A Basic Guide to Greek Life for International Students

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Greek life – fraternities and sororities – may not be an integral part of every university in the United States, but it is definitely a uniquely American concept and institution. Fraternities and sororities, which make up Greek life, probably seem very foreign to international students – and some domestic students. Before you decide against it too quickly or jump into it and end up regretting it, you should at least know the basics.

The history of Greek life in the U.S. began in the 1820s with the main purpose to provide students with a social and professional network. Some say that Hollywood has distorted and exaggerated the partying and drinking aspect of the Greek system, so it can be a challenge to overcome the stereotypes that American media portray and that international students are probably already familiar with. However, since students join fraternities and sororities to expand their network, it can be particularly appealing to international students who don’t have existing American connections. To start off, here are a few basic notes about Greek life:

  • Not all colleges and universities have Greek life, and at those that do, the environment and popularity varies greatly.
  • Members are referred to as “brothers” and “sisters” for fraternities and sororities, respectively.
  • The Greek system is named as such because they use Greek letters in their name.
  • Each chapter at the school is tied to their respective national chapter.
  • “Rushing” is the time when you explore the different chapters at your school. It occurs at the beginning of the fall semester and sometimes spring. Current members, and sometimes alumni, choose who they want to join by placing “bids”. Those who accept their bids become “pledges” and then members if they survive the initiation/pledge period.

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There may be similar organizations in your home country or where you attended high school/secondary school, although outside of the U.S. these groups are centered around academics or extracurricular interests rather than being explicitly social, which is why some international students feel somewhat odd about the whole Greek life process. However, there are also business and professional fraternities, which are usually only open to business majors and focus primarily on career building, networking, and professional development. These are co-ed (comprised of both men and women), and there’s still a social aspect but not as much as a social Greek organization. You can be a member of both a business and social fraternity.

There are several other considerations for both the student and their family, such as cost, exclusivity, and commitment. Although Greek life provides students with instant connections and friendships, it can be hard to break out of this circle. The fraternity or sorority can quickly become a student’s whole life, so he or she should be conscious about exploring opportunities and friendships outside of Greek life. This can be made more difficult by the huge time commitment required. Of course, it varies from campus to campus, and it also depends on how involved you want to be.

If you sign up for Greek life, the assumption is usually that you’re prepared to be an active, involved member. There are social events, charity work and volunteering, fundraising events, chapter meetings, and sometimes minimum academic standards. But hey, if joining isn’t your thing, you can still attend their open events!

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