As August ends, Swarthmore again awakens from summer’s relative calm to the surging crowd of returning and new students and the routine bustle and noise of college life. Next year, as summer begins, most students will again leave, and the campus will return to a state of partial hibernation. Yet even as the college passes through these cycles year after year, some things remain virtually unchanged. Students come and go, seasons evolve, classes end and grades are delivered, but the tour-guiding program trudges on — responsible, ultimately, for presenting the campus to the endless stream of prospective students eager to see the campus and learn about its quirks and charms. Every summer, waves of newly released high-schoolers anxiously immersed in the college process sweep the nation in search of a college right for them. The Phoenix’s Axel Kodat interviewed summer tour guides Steven Gu ’15 and Aileen Eisenberg ’15 about some distinctive aspects of the experience.
What aspects of the college tend to upset parents the most?
AE: There are some concerns that constantly resurface, such as a lack of air conditioning in the dorms and gender neutral bathrooms (that’s a huge one). I think that, most often, families are overwhelmed by the amount of information that is being thrown at them, so they remain relatively quiet.
SG: There are a few fans [of general neutral bathrooms] here and there each week, but a majority of parents (mostly parents) disapprove and find it odd.
What difficulties do you often face as a tour guide?
SG: Dealing with parents or students who are not interested at all throughout the tour and parent’s judge-y looks when talking about certain aspects of campus (such as gender-neutral bathrooms).
AE: I’ve had parental tantrums, but only a few of them, and mostly in regard to gender neutral bathrooms or pass/fail first semester… Sometimes it can be frustrating when we try to represent and talk about the school, and feel “rejected” by families, but, then again, this is their process, their college search. I try not to get discouraged by a seemingly apathetic/distant group, and keep on with the tour as if they were extremely engaged.
What are some of the worst or most embarrassing experiences you’ve had on your tours?
AE: I’ve definitely fallen on tours, and sometimes I’m speaking so much that I burp a little and have to catch my breath (slightly embarrassing, but always really funny to me).
SG: The worst experience I’ve had with a tour was when a mother on a tour was trying to guess my ethnicity on a tour when I mentioned that I will be taking Japanese next semester and then stopped my tour to ask my ethnicity to prove her daughter wrong in their guessing game. The daughter looked so embarrassed.
AE: Once when I was discussing security of our campus and the lack of blue-light boxes, a parent defended me in front of the group talking about how he had never heard of a blue-light box saving anyone’s life. And my most recent tour featured a mother that joked with me about my hand (which is bandaged for a burn), and told the group to straighten out, or else I’d harm my other hand doing it for them.
SG: I think the best/funniest tour experience I had was giving a tour to a group of Korean students from Seoul and how they were just a great group of students to give a tour to, but also how they really loved the big chair. We hung around the big chair for about 15 minutes of the tour.
What questions do you get most often?
SG: Whether or not the college feels too small and whether or not we have AC in the dorms.
AE: Parents love to ask where else I applied — but I avoid naming names and try for a general, diplomatic response.
What are some of the strangest or most amusing questions you’ve been asked?
SG: I think my favorite odd question I’ve received on tours is whether or not you can open windows in the dorms. That question and whether the college supplies toilet paper or students have to supply that themselves are probably the two most amusing questions I receive on a consistent basis.
AE: “Can you open the windows in the dorm rooms?” “Does the Quaker matchbox exist, and are you in a relationship that is on its way to the matchbox?” I’ve also been asked how old I am several times (as in the adults thought I was 12 or 15…).
Finally, what has been your favorite part of the tour-guiding experience?
SG: My favorite part is meeting students who are really interested in the college. I think it’s really awesome seeing some students’ faces light up on the tour or get excited by something you’re mentioning about the college.
AE: I really enjoy talking about the school and explaining why, for me, it is a good place to go to college. Having to articulate why different aspects of our campus are enticing or important has made me appreciate the school more. It’s nice to see the various types of students that are considering Swarthmore, but more than that, I really do enjoy giving a tour in which I feel that I have successfully represented the college, both in regards to my experience here, and that which I have gathered from others.