a quiet, intimate learning experience.

Something that drew me to studying abroad was the fact that I would be able to immerse myself in a new culture and meet people from diverse backgrounds.

Upon arriving at Kasteel Well, I realized that this would be more difficult than I anticipated. 

Studying in Well is comparable to the 2020 NBA Bubble, in that we’re essentially isolated from the outside world and the only people we ever interact with are each other. The village of Well is home to 2,500 residents, and sparking up a conversation with them seems like a rarity. One of the most appealing factors of studying abroad is to become immersed in your new environment. Unfortunately, Castle Dwellers aren’t necessarily encouraged to spend their free time in Well, so it’s almost impossible to do so.

Since day one, we’ve been constantly reminded that this is the most diverse group of students at the castle, with 61 percent identifying as BIPOC. 

But why constantly shove this down our throats if the environment that said people of color are put in isn’t made for us to thrive?

Orientation seemed like a colossal waste of time. We were told that we’d learn how to adjust to living in a new environment. Instead, over several days we learned how to sing “Happy Birthday” in Dutch and were warned that Dutch people can often be passive-aggressive.

We were told that there would be some innocent culture shocks, like how everyone rides their bikes everywhere, and that we won’t be expected to tip when we go out to eat.

What we weren’t warned about was even though Emerson students have been infiltrating Well for decades, the locals seemingly don’t know how to interact with people of color. From getting looks of disgust at the bus stops and local businesses to witnessing people touch Black classmates’ hair, it quickly became clear that Well is not a very welcoming environment.

I’ve heard the argument that we should be grateful the people of Well are welcoming us into their village. How true is that? Too often I’ve found myself wondering if I even belong here. Well didn’t invite us here—Emerson simply paid a large sum of money to acquire a historic castle, and now Well is forced to deal with us.

A longstanding Dutch tradition that future Castle Dwellers should be warned about is Sinterklaas, a Christmastime festivity with racist undertones in which primarily white people dress as Sinterklaas’s (Saint Nicholas) helpers called “Black Petes.” In other words, it’s a celebration of white people justifying blackface while glorifying the Netherlands’ colonial past. “Black Petes” are hard to miss in Well as the local bakery and gas station have displays showcasing them.

I was going to ignore some of the criticism I had about The Castle. This isn’t a permanent stay, and I have the freedom to travel on the weekends. So, I was hesitant to speak out until my friend barged into my room and ranted about her racist professor.


I was willing to look past the encounters that my peers and I had with the locals. No one is forcing us to interact with them. But the faculty too? My classmates can’t even learn in peace without an old, out-of-touch professor hurling microaggressions and dated terminology at them.

Along the same lines, one of my professors responded to complaints in his course evaluations by claiming that if he ever said anything condescending to us, it wasn’t his intention. These are tenured professors that we have to deal with, all the while funneling an absurd amount of money into the institution. This makes me wonder, do the Kasteel Well professors undergo the same diversity training that Boston professors do?

Finding information about diversity and equity approaches and training for Boston’s campus is effortless. Finding it for Kasteel Well, on the other hand, is nearly impossible. Even when progress is made, it’s purely surface-level, like constantly announcing that a majority of us are people of color—which is just the administration patting their own back for doing the bare minimum when it comes to inclusion. 

Going about writing this was difficult. How do I write about the criticism I have about my study abroad program without sounding out of touch? Is it wrong of me to complain about something that most people don’t have the means or opportunity to do? Maybe I shouldn’t have been shocked, seeing as I went from one white environment to another. 

However, as a person of color studying in Well, it’s important to highlight the effect that living in this type of community has on us. When Emerson places majority BIPOC students in an unwelcoming environment with no real efforts to promote inclusivity, it feels like a social experiment disguised as a heroic, progressive act. If Emerson wants to encourage students of color to study at Kasteel Well and keep the diversity amongst Castle Dwellers high, the faculty and administration must start curating diverse experiences. Emerson’s historical performativity is amplified in their premier study abroad program.

Something I love about the Boston campus is that it hosts courses that offer a wide range of diverse and marginalized voices through various texts highlighted in the syllabi. I can’t say the same about Kasteel.

At Kasteel Well, diversity is at an all-time high, while inclusivity is lacking. The solution for now? Either put up with the isolated Emerson bubble for three months or escape to a different European city in search of diversity every weekend.

To end on a somewhat positive note, studying abroad has introduced me to the most amazing people and places. Don’t let this article discourage you from studying abroad. It’s worth it. Just be mindful of the environment you’re going to live in.

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About the Contributor
Rumsha Siddiqui
Rumsha Siddiqui, Managing Editor
Rumsha Siddiqui (she/her) is a journalism major from upstate New York. She currently serves as a managing editor for the opinion and living/arts sections and previously served as sports editor. Rumsha is passionate about writing about the Boston Celtics and offering commentary and criticism on film, television, and music.

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  • M

    Mary / Nov 24, 2023 at 3:22 pm

    You don’t have to come here and live in a castle, at all. How hard your life must have been.