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What You Don't Know About Tour Guides

Toni Gauthier

WALK THIS WAY: Horwith fulfills the tour-guide mission, as described by director of visitor relations John Friesman: "Every happy visitor is a potential Stanford emissary."

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They are often the first Stanford student a visitor ever meets. Tour guides, mostly undergraduates, introduce prospective students, parents and tourists from around the world to the University. Seasoned guide Gus Horwith, '10, began giving tours as a sophomore. The East Hampton, N.Y., native was a classics major, Sierra Camp counselor and former Mendicants singer. Before graduation, he gave STANFORD some insight on what it's like to hold the whole Farm in his hands.

IT SHOULD FEEL LIKE IT'S JUST YOU AND YOUR GUIDE. BUT IT'S SO MUCH MORE. There are some 80 tour guides on campus. In addition to running up to six tours per day, they receive guests at the visitor center, answer phone calls and take people to the top of Hoover Tower. Campus walking tours are for the average tourist; prospective undergraduate tours (PUnTs) are for high schoolers and their families; and group tours cater to middle-school classes or a party of executives or a band of tourists. Most tours are free, and on golf cart tours ($5 per person), riders get to see more of campus. Horwith prefers PUnTs and says he's never done a golf cart tour. "I had an incident where I got [the golf cart] stuck between bollards during training."

WALKING BACKWARD COUNTS AS A WORKOUT. A PUnT requires the tour guide to take some 5,632 steps—most of them in reverse. Horwith always asks his group to alert him to dangers he's not seeing, and he's never had a major mishap.

THERE WILL BE BEER. BUT NOT FOR FIDO. Students tend to ask more fun, general, campus-life questions. Parents sometimes put on the pressure, asking about drinking on campus or grade inflation. Horwith takes care to answer honestly from his own experiences and with his knowledge of campus policies. When he's asked what the worst thing about Stanford is, Horwith says, "I miss my dog; I wish one residence would allow pets."

BECOMING A TOUR GUIDE? IT'S NO CAKEWALK. There is a three-tiered application process for this very popular job. (More than 200 apply each year.) Those who make it are rolled out of bed with the news, then led—backward, natch—from their dorms to a celebration party. Training includes a 232-page manual filled with Farm facts. "Your first tour is absolutely terrifying," Horwith says. "But at the end you tell [the group] it was your first and you get applause."

ENGINEERS WANTED. Stanford wants its tour guides to mirror the diversity found on campus, but the job does tend to self-select more outgoing individuals. Tour-guide coordinators try extra hard to recruit students from various cohorts on campus, such as engineering majors (less likely to be comfortable speaking to groups) and athletes (often too busy for a job). All tour guides, however, are involved in activities in addition to academics and tour guiding.

AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER. In spring, its busiest season, the visitor center sees up to 2,000 people per week, many of them prospective students. But Stanford is a year-round tourist attraction, with guests from all around the world visiting. Guides are constantly filmed or asked to be in photos. One guide traveled to Kyoto, Japan, and was stopped by a man who had been on one of his tours. Horwith likes having that kind of impact. He knew how important campus tours were in his own college-decision process. "I really wanted to be that person for other prospective students."

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