The first time I ever set foot on the University of Waterloo’s campus was last July, when I attended Student Life 101.Thanks to campus tours, informational seminars, and ASK-ME booths with current students, the day long event gave me a snapshot of what my life was going to be like for the next four years.
Every student who volunteered that day was wearing a yellow T-shirt. I couldn’t help staring. Not at the shirts. At them.
They were university students. Upper year university students. When my parents and I pulled into the parking lot, I saw some Yellow Shirts handing out maps and talking to other high school kids and their families. They’re a completely different species in the student genus. I was a post high school student. And yes, I was completely intimidated by them. I remember wondering how to approach and talk to them. As peers? As wise university mentors?
This year I changed species. I got my own yellow shirt.
I knew I was going to like my placement for the day. Not the garbage bin moving part. I had an out-of-body experience during those two very long hours. My team got to be in the parking lot when the new students first arrived. I was thrilled. I got to be part of the group that first welcomed them to Waterloo.
I’m not really one of those spontaneous people who like greeting strangers. I freeze and sound like a goat trying to talk. But this was different. I really care about my school and I wanted to show them what a great home Waterloo can be. I was happy and proud to greet these new students.
Until I had an internal nervous breakdown and got performance anxiety. I had no idea what I was going to say to these new kids.
“Uh, hi. Um, Welcome?”
I tried to think of warm and engaging sentences of welcome that I could bestow upon these new students. But every great idea went goat. I was still chanting sentences in my head when I heard someone say, “Come on Andy.” I turned and was facing a new student and his parents.
I took the scene in. The parents were staring at South Campus Hall, a huge building on the hill behind me, looking a little afraid. ‘Andy’ was four feet behind and to the right of them, looking at the ground, then at the sky, anywhere but at us Yellow Shirts. I was standing in front of them with a map of the campus in one hand, and a name tag on my shirt with “Hi, I’m Jenny” stamped on it.
I was frozen. Then I made eye contact with Andy and lost any chance of passing them off to someone else. I resigned myself to knowing that I was going to sound like an idiot.
I think I smiled, maybe too much, because he looked kind of scared of me.
“HI! Uh, hi. You’re in Parking Lot A. Yeah. Oh, here’s a map of the campus. If you follow the red line, on the map there, you’ll get to the Student Life Center for the opening presentation. Um, have fun?!”
As Andy and his parents walked away, I barely had enough time to agonizingly re-live my terrible greeting 1000 times when someone tapped my shoulder.
“I’m sorry, where is the Bookstore?”
After I took the map from the lost student and turned it the right side up, I told them to cross the street, go up the steps, and take the first door on the right.
“Oh! Oh, okay, thanks!”
I think it was 40 minutes later, when I had to go refill my stack of maps, that I realized what I was doing. Maybe it’s part of my first born bossy complex. Or maybe our Yellow Shirts made us more extroverted. But by the end of the day, I was actually comfortable walking up to a complete stranger and saying “Hi, can I help you find anything?”
And I was pretty sure I was enjoying it.