Fraternities. They’re a big deal in America. Everyone cool is in them and they throw the best parties, complete with sorority girls. However, as an exchange student at the University of Pennsylvania, I’m not actually eligible to join any fraternities. But there was no way in hell I was going to let my temporal visa status get in the way of enjoying this critical part of Americana.
Suddenly I became Sam, the junior transfer student from Australia, due to graduate in three years. Americans love Australians, and so my cunning deception managed to win me an invitation to pledge with a fraternity, which the brothers of the fraternity offered only after ambushing me with a bursting champagne bottle outside my dorm room.
I joined seven other pledges at our first event on a Saturday evening at 7.45pm. Unfortunately, we were supposed to arrive at 7.44 pm, and we were punished accordingly. A shattered wine glass and eight vodka shots later, the brothers shut us in a room for hours, our watches and phones confiscated so that we could only guess at how long we were stuck in that cell based on celestial time-keeping. Brothers would come in, assign us arbitrary tasks and force us to take shots if we failed at a spread of heroic acts, such as coming up with a ‘brotherly’ synchronised dance in thirty seconds. In between such visits, they forbade us from speaking, and saddled us with other poorly defined rules. This led to hilarious situations of us gesticulating widely, trying to use crude sign language to argue over the exact interpretation of specifically what was included in rule three: “don’t touch anything behind the counter”.
After one of the pledges collapsed from too many shots, and another was evacuated from the room for reasons that still remain unclear, Brother Butters marched the remaining six of us through a sequence of rooms where we, now all completely smashed, were given memory tests on film clips about brotherhood, played a game of Chinese Communist monopoly and were asked what animal we would screw to save our family (goat was the popular option). They gave us a set of band-aids, which they advised us in the strongest possible terms to hold onto. Then they marched us into the main initiation room, a run-down lounge, with the symbols of the fraternity hastily painted on plastic tables, as the brothers surrounded us like a herd of territorial elk. The brothers stripped us of our shirts and readied fraternity pins to jab into our exposed flesh. After watching the more nervous of our pledge class freak the hell out, the brothers withdrew the pins at the last minute. After that traumatic test, my memory starts to get a little shaky, although it’s probably safe to say that we embarked on more drinking games. Also, I’m pretty sure a sword was involved at some point in the evening.
A few days later, as the indentured elements of servitude that also happen to afflict pledging surfaced, I came clean. Considering that I had managed to get a lot of free stuff, and had gained access to their sacred ceremonies, they were pretty chill about it. Apparently they’re one of the more laid-back fraternities on campus…