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.