IN MANY WAYS, the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine is sitting on top of the world: It is currently ranked the number-one school from which to earn a degree in acupuncture (according to thebestschools.org), it celebrates its landmark 30th anniversary this week, and as of last year it moved into a primo location at the corner of NW 1st and Couch, a historic warehouse building that's been transformed into a tranquil network of offices and classrooms—especially tranquil when you consider how many of the classrooms contain massage tables.
The first thing you'll notice when you step inside the building ("campus" would not be accurate here, although one might consider the modern deck, with its stunning waterfront view, akin to a student commons area) is its décor. Immediately ahead of you at the main entrance are double doors flanked by a pair of nearly life-size antique Chinese acupuncture models—so cool! Throughout the building hang beautiful scrolls and tapestries, along with the occasional oriental chest and vase.
Before you throw your PSU application into the can to follow the Chinoiserie, though, don't let the word "college" fool you; OCOM is a graduate school, albeit not as strict in its admissions as some. While it's highly recommended that you complete four years of undergraduate study before applying to their master's program (they also offer a doctoral track), technically they only require three, but those had best include at least one class in general biology, chemistry, and psychology. The students I spoke with had come to OCOM from indirectly related fields—one had a background in classical studies, while another was educated in comparative religious studies.
Because it's a post-graduate environment, there isn't as much of a focus on "student life," and the students represent a large swath of age groups and lifestyles. Nonetheless, the school does host social activities that run the gamut from lectures to a "No Talent Show," where students perform and bring food, potluck style. For the most part, though, socializing is student driven, and it's common for people to invite their entire class to meet somewhere for happy hour (by virtue of proximity, places like Shanghai Tunnel and Valentine's are popular hangs, as well as the less-boozy confines of Floyd's Coffee, which is just across the MAX tracks).
The image of massage therapists and acupuncturists in training may not scream "party" in the traditional collegiate sense, but everyone I asked assured me that the less-healthy spectrum of elixirs are available at most of these functions, although it "depends on the party." Besides, everyone's an adult here. "I don't even notice who's having tea or who's having a drink," one student told me. "And I don't know that alcohol is unhealthy. Everything in moderation, right?"
Part of the reason the students are so close-knit, perhaps, is that they learn from each other's bodies. At OCOM, going to class differs somewhat from your typical scholastic session in that the odds are good your study buddy is going to knead on that kink in your neck or stab your headache with a needle—not a bad way to learn!
Perhaps the greatest highlight of the school, however, is its huge medicinary of herbal cures (the largest of its kind in the Northwest), featuring rows of jars filled with anticipated things like ginseng and clove as well as less pedestrian ingredients like Arecae Semen, used to expel parasites (get your mind out of the gutter, it's a nut), and dried centipede—they calm the liver and "extinguish wind." Who knew?
Perhaps the best thing about OCOM is that you don't have to enroll to be a part of it (if you do, depending on your track, annual tuition starts at $14,000, with financial aid packages that include loans, work study, and scholarships). The pharmacy is open to the public, and a floor of the building is designated its clinic, where you can obtain such smoking-deal health care services as a 90-minute acupuncture session for $25 ($10 for 50 minutes if you opt for a group setting).
Whether as student or client, OCOM appears to be a friendly, and—yes—healthy environment, as one might expect from an occupation that seeks to reconcile issues of body, mind, and spirit.