January 20, 2013

BHOWMICK: It Was All Greek to Me

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I am a “fresh off the boat” international student from India — I believe that “FOB” is the colloquial terminology.  In any case, I should specify that I did not arrive on the American shores on the Mayflower, or any aquatic vehicle for that matter. Even though it was an Airbus 380 that brought me to Ithaca, I am certain I was equally as, if not more baffled than the Pilgrims who stumbled upon the United States in the 1600s. I especially found myself amused and bemused by this confounding phenomenon called Rush Week.

It was Americanization at its very best for me. In India, the perception of sorority life conjures images of mannequin-like ladies going around wearing disastrous costumes, kissing statues and engineering very high-end drama in order to get a T-shirt with algebraic letters on it. I had always thought that the stereotypical sorority girl was a tall lady with hair which remains poker-straight through the most nefarious tempest, who walks on stilts, has a geometric face and usually breaks hearts. Do excuse my exaggeration, but I think you get my point. Nevertheless, I made the effort to traverse across two continents on a 22 hour flight to find out what a sorority actually looks like from the inside and embed the entire Greek alphabet in my memory forever.

Rush Week is basically seven days when you will see more girls than you have ever seen in your life trudging through snow ridges — signs of a weather phenomenon I had never seen before. I was puzzled by the impeccable assembly lines of girls looking their best and wearing beautiful dresses paired with sweatpants and any other remotely warm clothing — and suddenly, this was group I was suddenly a part of. I was still coping with my jet lag when these intriguing rounds kicked off and I found myself walking through blizzard-like conditions in some sort of silly dress competition.  A minute later, a million hands were thumping the door and music was blasting through it.  I thought it was the apocalypse, but it was merely the sorority chapter giving us a very enthusiastic welcome to warm our frozen spirits. Soon enough, the door burst opened and I saw the sisters doing a trance dance, convincing me that if nothing else, Rush Week is exciting. As I passed through the doors, a sister would sweep me up into a parlor so picture-perfect that I didn’t dare spill my drink or drop a cookie crumb. For all I knew, I could have been starring in a Victorian play where my coat was taken and the most creative drinks were served in champagne flutes.

However, there’s more to Rush Week than misery and playing pretend. One gets to meet an army of upper-class women and have conversations about everything from the weather to theses on biology and neuroscience. I have never been so polite and well-mannered in my entire life; my mother would be proud. It is not a myth that one has to look presentable, but it definitely is a myth that you cannot do Rush Week without a brand new color-coded wardrobe. It is as if the Sorting Hat walks into your life at Cornell — although the actual Sorting Hat would be much more convenient than standing for fifteen minutes in the excruciating cold while frat stars in cars speed by honking their horns at our self-inflicted misery. But real life can never be as easy as fantasy. And when the door opens and the excitement catches up again it does feel intense but does not necessarily leave you emotionally impaired.

While I definitely entered rush as a cynic, I’m glad I rushed for a number of reasons. Most importantly, it is a learning process. In just a few short days, I have definitely become a smooth talker (well, a smoother talker), have better interpersonal skills and have a much more clear perspective on my values. How many times do we find ourselves speechless when someone asks us, “So, tell me more about yourself?” Rushing brings you a little closer to the answer.

Moreover, the beauty of sorority requirement lies in the fact that you cannot make it into any sorority just by looking like a Vogue cover-girl. There are some incredible women, on either side of the process, behind all that makeup. It is finding those women and celebrating it that is the very cornerstone of sisterhood. It is a rare thing seeing seniors tear up because they treasure their sisterhood so much — it makes it all feel real. So do not despise the sorority girl; she is more than a pin-up girl. As a former sorority cynic, it has been my experience, that the best bet for having a successful Rush Week is thus: “This above all: to thine own self be true,/ And it must follow, as the night the day,/ Thou canst not then be false.” It is my abstruse verdict that Shakespeare would have made a great Rho Gamma.

Aditi Bhowmick is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at abhowmick@cornellsun.com. Abstruse Musings appears alternate Mondays this semester.

Original Author: Aditi Bhowmick