Hoa Bùi, a first-year student from Hanoi, Vietnam, came to Lehigh looking to enjoy both the academic and social aspects of college. Wanting to make new friends outside of her classes, she decided to go through sorority recruitment, like several hundred first-years do each spring.
Bùi described her group of friends as a mixture of domestic and international students, but she recognizes most of the international first-year students because they all participated in international first-year orientation together in August. She looked for these familiar faces as she went through formal recruitment.
“I couldn’t see that many going with me,” Bùi said.
Bùi, who knew nothing about Greek life prior to arriving in America, joined Alpha Gamma Delta. She said it has given her “a sense of family” thousands of miles away from her own family.
Of Lehigh’s 4,923 undergraduate students, 1,740 are members of a Greek organization, according to the Office of Institutional Research. Only 25 of those 1,740 are international students.
Those 25 students make up 6 percent of Lehigh’s total international student population. In contrast to the 38 percent of domestic undergraduate students that are members of the Greek community, this demographic is quite small.
Iñigo Jiménez, ’17, is from Pamplona, Spain and a member of Pi Kappa Alpha. He said the stigma that often surrounds Greek life may be a reason international students refrain from joining fraternities and sororities.
He also said it could be that some international students aren’t willing, or ready, to immerse themselves in an unfamiliar culture by joining Greek life, a typically American tradition.
“A lot of international students, while they do spend a lot of time with Americans, they also spend a lot of time with their own communities trying to feel a little bit of home,” Jiménez said. “In order to join a fraternity, you really have to throw yourself out there, and I think some people, it’s just how their personality is, they’re not ready for that.”
Bùi said students who move to a new place for college, especially a new country, often go through an identity crisis because of the cultural differences. These students have to decide if they want to try something different that is part of the new culture, she said.
She experienced a similar kind of crisis two years ago when she attended high school in India. Bùi said she was shy at first, mostly because of language barriers, but that experience has helped her immerse herself into the Lehigh culture.
“Because I had been through that process, I understand myself more now than probably the international students that went out of the country (for the first time),” Bùi said.
Reyhan Guleryuz, ’19, a member of Gamma Phi Beta and native of Istanbul said in comparison to the total number of international students at Lehigh, she feels their presence in the Greek community is “decent.” However, she does agree that many international students shy away from Greek life because the culture is so different from their own.
“When you first come you’ve got to decide if you want to just blend in more or go your way,” Guleryuz said. “Some people prefer to stay between themselves, but it doesn’t mean that you cannot be friends with them.”
Besides what they had seen in American movies like “Animal House” and “Neighbors,” Bùi, Guleryuz and Jiménez knew very little, if anything, about Greek Life before arriving to Lehigh. The students said information about Greek organizations was not provided to them during international first-year orientation, so they began to learn about Greek life through the friends they made.
“When I first came I didn’t know how to rush and what the process is like, and all the freshmen were just really confused, too, so I think, ‘OK, we’re on the same page, it’s nothing to fear.’ It worked out,” Bùi said.
Guleryuz was encouraged by her friends from her residence hall to rush, while a member of the Spanish-speaking community introduced Jiménez to his fraternity. He decided Greek life would give him the opportunity to gain a better understanding of American society.
Jiménez emphasizes to his friends and family back home that there is more to being a member of Greek life than the party lifestyle emphasized in American movies. He said some types of brotherhoods, usually centered on religious life, exist in Spain, and he tries to relate the non-partying aspects of Greek life to these groups.
Bùi describes sorority life to her parents as “a system of girls living in the same house” that takes part in philanthropy events and allows members to form a connection of friends, even with former members who may have graduated.
Guleryuz tells her friends they’re a group of girls living in the same house who participate in events together. She explains that it’s like a support group of about 50 people.
“Whenever I go back (my friends) are always like, ‘Why do you have pictures with 50 girls at the same time?’ it’s kind of entertaining,” Guleryuz said. “They still don’t get it because there’s nothing like that existing either in Europe or Asia.”