Once upon a time, wicked far away, I totally lived in a castle. (Yep, sure did). It was part of a semester abroad that took place in the Netherlands, most of the time, and included a once weekly romp out into the EU, except for that jaunt we took to Croatia. It’s one of those things I’ve done in my life that, when mentioned in casual conversation, usually garners a “wait what!” followed by a slew of questions. So, to set the record straight and to shed some light on the topic of studying abroad and living in castles, I’ve compiled a number of questions that have come up over the years (and a few that have not—but seemed really basic) and I give to you my most honest answers:
Oh, you studied a broad? What was her name?
Very funny. This is a serious article, thank you very much.
Did birds in tiny bonnets and mice with teenie jackets help you clean the place and get dressed in the morning?
Only on Tuesdays…
How? Why in the world did you end up in a castle?
I attended a private college in the Boston area that had, many years before my attendance, acquired the property. Moat included. The inside had been remodeled to accommodate dorms and classrooms. Over the years (I’m fuzzy on the facts here), the school started relying on the support of the town’s two local dining establishments to feed the 80-some students. The facility was so limited, and the burden on the restaurants to great, the school started including a Eurail pass in tuition so that the students could leave the country in order to get a well-rounded meal on the weekends. Expensive. Awesome. Tomato. Toh-mah-toh.
But, wait, that’s not what you asked. I ended up there after weighing my study-abroad options. It was basically a no-brainer. I could go to Los Angeles, where I currently reside, and live in a luxury apartment or I could go to the Netherlends and live in a castle. It wasn’t a tough decision. It was also not a tough application process…
What is it like to live in a castle?
Well living in a castle is kind of a lot like living in any other old stone building. Come to think of it, it’s a lot like living in a concrete or wood building. Sorry to disappoint with this one, but it was basically a really adorable quaint old building. It creaked a lot and the bathrooms were strangely designed. The electrical circuiting was sensitive, the kitchen was reminiscent of a stone hobbit home, and aside from the ghosts, it was a lot like most apartments in Boston.
I’m only kidding. Boston has ghosts, too.
Wait, there were ghosts?!
Yes, of course. Her name was Sophie and she had a whole room in the castle named after her. Sophie’s Lounge. I did not ever meet Sophie, probably because I’m a nonbeliever and I wouldn’t waste my time with someone like that if I were a ghost. My roommate, Jess, still maintains that Sophie used to open our door in the middle of the night. Where some see a building settling, others see the handiwork of the dead. We may never know the truth.
The closest any of us ever got to Sophie was our friend Rachel. Rachel was Skyping in Sophie’s Lounge one night when her Skype buddy stopped speaking for a moment to let Rachel answer her friend—a girl who was standing behind her. Funny thing is, Rachel was completely alone in the room and not seen or heard another person the whole time she was Skyping. The friend absolutely insisted that there was a girl standing over Rachel’s shoulder.
Was there a tower room? Is it drafty?
Yes, there was a tower room and, no, it wasn’t mine, but I did sometimes sleep in the extra bed in the tower room because I had friends in there. Also, a word about tower rooms: romantic on the pages (of epic novels), impractical in real life. Where’s a princess to keep her rectangular desk? In the center of her round room?
Was it dangerous? What’s the worst thing that happened to you while you were there?
The worst thing that happened to me was a far cry from the awful things that happened to other people. I got my camera stolen and that sucked a lot. Pickpockets are amazingly slick. Point for you Venlo, Netherlands. But the worst thing happened to almost everybody except me and my roommate, in a little town called Dubrovnik. Now, don’t mistake my story here. Dubrovnik is a lovely place full of smooth pebbly beaches, as much gelato as you can stand, Game of Thrones sets, and some really, really old walls. I would go back in a heartbeat. That being said, our trip out to Croatia was a field trip involving all 80 students together and we spent a week being thrown a number of the curviest curve balls.
The start of our journey left many among us blessed with either a terrible flu bug, or food poisoning, or a plain old case of the travel voms. So, on our way from the airport, we stopped many a time on that bumpy dirt road so that one of several students could well… you get the picture.
A couple nights in, we’re in downtown Dubrovnik at a small pub, I think all 80 of us are there, and my roommate, a Gatsbian partier, had overdone it. She required an escort home at the tender hour of 8 pm and so up the hill we went. We made an early night of it, but in the morning at breakfast all of our friends who had stayed at the bar were black-eyed and split-lipped. Apparently, as small groups left the bar and slowly made their way back to the hotel, a gang of Croatian teenagers attacked each one. Roundhouse kicks to the face and all. I still to this day thank Jess for being a drunken space-case that night.
Lots of other terrible things that did not happen to me happened to the people I was with. I did not pass out from dehydration and hit my head on the night table, I did not get stung by sea urchins while swimming in the Adriatic Sea, I did not get electrocuted by a ladder in a water garden, I had no moped accidents, and I spent zero hours acquainting myself with the Croatian healthcare services. I did, however, wake up during the earthquake.
Would you recommend studying abroad?
Yes times a million. But with a caveat: from my own humble experience, and from what I have gathered from those that have been shared with me, if you are looking for a rigorous course load, choose a more intensive program or one that offers classes from the native universities. Or maybe don’t study abroad.
The highlight of my program was the opportunity to travel every weekend to a completely different country. I took a travel writing course, a literature class, and an ethics and philosophy class, allegedly (I showed up for class, the professor did not). So yeah, I’d advise you go immerse yourself in other cultures and build out your chotchky collection. Don’t over think it.
Photo by Michelle White