Letters from the dorm: The 'Greek life' tradition, and how to approach being an international student in a frat or sorority

Joyee Au Yeung

Joining one of these social organisations may seem daunting at first, but they can be a source of great friendships

Joyee Au Yeung |

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Greek life provides students with a “forever home”.

The Greek life is about as American as you get.

It means joining a fraternity or a sorority, social organisations at universities across the country. These groups aren’t as highly regarded elsewhere, or aren’t seen as important, anyway. Joining a Greek life association seems simple enough –

you pick one with a branch on campus and, if it accepts members of your gender, you “rush” the organisation by attending events and meeting those that are already in.

It’s not just about whether you like them, though – they get to decide whether you are a good fit or not, too. If they do, you are invited to pledge. This is when you spend time with the organisation and you are accepted to the brother- or sisterhood after this process.

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Navigating Greek life was incredibly difficult for me, since I had never heard of sororities or fraternities before arriving on campus. What organisation you are in determines your social status. The assumption seemed to be that if you were rich and white, you were a part of an elite organisation. Almost one-third of the undergraduate population at the University of Pennsylvania is part of the Greek life. There was, therefore, pressure to join. I considered rushing a sorority, but I felt like an outcast when I saw all these blond, white girls in their heels and designer gear. Cultural sororities, although they allow people to remain in touch with their cultures, weren’t ideal, either. I already felt like I was trapped in an “Asian bubble”, and I didn’t want to sink myself further into it.

In the end, I joined a co-educational service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega (APO), and I became a part of the Alpha class for Phi Chi Theta (Phi Chi), a coed business fraternity.

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APO is filled with people who give back to the community, and it is a kind and welcoming space. Being a part of Phi Chi has given me the chance to help bring about real change, too. We founded a chapter at Penn, I have helped host the rushing and pledging processes, and I have been able to mould Phi Chi into the home I’ve always wanted.

The greatest thing about Greek life is that these people are the ones you have chosen to be your brothers/sisters. They chose you in turn. You are family for life.

Sure, Greek life has its downsides – we’ve all heard the stories of hazing gone wrong, and problems with organisations being too exclusive but, after two years, I believe it has its merits. Greek life gives students a “forever home” and a family that is created by choice. The people in these organisations tend to be closer to each other than other groups on campus, too. They help give students, who may be studying overseas, a feeling of kinship and support that they might be missing when they’re so far from home.

Edited by Ginny Wong