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A lesson in standing up for oneself

Every year as Easter gets closer, I think of all the educators preparing to take a group of students on a travel experience during Easter break and I marvel at their courage. Shepherding a group of teenagers around a foreign country is not an easy task. I know this from first-hand experience.

But as daunting as trips of this nature can be, they also provide some lasting and priceless memories in the most unexpected situations. I vividly recall my first foray to Europe with students in tow. We had just arrived in the busy metropolis of London. Our tour guide (who turned out to be rather a pompous jerk) left us high and dry in the middle of one of the largest cities in the world while he attended to tour-guide business. (Or so he claimed.)

There we were, abandoned, wandering aimlessly about, trying to get our bearings. (And folks, this was before Google maps.) The good news was that everyone spoke English, or some version of it. After a couple of hours of visiting the shops, we made our way to Trafalgar Square to meet our guide and the tour bus. We made certain to arrive early because we had been warned about the dire consequences of being late.

Well, close to two hours later we were still waiting and I was not happy. (Apparently being on time did not apply to the tour guide or bus driver.) There are only so many times one can marvel over the gathering pigeons, watch the performing buskers, take group photos, and admire the statue of Lord Nelson standing guard over the square. As the minutes ticked by, I was getting more and more upset which might explain how I handled a situation which arose.

A few of the girls decided to pass the time by having their portraits done by one of the many street artists who ply their trade in this busy, touristy area. I watched with interest as the drawings took shape.

Now, I’m no art critic but one of the portraits didn’t seem to bear any resemblance to my student. (Who had just doled out a considerable sum to have it done.) After a few more minutes it was quite apparent that the sample portraits on display were not the work of this particular artist. I planted myself close by to see how this might play out.

When the artist was done and handed the drawing to my student (I’ll call her Kay), I watched her facial expressions to gauge how she felt. It soon became obvious that she was very disappointed with the final result.

This is when I stepped in. When she admitted to me that she did not feel the drawing even vaguely resembled her, I suggested that maybe she should ask for her money back. Kay was hesitant, but relieved when I said I would help her.

So back we went to the artist with our concerns and request. We were met with utter disdain and the artist turned her back on us refusing to even acknowledge our presence.

“Okay,” I thought, “I gave you a chance to make things right, but if that’s how you want to play— game on!”

I unrolled the drawing, held up next to Kay, and proceeded to ask onlookers (rather loudly, I should add) if this was a good rendition of the young lady. Everyone I asked declared it was a poor job. I then pointed out the artist and (again, rather loudly) made sure everyone knew who had done the drawing. One lady even came running across the square when she saw what was going on to tell us how terrible the drawing was.

It didn’t take the artist long to realize that all of this bad publicity was not good for future sales. She quickly got out the money that Kay had paid and returned it to her. Then she grabbed the drawing and ripped it up displaying quite a little temper tantrum while she did so.

Although I wasn’t happy about engaging such tactics to recoup Kay’s money, the incident proved to be a good lesson about standing up for oneself. It was also a good reminder to the artist not to mess with someone who dealt with teenagers on a daily basis.

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