Dutch sororities and fraternities: yep, they exist (and are echt bizarre)

Greek life goes Dutch 🏛️

Hold up — sororities and fraternities in the Netherlands? Isn’t that an American thing? Well, it’s complicated, but the Netherlands does have its own version, alongside a whole stack of student associations. 

Simply put, they are groups of students that get together for socialising, networking, and going kinda crazy.

They’re considered a gezelligheidsverenigingen (social association), often have strange traditions and strict rules, and members often even live together in sorority or fraternity houses. 

READ MORE | Student societies in the Netherlands: what you need to know

What are these Dutch fraternities and sororities?

You may have seen those guys with the gelled-up hairdo and the dirty classic ties. Het Korps is by far the largest student association in the Netherlands, with branches in every student city. It’s the oldest and most prestigious society, with weird traditions and often generational members. 

Membership fees are high enough to attract only the elite students since regular student budgets usually can’t afford it. If you see groups of girls all dressed the same or guys in identical suits, they’re probably from some branch of the corps. 

As a member of the studentencorps, you’re expected to have a high level of commitment, so maintaining social groups outside of this close-knit community is hard, but it is also why bonds made here are so strong.

READ MORE | 5 things to know about the Dutch student housing crisis

Famous chapters of this society are Minerva in Leiden (the King was a member there) and the — rather infamous — Vindicat in Groningen

Society life tends to be stronger in the smaller cities where there’s not much going on at night… The result is that associations in places like Rotterdam and Amsterdam have more of a snobbish atmosphere since fewer people are allowed to join. 

Hazing — yep, that happens in the Netherlands

All right, let’s get to the juicy stuff. Throughout my bachelor’s degree, stories about what goes down at some sororities and fraternities have made tongues wag and eyebrows fly. 

I’m not going to attempt to separate the rumours from the truth, but it’s no secret that student societies in the Netherlands have made the news a few times for hazing (ontgroening).

Hazing, to some, means “pushing boys to become men” through tasks that are (apparently) designed to bond people together. When these go too far, though, humiliation and physical abuse have sometimes resulted

In general, hazing has recently been limited at many universities, and there are now strict rules about what students are allowed to do during introduction weeks.

READ MORE | 7 handy things to know before starting your university hunt in the Netherlands

For example, minimum water consumption and sleep hours must be met, and first-year students are not allowed to drink alcohol at all. It makes you wonder what it was like before, right?

Traditions of fraternities and sororities in the Netherlands

As if hazing wasn’t weird enough, some fraternities and sororities have traditions and rules they must follow — or risk removal. 

One housemate I had was obliged to go drinking every Wednesday night, which seemed more like a chore for her when school got intense. So don’t underestimate them when they say there’ll be lots of drinking. 

photo-of-a-large-group-of-dutch-male-fraternity-students
Members of some Dutch fraternities are not allowed to wash their ties… ever. Image: Pexels

Another Dutch fraternity has a rule that they have to wear the same tie every night out. That’s not so weird, right? Here’s the thing: they’re not allowed to wash it.

Some are in the fraternity for four or more years, and, despite wild nights out and countless beers spilt, that tie will never be washed. Gross. 

My personal impression

It began, as many university stories do, during my introduction week. There was a park filled with the colourful stands of the many student associations, and little innocent me was wandering through them, eating free ice cream.

“Hallo!” A perky girl jumped in front of me. Her eyes were so wide I thought they might pop out. She proceeded to ramble on about something I didn’t understand, so when she paused for a breath, I asked if she could switch to English. 

That popped her inflated face pretty quickly. “Sorry, we’re only for Dutch girls,” she said blankly. The heat sensors in the back of her skull caught on to another freshie, and she leapt upon the newcomer behind her, leaving me alone in front of the stand. 

photo-of-girls-drinking-at-a-dutch-sorority-party
As a member of a Dutch sorority or fraternity, you’re in for a lot of drinking. A lot. Image: Unsplash

After that first student associations fair, I was never particularly interested in joining what seemed to be nothing more than Dutch people getting drunk together. I’d see girls cycling out in matching uniforms every night, singing like deranged animals and barely scraping themselves into class the next day.

READ MORE | What language level is the Dutch integration (inburgering) exam in 2023?

I’ve had international friends and housemates who joined and complained that the drinking became too much for them — like my friend above, who was forced to drink every Wednesday. 

Going Dutch

To be honest, I think Dutch student societies were just too much of a culture shock for me. The typical Dutch attitude towards studies is “As long as I pass, it’s fine.” 

This is not what I grew up with at all, and when you’re an international, you have way more on the line when it comes to failing than Dutch students. You’re paying triple the fees, have uprooted your entire life for your education, and the government has grounds to deport you if your grades aren’t high enough. 

Spending tons of money to basically get wasted every week with Dutch students who didn’t really want me there anyway was just not for me.

I have, however, had international friends who joined sororities and fraternities and loved it. They met new friends, went on trips that sometimes got them jobs after university, and helped them assimilate into Dutch culture. So check them out for yourself and see what you think. 

If not, there are plenty of other ways to make great friends and have fun during your student years; I can promise you that. 😉 I made most of my friends at free drop-in sports clubs, my faculty’s magazine, oh and crying with fellow students at the back of the lecture hall (she laughs nervously).

Have you had an experience with a student society in the Netherlands? Tell us in the comments below!

This article was originally published in February 2021 and was fully updated in August 2023 for your reading pleasure.

Feature Image:Unsplash
Emily Burger
Emily Burger
Emily grew up in South Africa but has also lived in Egypt, the UK, Canada and now the Netherlands. She first came here for her Bachelors in Arts and Culture at Maastricht University and soon fell in love with the land of canals, clogs and cheese. When she's not daydreaming about sci-fi movies or countries yet to explore, you can find her writing for DutchReview.

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