Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Picking Up the Noodle, Part I

Last Monday, 8/15, I started RA training. Resident Assistants, for those who don't know, are students living in the dorms who act as mentors, cops, babysitters, tour guides, cruise directors, interior decorators, drill sergeants, older siblings, coaches, teachers, medics, therapists, matchmakers, and last but not least, sex-ed instructors.

RA training has included at least 30 minutes, often hours, of lectures from professionals in many different fields. This is good: the University of Wyoming recognizes the significant role RA's play in the lives of residents. It could certainly be worse, and the skeptic in me thinks it would be worse, except that UW also recognizes that they're perpetually one poorly trained staff member away from a lawsuit.

So we've had lots of training, often over 14 hours a day when decorating is taken into account. Some of it's been painfully boring; mostly it's been important and I'll be a better RA for it.

The highlight so far was definitely Saturday, when each staff did its own "teambuilding" exercise. Now, when I hear words like "teambuilding," I think of cheery camp counselors forcing people to do trustfalls (yes, you do know what a trustfall is. It's where one person falls backwards into a group of "friends" who've clasped hands to catch them). I hate trustfalls. Trustfalls are for church camps and kids with no self-esteem. Trustfalls are for sissies.

And when I learned what Orr Hall would be doing for its teambuilding, trustfalls sounded like a really great alternative.

The White Hall staff went to a water park in Denver. The poor suckers in Hill and Crane Halls got to – yippee! – go to Washington Park here in Laramie for a picnic. Not sure what Downey Hall did.

Orr Hall? Yeah, we went to a high ropes course in Ft. Collins.

For the unfamiliar, a high ropes course looks roughly like a very high, very treacherous jungle gym. Some genius decided it would be a great idea to poke a couple of telephone poles into the ground, wrap some twine around each pole 30 feet up, and then – ha! – have people balance on the twine. Or on a log. Or better yet... a rope bridge!

We didn't even start the high stuff until after two hours of ground-based teambuilding stuff. Some of it was hokey; some of it was truly impressive: at one point we had to scale a 10 ft. wall using only each other.

One of the exercises involved each of us standing a 3 ft. styrofoam noodle on its end, and standing in a circle facing the same way. Keeping the thing balanced with only our index finger, we'd count to three, take a step forward, and try to catch the next noodle with only our index finger before it fell over. So you'd have to ensure you let go of your noodle in a responsible manner but also make sure you caught the next person's noodle. We started in a tight circle and eventually got to the point where we had to take huge steps to make the catch. Obviously, we didn't always catch it.

After each exercise we'd talk about what we'd learned. I was astonished, and you would be too, at the depth and breadth of insight a group of people can gleam from a styrofoam noodle. Deb, the course instructor, asked us what we learned and someone said, "Sometimes you're going to drop your noodle, but life goes on once you pick it up."

Standing there with my peers somewhere on the CSU campus, nothing had ever made more sense.

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