The Belgian equivalent of American fraternity & sorority life

I spent most of my first day in Belgium touring l’Université libre de Bruxelles — The Free University of Brussels — where my cousin introduced me to the Belgian equivalent of the Greek system.

A Cercle (translated Circle) is a student group that functions very similar to an American Sorority and Fraternity. Based on a few conversations and shallow research, here are my impressions of Circles vs. Greeks:

  • Gender separation: It seems unheard of in Belgium to separate student or social groups based on gender, and all circles allow both men and women. A minority of American fraternities also allow both men and women.
  • Affiliation: Most circles are based around an area of study — Science or Journalism, for instance . There are also political circles, such as right-wing and communist circles. American fraternities based around fields of study, such as business fraternities, are much different than social fraternities. In Belgium, the business circles are the social circles.
  • Public image: In recruitment materials, it’s common to hear a reference to the movie “Animal House” as an example of what American Greeks aren’t all about. American fraternities and sororities have a strong interest in letting their universities know about their contributions in student development and community service. Belgian circles, from what I can tell, aren’t much interested in justifying themselves. Circles have buildings on campus that exist mostly for partying and grabbing a drink between classes. Circles play similar roles to their American counterparts, but seem to be a lot more outspoken in the public light about how much they party.

One anecdote: The ULB circle for “Management engineering,” which is best explained as the major for future corporate executives, received too much money from alumni donations. As a result, I was told, they bought a smart car to bring their budget down to an acceptable size. They now have a smart car.

Circle buildings on the ULB campus, or the Belgian version of fraternity row.

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One response to “The Belgian equivalent of American fraternity & sorority life

  1. Samantha Hauser

    Hey Matt,

    Great blog! I didn’t know you had one! This is exactly what I found to be the case in England, too! They call them “socs” short for “societies” and the MedSoc (Medical Society) was known for the crazies parties on campus. They are more major/course oriented, but I thought they partied even harder! Glad you’re taking a reflective approach on your cultural adventure too! Keep up the good work 🙂

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