My Big Fat Greek Study Abroad Experience
I decided to study abroad in the fall of my junior year — leaving my comfortable home at Rhodes College was difficult yet exciting. I have a great support system at Rhodes, which includes my lacrosse team, friends and sorority sisters. I was hopeful to make new friends while abroad in Sydney, Australia. I had just taken a little sister in my sorority the semester before, and knew it would be hard to miss out on fun events with her, but I was also eager to go abroad and make new memories. Taking a hiatus from Greek life was strange, but being in Australia and making all new friends was an experience I would not trade for the world.
Making Greek Friends While Abroad
Some of the first friends I made at IFSA orientation were sorority women from other colleges and universities. Being from Greek life gave us a platform to get know each other, because we knew we already had one thing in common, even if we weren’t in the same sorority. Once I moved in to my residential college, I met another American among the Australians who was in a sorority at the University of Georgia and we ended up becoming great friends and still keep in contact. We weren’t in the same sorority, but trying to explain what sorority life was like to the Australians definitely brought us closer, and pointed out similarities between all sororities.
Trying to Explain Sororities to Australians
The residential college I lived in while at the University of Sydney housed all girls in the undergraduate building and both males and females in the post graduate building. Living in the undergraduate building was what I would imagine living in a sorority house is like. They had shared bathrooms, a dining hall, lots of sports and artistic activities to get involved in and mandatory hall dinners on Monday nights. Lots of these aspects mirrored what my Greek experience has been like at my home university (outside of living all together, because at my small liberal arts school the sorority houses are simply meeting spaces where we hang out and hold events). So, when my new Australian friends were asking me what it was like to be in a sorority, I responded by saying it is much like living in a residence college. This response kind of shocked them because they assumed sorority life would mirror they had seen in movies, and while there is some truth to that representation, it is often over simplified.
Being Greek Isn’t Necessarily Like Legally Blonde
Being abroad really opened my eyes to how Greek life is perceived from an outsider whose only context is pop culture. My Australian friends frequently made references to Greek life in movies, like Legally Blonde, and asked if that was what it was actually like. Coming from a small liberal arts school where we can’t even live in our sorority houses, I told them that my experience was nothing like what they saw in Legally Blonde. Yes, I have a great group of friends in my sorority but we don’t all live together and aren’t necessarily as peppy as Elle Woods. My other American friend that went to the University of Georgia explained to them what a bigger school Greek life experience was like, and also emphasized that living in the sorority houses wasn’t what it looked like in Legally Blonde either. They asked us about hazing and fraternity parties, and I explained that as a sorority woman I was never hazed and that fraternity parties were most of the social scene on my campus. They also had no idea that sororities were philanthropic and each had their own cause they supported. Overall, they had the common misconceptions that sororities included hazing, non-stop partying and only the most popular girls. I think I did a fairly good job at debunking those stereotypes.
Coming Back to Greek Life at Home
Upon coming home, I had kept in touch with my sorority friends back at school and the others that were abroad at the same time as me. I missed some traditional chapter events that did have me missing sorority life. For example, I missed jersey night where I gift my little sister a jersey with our sorority letters on it and a nickname on the back, but I was able to be Facetimed in during the event so I didn’t miss it completely. When I returned, I had about a month at home with my family before returning back to Rhodes. The first week back to Rhodes in the spring semester is our week of recruitment, so I was immediately thrown back into the swing of Greek life on my campus. For that week, I got to catch up with sisters I hadn’t seen in a semester and spend a lot of quality time with the women of my chapter. Coming home was quite an adjustment from Australia and being involved in sorority life helped me ease back into campus life at Rhodes. My sorority experience gave me the confidence and the people skills needed to study abroad with IFSA. My comfortability abroad also helped me gain great lessons to bring back to my fellow sorority women.
Aubrey Gray is a Physics major and Computer Science minor at Rhodes College and studied abroad with IFSA at the University of Sydney Partnership in Sydney, Australia in Fall 2018.