Confessions of a Tour Guide

Confessions of a Tour Guide

I am a person of power. I have the power to lay thousands of dollars on the line based on what I say. I have the power to change people’s lives. I am a Colgate tour guide.

So I sound like a PSA. But actually it’s true: As tour guides, we are salesmen. We are selling our school. And with each prospective student, that is a shot at over $200,000. Thus, giving a 30-family tour equals $6,000,000 that could quite possibly be tuition money for our school, and that’s just one day (you’d think they’d be able to give me a pay-raise).

But there are definitely some drawbacks that even the idea of six figures can’t seem to erase.

I hate walking backwards into things like cars – especially when the tour makes no effort to warn me (as if I clearly should have had eyes in the back of my head). I hate when I can’t remember if I said some particular fact already on this tour or the last one… or was it the one this morning? I hate when prospective students think they are so clever when they ask “Why doesn’t Colgate offer thirteen foreign languages/flavors of ice cream/Greek organizations?”

I hate when Colgate students are nearby and are so obliviously loud my tour can’t hear me. And then a noisy Buildings and Grounds truck rumbles past. And then a low-flying jet passes overhead. And then starts the sound of jackhammers working on the Ho. True story.

I hate when I answer a question and a different person asks the exact same question. I hate dealing with the parents who have this particularly dissatisfied look on their face no matter what you say-and the cranky mothers.

One mother: “What is the percentage of women majoring in chemistry and physics?”

Me: “Um, I’m pretty sure we don’t keep track of gender breakdowns between concentrations, but I’m fairly certain it is evenly distributed. In fact, a lot of my friends and roommates last year were interested in majoring in a science – pre-med, biology and geology and stuff with the environment.”

“I asked about chemistry and physics.”

“Well, now that you mention it, women aren’t allowed into our science building.”

(Okay, so I didn’t say that last part, but one of my fellow tour guides suggested I should have.)

And then I hate dealing with the even crankier women.

“Is this Colgate?” one yells at me through her car window. Without waiting for my response she yells, “Do you get a lot of financial aid?”

Her son was so mortified he wouldn’t even look at me the entire conversation.

Don’t get me wrong: I love questions. But there are such things as stupid questions (no matter what your primary school teacher might have said kindly). My favorite tours are long, leisurely tours where the group does ask lots of questions and I am allowed to ramble on and on about every aspect of Colgate as we pass by it.

I love when they laugh at my incredibly lame and overused jokes, even when it is clear I say the same ones on every single tour. I love when prospective students are as inquisitive as the parents (perhaps I am just envious – in my college search I was so hesitant to interact with actual college students I never even went on any campus tours, much less had the guts to ask a question when visiting).

I love when there is a round of applause at the end of a tour and parents will say it’s the best tour they’ve ever had. I love reading the answers to the request of “Use three words to describe your tour guide” on the evaluations as the high school students try to impress us with their varied SAT-practice-infused vocabulary.

I love getting fan mail and emails from prospective students. I love talking to the other guides about their tours. I love hearing their lame jokes and the bizarre questions they get (How Jewish are you? Are you single?).

I love when Colgate students are nearby and shout “Come to Colgate!!”

Tour guiding taught me a lot about our campus that I didn’t even know about such as our performing arts opportunities, our groundbreaking religious group collaboration, interesting fellowships and scholarships, ALANA, the travel agency, the Barbecue Enthusiasts club, the underground tunnels connecting the science buildings, why they don’t salt the sidewalks and all of the most ridiculous 13 facts.

It taught me other things too: how to be resourceful when you don’t know answers, how to very quickly get over the nervousness I have before public speaking, how to be happy and polite even when you don’t feel it inside.

These and the things I mentioned I do love, however, more than make up for the things I hate. But by far the best part of being a tour guide is quite obviously the Chipwiches.