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Emerson’s unique Kasteel Well program marks 25 years

Emerson College’s Kasteel Well study-abroad program in Well, The Netherlands, celebrates its 25th anniversary this spring with several days of special events.

Receptions for Trustees and outgoing College President Jacqueline Liebergott, a dinner with current students and their parents, and an opportunity for castle alumni to gather and reminisce are scheduled for April 3–5.

David Griffin ’85, G ’93, director of International Studies and External Programs, said the program has grown in the 22 years he’s been involved, from 23 students to a current maximum of 85 per semester. “It’s unique; not many schools can say they own a castle,” said Griffin. 

“The students bond incredibly when they are over there. You can almost guarantee that the 85 strangers we send are close friends by the time it’s over, and they’re friendships that are maintained through the rest of college because they share such an intense experience living and traveling together in Europe.”

The property was purchased in the mid-1980s to establish a home base for a study-abroad program. Former Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts John Barbetta is credited with finding the castle for the College to purchase. He also ran the program for its first seven years.

The current director/executive director of Emerson’s European Programs is Dulcia Meijers, who holds a PhD in the architectural history of Venetian palaces. She has run the program for nearly 20 years and is credited with the ongoing renovations and restoration of the facility.

Kasteel Well is a national monument dating back to the 14th century. 

Students are currently chosen for the castle program through a lottery, with about 60 percent being sophomores, Griffin said. General education/liberal arts classes are taught at the castle and in rented space in the village of Limburg by American expatriates and local doctoral students. But there’s more to the program than academics.

From the first time Emerson students pass over the castle’s moat, they become part of a special group of castle alumni, those who have studied and explored far from home. Classes are scheduled Monday–Thursday to encourage student travel. And when each semester closes, staffers ceremoniously hang a group photo of the students in one of the large common rooms. The bonds remain strong even years after graduation, as the Castle alumni Facebook page attests.

In her blog on the Emerson Office of Admission website, Writing, Literature and Publishing major Karen Harris ’11 shares her experiences as a current attendee. “Kasteel Well is like a gorgeous brick mansion, with common rooms decorated in trendy, rich colors,” she writes. “The dorm rooms are simple and quaint, most very plain, some (especially the tower room quads) very detailed with wood floors and high ceilings. The Castle is not a stone monstrosity with an echoing dining hall and passageways winding this way and that. It is cozy, creaky, and has a history that’s almost tangible to students living within its walls.”

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