With over 1,000 visits in the first week after it was launched, KasteelWell.com seeks to provide a candid guide to life and travel at Emerson’s castle program—a perspective that past participants said has been lacking.
Located in Limburg, The Netherlands, Kasteel Well is a restored 14th century medieval castle, owned by Emerson since 1988, that around 85 Emerson students call home for three months every semester. Students, typically rising sophomores, can apply to the program and are ultimately chosen through a random lottery.
The site was launched on Feb. 1 by a team of five former Kasteel Well participants, including senior Brandon Cardwell. He said he found going through the Kasteel Well Facebook page to be ineffective when looking for travel advice.
“We realized that we could develop something that would be more updated and accurate and go farther than what students were getting the external programs office,” said Cardwell, a visual and media arts major who studied at Kasteel Well in the spring of 2013.
Other students had similar experiences, including junior Hannah Perrin, who attended the castle program in the spring of 2014. She said that she needed more than what was provided by the college’s Office of International Study & External Programs, which administers Kasteel Well.
“The staff shows you a PowerPoint about how to book your travels, so a lot of people just found the cheapest flights possible and just go,” said Perrin, a journalism major. “I used random websites, lots of blogs, and Pinterest to plan my weekend trips.”
Cardwell, who runs several other websites, said he bought the domain name, kasteelwell.com, in September 2013 while on a domain name-buying spree as a prank with some friends. With previous experience in web design, he took on the role of coding for the Kasteel Well project.
The rest of the site staff—senior Caitlyn Budnick, 2014 graduate Annie Lefley, senior Paulina Pascual, and 2014 graduate Mary Quigley—helped by writing content and copy editing.
Production and planning started in October 2013, Cardwell said, but it wasn’t until last semester that the team got serious about the website. The team launched the website the week after the current Kasteel Well participants arrived back from their first weekend abroad.
The site is filled with testimonies about how to prepare for life at Kasteel Well, top places to visit, and how to travel through Europe on a college student’s budget.
In the Where to Travel category, contributors fill out when and where they traveled; describe how expensive their destinations were; and where they think prospective travelers should eat, sleep, and have fun.
Some posts include local tips and advice, like the post about Galway, Ireland, by Quigley, who graduated with a degree in journalism.
“Ireland is especially fun to visit because you can interact with locals at ease, as there is not much of a language barrier! The accent can be tricky, however, when you are trying to talk in a loud bar,” Quigley wrote.
Cardwell said one of his goals for the website is to have current students submit articles and photos while they are still abroad.
Freshman Sam Chase, who was accepted to the Kasteel Well program for next spring, said once abroad, he intends to contribute to KasteelWell.com.
Chase said he found out most of his castle information from upperclassmen he met through on-campus organizations and clubs.
“I can’t wait to have some creative moments and write for the website,” said Chase, a journalism major.
But Cooper Irons, a sophomore journalism major currently at Kasteel Well, said he isn’t planning on adding his experiences until he’s back in the U.S.
“I would wait to contribute only after my semester has finished, I think, because one lives and learns,” Irons said. “I would like to be a solid source with strong tips, pulling from my experiences this semester.”
The element of spontaneity—a major part of the study-abroad experience—is something that the website team took into consideration, Cardwell said. He recalled a time when he bought a train ticket for only five euros, but realized that it would cost 50 euros more if it wasn’t printed out beforehand.
“Until you forget to do it once and get charged, you’re not really going to learn,” he said.
Perrin said she thinks the website would have been helpful when she was abroad.
“There’s a lot of places I wish I had gone to,” said Perrin. “[But] it’s great to see the posts from people who went to the same places I did, but during different semesters.”
Irons said he is optimistic that the site will improve as time goes on.
“I think it'll only get better as time goes on, more students pass through Kasteel Well, and semesters are completed,” Iron said. “I think they'll definitely be some more great, new content by the end of this semester as my own class of castle dwellers have had our own experiences.”