It’s 9:15 a.m. on a typical Friday morning last year, and my alarm is going off. I roll over, hit snooze, and then rub my eyes. They feel puffy. I was up until 3 a.m. working on a CC paper the night before, and my throat feels like it’s on fire—hopefully it’s not strep this time.
After my 10:10 a.m. French class, I only have a couple hours to keep working on my paper, eat lunch, and snag a seat in Law before running to Low to give a tour. Despite my sore throat, puffy eyes, and impending due date for my paper, it’s another Friday, and I will have to slap on a smile and churn out some classic tour-guide positivity. Whenever I recount this experience to friends, their typical response is to ask me if it’s ever hard to lie about life at Columbia to prospective students.
Giving tours when we’re sick, disillusioned, or have better things to do is one of the hardest parts of being a tour guide. It was my sophomore spring, and I took six classes, worked a job, an internship, and ran publicity for two musicals, but I still showed up and spent my afternoon telling prospies about all the things I was able to still find love for about Columbia.
The general mentality surrounding Columbia tour guides is that we feed prospies lies about a school free of stress culture, where students “have fun” and “find community” and “love the dining halls.” Yes, I have heard tour guides stretch the truth on occasion. You might hear, when passing a tour, that there isn’t much of a mental health problem on this campus, or that they’ve never had trouble finding a seat in Butler. While a new tour guide might not always be 100 percent honest for fear of expressing their own hesitations over the Columbia experience on their first few tours, we are asked to be honest when we give tours at Columbia. So when I was giving tours last semester, sick, drained, exhausted, and not the same happy-go-lucky first-year I had been when I signed up to be a tour guide, it was not always easy to paint an honest and positive portrait.
But the beauty of giving tours is that it offers me an opportunity to remember why I chose Columbia in the first place. Now, as a junior, there are certainly times when I’ve realized that the image I had of Columbia when I applied early decision was not 100 percent accurate. But the fundamental reasons I applied to this school have not changed—I am still passionate about the Core Curriculum. I was able to find a community of friends through extracurricular activities, especially the theater community. I have felt the excitement of living in New York City, and the calm of living on this campus. These three major things that brought me to Columbia—the classes, the clubs, and the campus—are all still things I find myself enjoying almost every single day. And when I talk to my friends at Columbia, I generally find that they feel the same way. Sure, sometimes we bitch and complain about this school, but at the end of the day we would definitely be more miserable anyplace else.
Giving a tour, as hard as it can be when I’ve forgotten those reasons, is a great opportunity to remember. I focus my tours on these three reasons, the three things that brought me to what we affectionately call—for one week during NSOP, and never again—the greatest college at the greatest university in the greatest city in the world. It is far too often that I see people forgetting how great Columbia can be, and how privileged we all are to go here. Yes, tour guides forget this sometimes too, but we are lucky to have an opportunity every week to slow down and remember again. This weekend, hundreds of admitted students will pour onto campus, hoping to find a school that will fulfill their wildest dreams and take them from four bleak years in high school into a new, shiny college experience. As shitty as it may have been on some days, on other days Columbia has lived up to and surpassed those bright-eyed expectations I had myself. For me, giving a tour is my chance to not only share that with prospies, but also a chance to share that with myself again.
The author is a junior in Columbia College majoring in Political Science, with a concentration in English Literature. She is the new member coordinator for the Undergraduate Recruitment Committee and the director of the 124th Annual Varsity Show.
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