For ten years he lived at Casa, for 5 years after that he worked at Casa, and after that, he became a board member of Casa. Sjaak Smit (1966) is a true Casa celebrity. His life would probably have turned out quite differently when he wouldn’t have known Casa.
If Sjaak Smit hadn’t lived at Casa for plenty of years, I probably wouldn’t have spoken to him at the Hotel Management School in Amsterdam. A job as Rooms Division Manager at a hotel wasn’t exactly what his 18-year old self had in mind/pictures himself to become. “In 1984 I started my studies in History at the University of Amsterdam. I didn’t exactly know wat I wanted to become, but teaching seemed a good option. However, due to Casa, everything turned out differently.
“Amsterdam wasn’t all bustling for students yet, so the Casa-Croeg evenings were quite busy. Sometimes there were around 700 people. It was the place to be.”
More or less, we can say it was quite a coincidence Smit turned up at Casa. All because a flyer found his eyes. He got a room and immediately liked his new home. “The only disadvantage for me were the summers. The student rooms became hotel rooms during this period of the year, so we students had to leave the place. In my second year, I had the brilliant idea to start working at Casa during the summer. This way I was able to stay.” Smit started out as a bellboy but climbs higher just a little bit every year. “I found out how much I actually loved this industry. The dynamic environment and contact with students and hotel guests seemed something I turned out to be good at.”
It took ten years to finish his studies in history, but he chose for a career in hospitality. First at Casa, until he left for a great job at the Hotel Management School in The Hague. “Forever saying goodbye to Casa wasn’t something I could and wanted. Therefore, I was extremely happy when they asked me to become a board member.”
The place to be
Smit is an enthusiastic talkative. His eyes light up when he talks about his student time at Casa. “Especially in those early years, there was a coherent feeling. Everyone knew each other and we actually did everything together. Nowadays, some Casa students don’t even know who their neighbours ar.” For Smit, the best reminisce are the dinners in the shared kitchen and the parties at the Casa-Croeg, which he himself established with a couple of other students. “Amsterdam wasn’t all bustling for students yet, so the Casa-Croeg evenings were quite busy. Sometimes there were around 700 people. It was the place to be.” Jokes were part of the day as well. “Room numbers were swapped and students who were late for dinner and thought to enjoy a nice cup of soup, actually received a cup of extremely spicy chili sauce. But of course, there were some less favorable moments as well. Unfortunately, I have witnessed a few suicides of students who jumped of the roof. That’s of course extremely tragic. Especially since we were all so close with one another.”
Cockroaches in a cupping glass
While the hotel becomes more and more professional at the end of the ‘80’s, Smit also notices a change when it comes to student engagement. “In the beginning students were extremely involved towards one another and the developments at Casa. Protests against increasing rental prices and obligatory summer movements were a regular thing. But suddenly it became less, and students became more laconically. Everything seemed fine for them.” This attitude was translated into the kitchen as well, and cockroaches were the result. Van Nieuwkuijk, director at that time, had a very specific strategy of diminishing the cockroaches. Whenever a student spotted one, he or she needed to catch it and show it to him. Subsequently, Van Nieuwkuijk would call the pest control. Smit has warm/fond memories on Van Nieuwkuijk, who was always there for his students. “His door was always open. Whenever you passed by for a question, he took a quick look at his watch to follow up with: ok then, five minutes’. It wasn’t an exception it turned out to be more or less an hour instead of five minutes, including a beer.” That changed enormously when Marianne van Meurs became Casa’s new Director in 1988. “Marianne was a good director, though she had a much more corporate attitude. She lived with her family at Casa. Whenever it was 5 pm she went upstairs, and you – for sure – weren’t allowed to knock on her door in the middle of the night.”
When it comes to electrifying love stories, Smit doesn’t have such a vivid Casa history. He got to know his wife at middle school and when the time was right he moved in with her at one of the four so-called ‘married rooms’. “Just perfect, you had your own kitchen and because of its interior division, it couldn’t be rented out in the summers. You actually didn’t even need to be married. Next to us lived two sisters.” It was time for Smit and his wife to move out and leave Casa when Casa decided to rebuild these living places in 1994.
” The people I’ve met in those days have truly become friends for life.”
Although not experienced himself, Smit has seen lots of loves blossoming and perish. “Obviously, it isn’t that surprising. Whenever you both lived on the same floor, it wasn’t unusual to end up in the ‘wrong’ room (smiling). For me and my wife it actually was very pleasant to live at Casa. Whenever we were a bit bored of each other we could hop into the shared kitchen.” Smit still has contact with his Casa-friends. “We meet up every now and then. The people I’ve met in those days have truly become friends for life.” Whether his two kids – teens at the moment – will opt for a room at Casa is unsure. “I actually can’t bear the thought of them leaving the house, and my wife even less! But my kids have been around Casa since they were little kids, so they feel home already.”
Blow off some steam
As board member and former resident, Smit has witnessed Casa’s transformation. “The ‘organized chaos’ in the beginning was lots of fun, but it was definitely inspiring to experience the developments of Casa and the professionality that grew along the way. Thanks to Hans Vugts who had the lead at that time. Besides all the fun parts, Smit has learned a lot during the course of years at Casa, things he still benefits from. “Whether it applies to students or the hotel: there are a lot of things I’m confronted with in my current job, that remind me of similar situations at Casa. To conclude, Casa has played an important role in my life.”
Though, there is one thing Smit wished it didn’t change. Nowadays students have become much more individual. “I experience the same thing at the hotel school, where students live on the campus for their first year of studies. They’re very serious students and pay less attention to the fun part and building up relationships.” Although: after ending our conversation we pass by the café, where a large group of students has their social gathering. “The exam week has just ended; they need to blow off some steam.” Maybe it hasn’t changed that much after all in those 30 years.