At the end of my junior year at Lehigh, I decided to stay in Bethlehem for the summer. Instead of going home or traveling, I got a local internship and stayed close to campus.
The internship was only a part-time opportunity, which I thought would give me more time to enjoy my summer. But when May rolled around, an email from Lehigh’s admissions department landed in my inbox. They were looking for summer tour guides, and I was intrigued.
I applied on a whim thinking it might be a good use of my extra time, and I was accepted not long after.
When I told my friends and family that I would be giving tours of Lehigh to prospective students, everyone looked at me as if I had two heads.
“You? A tour guide?” they asked me. “Are you sure?”
Those who know me know that tour guiding is probably the last thing I would ever voluntarily do. But for those who don’t, let me paint the picture.
Let’s just say I’m not the bubbliest of people.
I can be moody, quiet, cold, cynical, blunt, blasé — the list goes on. I hate public speaking, I hate speaking in general and I honestly just hate a lot of things.
I’m rarely enthusiastic about anything. And when I am excited about something, it’s hard to tell because any indication is masked by my signature sarcastic monotone.
Not to mention the fact that I’m embarrassingly unathletic. Given that I can barely walk five steps to class without gasping for breath, navigating Lehigh’s hills while talking in front of an audience and simultaneously walking backwards seemed like my worst nightmare.
As I’m sure you can see, these qualities don’t exactly exemplify someone who should be Lehigh’s spokesperson. A college tour guide is supposed to be upbeat, positive, talkative and engaging, and being in shape is definitely a plus.
But while my choice was met with warranted skepticism, I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and try something new. I knew this opportunity would keep me busy over the summer, and I hate backing down from a challenge.
As a former camp counselor, I’ve learned how to “fake it ‘til you make it.” Even if I didn’t feel particularly enthusiastic, I knew I could put on a good performance.
So when summer started, I dusted off my previously unworn running sneakers, put on a Lehigh t-shirt, plastered a smile on my face and marched myself up to the Alumni Memorial Building four times a week.
Within a few days, I realized that being a tour guide wasn’t so hard. Aside from my prior Lehigh knowledge, all I had to do was memorize some names, dates and facts. I learned when to crack scripted jokes, when to insert rehearsed anecdotes, when to pause for questions and how to answer them.
I channeled my camp counselor persona and did what was required of me. But that was all it was — a persona. I was playing a role, but I wasn’t really being myself.
I thought I needed to act how a tour guide was supposed to act in order to succeed in the role. But as it turns out, prospective students and their families don’t want a persona.
They want the truth.
For the most part, those touring couldn’t have cared less about the student to faculty ratio or the year Linderman was built. What they really wanted to know about was me.
What was my favorite class? How did I find my freshman year roommate? What was the best moment of my Lehigh experience? What was my social life like? Did I like my major?
Once I realized what they actually wanted to know, I stopped going through the motions and started sharing more about myself. I was honest and focused more on my day-to-day life, my academic experiences, my social life, my friends, my professors and what Lehigh means to me.
And I found that everyone really cared about what I had to say. Prospective students looked up to me, and parents valued my opinions. Families even came up to me after their tours to tell me how well-spoken and engaging I was.
Throughout this experience, I tapped into parts of myself that are different from my usual demeanor, parts I should probably use more often. Once I started opening up and being genuine, it was surprisingly easy to be enthusiastic, to smile and to be positive.
It’s on this campus that I have amazing friends, great professors and rewarding opportunities. So when I think about and talk about the things that matter to me, it isn’t so hard to show it.
No, I’m not a tour guide anymore. But every time I walk through campus, I’m reminded of all the random, seemingly useless facts I now know about our university — like that we have over 2,500 stairs — and how easy it is to be excited about a place like this.