Saturday, April 10, 2010

Tour Groups

Spring hath finally sprung, which means frisbee on Old Campus and Ashley's ice cream and less dry cleaning. It also means re-visit season and swarms of tourists descending on campus to gawk at Gothic architecture and innocent Yalies. I'm not blaming anybody—New Haven is a great town, and Yale campus is gorgeous, especially during the spring—but there's something slightly disconcerting about being stared at while rushing across Beinecke Plaza with an overfull mug of coffee in one hand and a crumpled sheet of Portuguese verb conjugations in the other. "A real-life Yalie," the tourists sometimes seem to think, "in his natural habitat." Perhaps I should wear a Harvard sweatshirt on mornings when my hair looks particularly unkempt?

Honestly, I don't think college visits are particularly useful for prospective students. During my senior year of high school, my parents and I visited three schools during a weeklong overdose of admissions offices, overenthusiastic guides, and glossy pamphlets on topics ranging from ethnic diversity and academic regulations to campus safety. I've heard many friends declare that they discovered a campus felt "just right" for them during a tour, or that they could suddenly picture themselves at ______ for the next four years. This might work for some, and if it results in optimistic, well-adjusted freshman classes, all the better, but I wonder if high schoolers should really base their college decisions on landscaping budgets and architecture and student tour guides and admissions office cookies.

Back to the Beinecke Plaza tourists. In addition to the stressed high school seniors taking careful notes, there are the confused eight-year-olds, who must wonder why their parents are dragging them from building to building, and, naturally, the Asian tourists. Sometimes I try to guess which country a group is from (with a 87.4% accuracy rate).

Once, a nice Chinese family asked me to take their picture, and I obliged, of course. They then asked to take my picture, which required a bit of vigorous gesticulation for me to understand. Actually, I still don't quite understand.