Fraternities welcome international students

Melissa Berg

Less than six months ago, Filbert Soeryadi left his home in Jakarta, Indonesia, to come to the United States to study chemical engineering. Two months later, he became a member of an ISU fraternity.

Soeryadi said he had never heard of a fraternity until he met Halef Gunawan, also native of Indonesia, in the Memorial Union during orientation. Gunawan, junior in pre-architecture, is a member of Theta Delta Chi fraternity and encouraged Soeryadi to learn about fraternity life at Iowa State.

Often subject to stereotypes, fraternities share the same diversity as on-campus residences. Theta Delta Chi has three members from Indonesia who came to the United States for college.

“Recruiting international students is a good way to help them get to know our culture and for us to get to know theirs,” said Keith Sieren, president of Theta Delta Chi. “It’s a two-way street, really.”

Soeryadi said the other Indonesian students in the fraternity have made his adjustment to Iowa State easier.

Besides being unfamiliar with the language, Soeryadi had to adapt to new foods, social norms and responsibilities. In Indonesia, he said, almost everyone has at least one servant.

“When it came time for house duties and Filbert told me he didn’t know how to clean, I couldn’t believe it,” said Theta Delta Chi member Dave Zieser, sophomore in mechanical engineering.

Living with men from other cultures has helped the members learn about Indonesia and break down myths about other countries, said Sieren, senior in liberal arts and sciences.

“They would ask the guys if they ate dogs and things like that,” he said.

Theta Delta Chi member Jhonson Sahlan from Medan, Indonesia, said it is helpful to live in the fraternity with a mixture of backgrounds.

“I like living here because the people are very friendly, and it has a very homely feeling,” said Sahlan, senior in industrial engineering.

Karthik Duvooru, originally from India, joined Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity in the second semester of his freshman year.

Duvooru, junior in computer engineering, said it was easy to adjust to the culture, because he spent two years in Australia before coming to the United States. He said other international students might experience culture shock in a fraternity, depending on where they are from. “It would be better for some to get adjusted to the culture first in dorms and then join because greeks are a little different,” Duvooru said.

Jane Edwards, program coordinator for international education services, said she has witnessed many international students join fraternities, and the results have been positive.

“It is a great educational experience,” she said. “It makes the large institute seem like a smaller place.”