Feature: For students, a weekend of new experiences

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Steve Williston, right, and another RCC student admire the sand and stone garden at Portland's Japanese Gardens

By Michael Shultz

Byline Staff

The world is grayish-blue as several students gather anxiously around the B building at Rogue Community College.

It’s 6 a.m. on a Friday morning, and they’re minutes away from what many have been looking forward to for over eight months.

Bags are packed and ignitions are running; the group is ready to go. With a 27-page packet of directions, background information and a list of the cheapest places to get gas along I-5, the five-hour drive to Portland begins.

The students have just embarked on the Portland Cultural Weekend Field Trip, an event students of Dr. Wolfgang Runzi’s HUM 103: Introduction to Humanities III class look forward to every Spring. The three-day trip will be packed full of cultural events, and many students will be exposed to things they had never before experienced.

After some first-hand experience with the art of trying to find parking in Portland, students make their first stop at the Oregon Jewish Museum which features the abstract art of Holocaust survivor Alice Lok Cahana. Even though the museum is just two rooms, Cahana’s art is impacting enough to make the stop worthwhile.

However, Portland’s Velveteria — featuring a collection of paintings on black velvet — inspires a different kind of awe.

Images of Jesus Christ spreading his arms lovingly above a semi-truck, the original Starship Enterprise drifting through space, Richard Nixon, the Three Stooges, reproductions of Playboy nudes — this is not a standard art museum. The Velveteria represents one extreme end of the cultural spectrum offered by the trip.

Students eat dinner, check into their hotel and proceed to the final event planned for the night, the Portland Opera, where they are to be treated to a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto.

The performance is in Italian but the English translation is projected above the stage. The translation is not exact; it often takes an actor a good 45 seconds to say phrases such as “I love you.” However, the emotion the actors put into their performances expresses what the translation leaves out.

Rachel Villa, a student at RCC, later said she had no idea what to expect from the Opera, but that she walked in with an open mind and was blown away.

“It was a spiritual experience,” Villa said.

Villa said she had goose bumps on her arms about three-fourths of the time, and that the need for her to read the translation lessened throughout the performance.

The next morning, after breakfast, students leave for a guided tour of the Portland Art Museum.

The Portland Art Museum is filled with multi-million dollar works of art created by artists whose names alone evoke respect and awe. The art on display speaks of past cultures, religions, and the experiences of mankind throughout the millennium.

For students, three hours at the museum was not enough time before departing for Portland’s Classical Chinese Gardens.

It is peculiar—yet pleasant—to be in such beautiful gardens surrounded by the city.  Portland’s cityscape shoots up above the walls surrounding the gardens. Visitors were invited to remove their shoes when walking through the garden; the thousands of rocks that make up the walkways were placed by hand, one at a time, and are meant to soothe one’s feet.

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Students stand on the walkway in the Chinese Gardens

Once the tour ends, students were free to explore the gardens on their own. One group discovered an interesting and beautiful purple flower hidden under some thick, simple-looking green leaves.  One by one, the students made faces of shock, disgust and occasionally outrage as they take turns smelling the flower, which smells like sewage.

For the most part, however, the Chinese Gardens were pleasant for both sight and smell.

Steve Williston, an RCC student with a particular interest in botany, was very excited by the gardens. He admits to not recognizing several species of plant life—something that is rare for him living in Oregon.

“I was like a kid in a candy store,” Williston later said.

Directly after leaving the Chinese Gardens, students head for Woodland, Wash., where they experience the Lelooska Foundation’s Native American Storytelling, Dance and Mask demonstration.

Before the performance, the group explores a small collection of Native American artifacts. Then, the students crowd into the Lelooksa family’s longhouse and wait for the performance to begin.

The dancers lay out a few rules and a fire is lit in the middle of the room, which remains smoky throughout the night. As Chief “Smitty” Lelooksa tells stories his family dances the traditional dances of their ancestors. Each wears intricately carved masks representing the stories Lelooska tells.

On Sunday morning, students drove to Portland’s Japanese Gardens, the final event in Portland.

The Japanese Gardens are very different from the Chinese Gardens. The 5.5-acre garden is separated from the city—it seems that when you enter the garden you enter a different part of the world.

Here, Williston continued his ecstatic exploration of plant species. The gardens are full of spots where you can sit separated from the rest of the group and meditate. It was an excellent opportunity to reflect on the events of the past two days.

Finally, students visited the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Eugene.

The University of Oregon’s Schnitzer Museum may not be as big as the Portland Art Museum, but it still has much to offer, including a large collection of modern and Asian art, plus a collection of religious art from Russia.

Thomas Craig, a student in Runzi’s class, was happy to have experienced the events with a group rather than alone, since he was exposed to several points of view other than his own.

“It was sure as hell cheaper,” he adds.

The price each student had to pay was $150, plus gas and food expenses. Breakfast was provided by the hotel and RCC provided $13 for dinner each night.

The Portland Cultural Weekend Field Trip is a different experience for everyone. Some students were on the trip for the second time said the experience was completely different this time around.

The trip will be offered again next Spring Term through in Runzi’s class HUM 103 — the third part of the Introduction to Humanities sequence.

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