I’ve been a backward-walking, fun-fact shouting University of Minnesota tour guide for the past two and a half years. Rain, snow or shine, you can find me leading packs of prospective students and their parents around campus like a maroon-and-gold Pied Piper.
It’s just as glamorous as you’d imagine.
I’ve fallen twice on the ice. I gave back-to-back tours in the 90-degree heat last summer (sometimes as many as three per day).
The strangest, most specific questions always come from parents.
“Why are there so many blondes?”
“If my daughter got a 30 on the ACT and she has a 3.7 GPA and she’s captain of the volleyball team, will she be admitted?”
And my favorite, from a dad who wanted to one-up me on my corny puns: “Which building on campus has the most stories? I’ll just tell you. The library!”
I’ve also watched eyes widen as high school juniors spy the Minneapolis skyline across the Mississippi. And I’ve watched them smile as I explain how to see five concerts in one month for less than $50.
I’m there when people fall in love with the place, a campus that became my home and the best thing that ever happened to me.
In a way, tours are my way of giving back to the university that changed me for the better.
Finding my way
I started giving tours for the same reason every college freshman does anything: I was desperate to meet more people.
My community adviser (the U’s version of an RA) worked as a tour guide for a student group. It sounded like so much fun that a group of eight students from my residence hall decided to apply, all at once. Most of us got in.
Honestly, I was terrified to start my new job. I was a relatively shy, soft-spoken freshman from northern Wisconsin. I worried I’d have nothing to say. I worried I’d get lost on the enormous campus I knew and loved.
But, as with everything in college, the best way was to dive right in. I trekked through the training process and was ready for my first tour in less than a month.
“Welcome to the U, everyone! My name is Maddi Bloomquist. I’m a freshman from northern Wisconsin — you’ve never heard of my hometown — and I’m studying journalism with a sociology minor.”
It was February 2014 and I was introducing myself to a semicircle of high school juniors and seniors flanked by nervous parents. None of them knew this was my first tour. They probably thought I was a pro, that I knew the route like the back of my hand.
In reality, I was still learning how to walk backward without tripping over my shoes.
My voice shook a little in the beginning, but my confidence grew as the 90-minute tour progressed. Believe it or not, I even knew what I was talking about. I told them all about the writing center, about bowling in the student union, about how my best friend on campus was my randomly assigned roommate.
I’m not sure I changed anyone’s life that day, but at least they listened and took me seriously.
Until I led them to the wrong residence hall.
It wasn’t my best moment. I apologized to the group and confessed it was my first tour. It was even one of my first visits to the U’s so-called Superblock, a cluster of four residence halls that looked very much alike in the eyes of a newbie. Thankfully, everyone laughed it off and smiled. Realizing it couldn’t get any worse, I finished off the tour with a dollop of self-deprecating humor.
A few weeks later I felt like a pro. I started sticking to a standard 2-mile route and never got lost again. Eventually I landed a year-round job as a tour guide for the Office of Admissions. Now I teach other students how to give campus tours without getting lost.
Soon I’ll be one of the few seniors in our office. In another year, I’ll be passing the baton to a fresh batch of tour guides.
And I already know I’m going to miss it.
Madison Bloomquist is a junior at the University of Minnesota and a features intern for the Star Tribune. Find her articles and tour guide stories on Twitter: @mbloomquist13.
ABOUT 10,000 Takes: 10,000 Takes is a new digital section featuring first-person essays about life in the North Star State. We publish narratives about love, family, work, community and culture in Minnesota.