When I looked into the University of Oregon, tour guides and relatives alike raved about how “cool” Eugene was. It’s a hippie town in a hippie state. It’s primely seated in a river valley, less than a few hours from both the Pacific Ocean and the Cascades. Last spring, I took a trip to Terwilliger Hot Springs. There, a naked woman in a peace sign painted van gave me a corset to wear and told me it would make all my dreams come true. Sadly, she was wrong. The question of what there is to actually do in Eugene still keeps me up at night.
Quick Google searches prompt TripAdvisor-esque results and top ten lists that all inevitably mention the same Saturday Market, parks and museums. These tourist destinations, though, are meant for visitors. For first-year students, Eugene’s online presence offers stepping stones that lead to nowhere.
College students often have only four years to find a sense of community. This is no easy task, and the lack of resources connecting UO students with upperclassmen, alumni and locals further complicates this journey. Freshmen students may quickly acquaint themselves with The Dough Co. calzones and Insomnia Cookies, but unearthing Eugene’s more hidden gems takes time, motivation and money.
I feel odd complaining about this issue when the solution seems so easy: explore. Go outside, find places that interest you and see for yourself what they have to offer. This is possible, of course, but I didn’t realize when I applied to pay for an overpriced four years of university that I was also signing up for the Lewis and Clark expedition. If I sound lazy and bitter, it is because I am, a bit. But I’m also a full-time college student and one of many who works, retains somewhat of a social life and spends any ounce of free time sleeping and eating like a zoo animal. (Speaking of, while Eugene does not have a zoo, there are several dog parks and even a bird sanctuary.)
Eugene is a beautiful place, and it has become a home for generations of students who grow to feel kindred to its trees and rain and deliciously cheap sushi. (I love you, 541 Sushi Bar.) And there is something special about seeking affinities in a new place. What begins as a wondrous spark of spontaneity becomes routine; a mix of belonging, fondness and even possessiveness may stir in your heart every time you walk into your favorite coffee shop. It may have taken a lot of iced lattes to find it, but you’ll miss it when you leave town. Nothing else will ever taste quite the same.
But most of us will only live here for a short four years. By the time we’ve discovered our favorite spots to scavenge for reading material or recover from a Saturday night out with Sunday mimosas, it will be time to leave. I find this a bit sad.
UO students need more resources to help them quickly connect with the city of Eugene. On the University of Oregon’s own Explore Eugene page, there is but one featured video and 15% of it is students suggesting a walk along the Willamette to watch ducks. Is that all we have to offer here? I know there must be more to Eugene than ducks. But, without a guide, students may graduate before they figure out what.
There are resources out there, but they can be difficult to find and sift through. Be it Yelp, Facebook or perhaps something more personal and navigable, UO should endorse a single online platform that directly connects students to the Eugene community. This platform would allow users to share their favorite food, entertainment and shopping venues, and in turn comment or vote on others’ posts. The University of Oregon should prioritize students’ need to build a life in Eugene and make more of an effort to connect the student body with the town.
In the meantime, for students like me who still find themselves wondering and wandering about Eugene, there does exist a place that seeks to raise the gate keeping students from experiencing everything that Eugene has to offer. The Daily Emerald often shares some of Eugene’s best kept secrets. For my fellow writers and students, I encourage you to continue guiding one another through this city we all too fleetingly call home.