I’m sure you’ve all heard the horror stories – those terrifying accounts of what RAs have to deal with. Although I’ve had plenty of “shake my head” moments, I’m grateful for the opportunity to deal with these sometimes bizarre situations in order to prepare myself for the worst when traveling.
Flexibility is the key word to remember when traveling. My mom drilled that into my head at an early age during fifteen hour car rides to Chicago. When it comes down to it, being flexible is all about the mindset. Sure, you can let nasty food ruin your day or you can laugh it off and say well that’s the last time I’m eating pig ear. It’s happened people.
As an RA, flexibility is the name of the game. I planned an elaborate program for my entire building talking about consuming alcohol safely and learning about that in a fun way – with beer goggles. What’s more fun than watching your friends trip and fall over because they have these incredibly foggy goggles on? I expected not a lot of residents to show up despite my flyers advertising FREE BEER goggles (I thought it was pretty clever). What I didn’t expect was for the speaker (a college employee) to not show up! Not only did she not show up, but without her there were no beer goggles.. So there I was with 15 eager to learn and watch their friends fall over residents and no beer goggles. Instead of letting it ruin the whole event I improvised. Another RA and I shared our “horror” stories where we had seen students be obviously way too drunk. It was a little exaggerated to get the point across, but it worked. Everyone listened and laughed, and it just worked. Guess I didn’t need the beer goggles or the speaker anyway…
That’s what traveling is about – improvising. You miss the last bus out of Madrid? Make it work! Traveling with the know-how that things may not always go as planned has allowed me to be so much more calm while abroad. Instead of standing there pouting, I think of solutions.
On the scale to passive to aggressive, I’m like aggressive (X2). When someone is in my way I will say, “excuse me.” I’m not one to just stand there waiting for the other person to move or just passively-aggressively cough to get the other person’s attention without directly asking them to move. That’s not me, and I think that’s partly because of my experience as an RA (also because of my mom who taught me to always say how I feel), which has become a vital personality trait to have while traveling. I’m not going to just accept that there’s no towels even though on your hotel’s website you said there would be free towels. I will fight you tooth and nail for those towels. All of this is not because I’m “high-maintenance” or even “bitchy” because I’m not. Some people confuse correcting an error as being a bitch. Nope, it’s not. If I notice injustice or promises not being kept I will mention something. This goes to a much larger broader sphere too with the whole “excuse me” point. I may be blunt with my actions, but at least you know how I’m feeling. Right now I’m sure you’re all realizing that I have a very strong inner-feminist that literally comes out quite frequently.
Continuing this idea to my job as an RA, I have to be firm with my actions sometimes. Notice how I say sometimes – I also don’t want my residents to hate my guts so it’s a balance. With my residents I have to make sure they know I mean business. For example I had one resident who got locked out at 4am – why? I don’t know and I don’t want to know. But instead of calling the RA on duty or Public Safety she proceeded to call me. I, as per the norm, was asleep and angrily woke up to her phone call. Being the awesome RA that I am, I got out of bed and let her in the front door. The next day I called her to talk to her that it is completely 100% NOT ok to call me at 4am and gave her the numbers (which she should have already had) to call in the future. I hold my ground and speak up for myself in this same kind of way while traveling, but being an RA gave me the confidence to do so.
As there are some strange incidents that happen sometimes while on duty, being an RA has further taught me that while traveling things may get messy. Cleaning up puke isn’t that big of a deal anymore, nor is seeing it happen. Life gets messy and you just have to deal with it. Third-world countries, for example, don’t have the best sewage or trash collecting systems. It’s mostly a group of ladies sweeping the streets every morning before everyone wakes up. That means increased rodents, at least visible ones, stray animals, smelly streets, and piles of trash randomly on a street corner. While living in Zanzibar there weren’t even any plastic bags; that makes it pretty difficult to keep trash under control if you ask me.
Lastly being an RA has taught me that it’s ok to be alone. As an RA I get my own room so no roommate, which was an adjustment because I’m a talker. I really enjoyed always having someone to talk to. This year though I’ve really been able to be comfortable being alone and it’s helped me to be ready for more solo-traveling experiences.
Being an RA wasn’t the only thing that helped me to be more calm and flexible while traveling, but it certainly didn’t hurt. All the strange things I’ve seen as an RA are pretty common for college students in general, but being given the authority to actually deal with some situations has helped to build my confidence to deal with things even off duty and off campus. I love being an RA and I honestly got so lucky with my hall this year – my residents rock! The value that this job has provided me with exceeds just job experience and dealing with people, it has helped me pursue my passion – travel.
FYI… RA = Resident Assistant (by wikipedia’s definition – a trained peer leader who supervises those living in a residence hall