What Are Fraternities Really Like?

This post will try to demystify frats for exchange students going to North America, and hopefully persuade you to get involved.

By Joseph McCabe (University of Toronto, Canada)

The inner workings of fraternities are often left as somewhat of a mystery for exchange students. Their obscurity and emphasis on secrecy means that infamous stereotypes usually surround any conversation about frats and, by extension, the guys that are members/brothers within them. This blog should give you some insight into what they’re actually about and encourage you (if you’re a guy) to join one because it has made my year infinitely better – girls can join sororities, but you will have to ask someone else about them.

I joined a frat this semester in the University of Toronto. Canadian frats tend to be slightly smaller than American ones but most of what I will say can be translated to an American experience too.

A Quick Frat Dictionary

Brother = an initiated member

Pledge = someone officially recognised as trying to become a brother

Keg party = ticketed parties thrown by frats with free beer

Sorority = like a frat for girls

Greek life = collection of all the frats and sororities of the university

Greek row = where most of Greek life is located

Chapter = a version of the fraternity in a specific location (for example TDX Toronto is mine, and TDX Michigan State is another)

Rush = a time for recruitment where frats throw events to find new pledges

What Do We Do?

Firstly, parties. Frats are the centre of social life in North American universities and many American frats don’t let any lads in, other than their own brothers because they’re so big. In Canada lads can pay to go to keg parties but brothers go for free and usually have the profit spent on them by a treasurer of the house – usually in the form of food or cinema tickets. These parties can get pretty wild and are a lot of fun even when covid forces them to be smaller because frats are so well established as places to party. Every weekend non-Greek-life students will wander around Greek row and just follow the sound of music or simply wait outside a frat they want to go to. I remember one night me and some brothers just had some loud music in the front room and opened our front door to see 50 people on our lawn, waiting for us to open up.

However, fraternities are not just about partying. A frat is a support network for its members through a strong friendship and mutual dependence. I can honestly say that my pledge brothers (guys who went through the pledge process with me) are some of my best friends. Whilst I cannot say exactly what happens in the pledge process as it is different for each fraternity, it is all designed to bring you closer to your pledge brothers. I cannot put into so few words what these friendships mean and how close you get with your brothers in such a short period of time is incredible.

Joining has given me so many experiences I could never have had otherwise. A few of them include: spending thanksgiving with a brother’s family; being taught snowboarding for free; having the opportunity to borrow cars (very important in Canada); travelling with free accommodation in other chapters.

There are so many more things that I have been able to do with my frat that I could have never done without them. However, the most important thing it gives you is a group of mates that will support you no matter what you’re going through and that is invaluable when you find yourself on the other side of the planet from your friends and family.

Fraternities are not all the same, so it is worth spending some time in the Rush period to go to a few different ones to understand the culture of the house. Some can be quite elitist, others can very academically focused. It is all about finding out where is best for you and, most importantly, whether you like the brothers because they will become friends for life.

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