It’s all Greek to me

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If there’s one thing that I can explicitly tell you about entering an American university, it’s that I had no idea about what I was getting into with Greek life. While I’m sure everyone has their ideas and preconceptions of Greek life, it’s nothing like actually living it.

I vividly remember that my mother and I would sit at the dining room table, procrastinating on cleaning up the kitchen after dinner had long finished, talking endlessly about the United States. I had so many questions for her.

What was it like? Are the people different from Hong Kong? Is everyone actually blonde in California?

They were trivial and non-important facts. But to me, they were priceless.

It was fascinating to me to hear her talk about this place that I had lived in but could not grasp. This place that I knew I was from but could not identify with. Things such as football games, linoleum floors and bathroom graffiti.

The conversation eventually moved onto college, during which I learned that she had gotten a full ride on an athletic scholarship to a local Florida college where she played on the softball team. If it hadn’t been softball, however, it would’ve been a basketball scholarship. To say the least, her college experience wasn’t exactly the “classic” one you see in the movies. It was long night practices and sweat-soaked gloves and then the same grueling routine day after day.

In essence, my mom was a total tomboy. And so when the conversation strayed over to Greek life, and specifically sororities, we both were pretty negative about the idea. I think it’s because it’s easier to hate something than to actually do the work and understand it.

The funny thing about life is that it never goes the way you expect it to. And that’s exactly what happened when I got to Berkeley.

While trying to adjust to all the newness of Americans and their culture, I stumbled upon an email about Greek life and how rushing fall semester was totally free of charge. Maybe I had already sunk into the broke college student mentality, but my eyes were snagged on the bold and blocky “FREE” and I said “screw it.” I figured I had nothing to lose, so what better way to get the full “American College Experience” than entertaining the idea of joining a sorority? Did I mention it was free?

My two roommates were also pretty much on the same wavelength and we all decided to rush together, which was an utter mess with having to perfectly and strategically time when you were going to unmute and then quickly mute again before the next person started talking. By the third day of rush, I had memorized my roommate’s answer to “tell me about yourself,” which I can still recite to this day.

Having grown with stories about my mom’s athletic, tomboy-esque years in college, joining a sorority seemed so out of character for me.

Once I broke the news that I was a “sister,” she was less than enthused. I mean, she could never get with the whole “paying for friends” side of sororities.

And God, was joining a sorority the funniest way life worked for me.

I would like to attest to a certain extent that I’m a pretty amiable and easygoing person. It wasn’t like I was afraid I would be a total recluse in Berkeley, but I think putting myself out there was an important step toward reidentifying with me being American.

I remember talking on my eighth Zoom call of the day and was so close to tapping out. I didn’t think I could tell one more girl that I was from Hong Kong. However, I think I finally get why they call it rushing; when you finally meet your person, the conversation is effortless and the rush of pure adrenaline and joy is unrivaled. I had gotten the chance to rush a few girls myself this semester, and was able to experience the same reaction I had that one night: total and pure light.

There’s something to say about the perception of the United States that I have internalized as a result of living in Hong Kong, where practically everyone is an outsider to American culture. One of the defining factors of college in America, for me and others in Hong Kong, is Greek life. The concept seemed so alien to us at the time. The mystery and exclusivity surrounding fraternities and sororities only piqued our interest and media such as “Scream Queens” only heightened it further.

When I came to Berkeley, I had such a skeptical view about Greek life, but my locking-the-door-and-throwing-away-the-key attitude is just not conducive to being me anymore.

And with every exchange or piece of big sister sagely advice, I feel myself slowly inching closer to the Americanness I’ve long searched for.

Rachel Chipner writes the Monday column on being an international college student trying to reidentify with her American heritage. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.