Hold up — sororities and fraternities in the Netherlands? Isn’t that an American thing? Well, it’s kind of complicated, but the Netherlands does have its very own version, alongside a whole stack of student associations.
Simply put, they are groups of students that get together for the purpose of socialising, networking, and going kinda crazy. They’re considered a gezelligheidsverenigingen (social association) and often have strange traditions, strict rules, or even live together in sorority or fraternity houses.
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 with rich daddies 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 studenten corps you’re expected to have a high level of commitment, so maintaining social groups outside of this close-knit community is hard, but is also why bonds made here are so strong. 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 in places like Rotterdam and Amsterdam, associations have more of a snobbish atmosphere since fewer people are allowed to join.
Hazing — yep, that happens in the Netherlands
Alrighty, let’s get to the juicy stuff. Over the course of my bachelor’s degree, stories about what goes down at some of the sororities and fraternities have definitely made tongues wag and eyebrows fly.
Separating the rumours from the truth is something I’m not going to attempt to do, but it’s no secret the 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 been the result.
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. For example, minimum water consumption and sleep hours must be met, and freshmen are not allowed to drink alcohol at all. Makes you wonder what it was like before.
Traditions of fraternities and sororities in the Netherlands
As if hazing wasn’t weird enough, some fraternities and sororities have traditions and rules that they have to 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.
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 INKOM 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, none of which I understood, so when she eventually paused for a breath I asked if she could switch to English.
That popped her inflated face pretty quick. “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 leaped upon the newcomer behind her, leaving me alone in front of the stand.
After that first student associations fair, I was never particularly interested in joining what seemed to be nothing more than Dutch girls (and guys) 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.
I’ve had international friends and housemates that joined and complained that the drinking became too much for them — like my friend above who was forced to drink every Wednesday.
To be honest, I think Dutch student societies were just too far 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 if your grades aren’t high enough the government has grounds to deport you.
Spending tons of money (on alcohol and membership fees) 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 in some cases 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!
Feature Image: Priscilla Du Perez/Unsplash