“So are there fraternities at Bowdoin?” Get ready—people are going to ask you this question over and over during the next four years, and probably long after. There is no Greek life at Bowdoin, and the student handbook explicitly prohibits fraternities and sororities. Bowdoin phased out its co-ed fraternities in the 1990s and the College Houses (or, as they’re more commonly called, social houses) were instituted to replace the Greek system.

There are eight social houses on campus—Ladd, Baxter, Reed, Macmillan (“Mac”), Quinby, Helmreich, Burnett and Howell—and they are primarily inhabited by sophomores.

After much discussion and deliberation, the Office of Residential Life has instituted some substantial changes for the College House system this year. In the new system, each floor of a first year brick is affiliated with a different College House; your friends on the floor below you will be affiliates of a different House and your fellow affiliates will all live in different dorms. (Refer to the inset for a full list of floor and House affiliations.)

Every first year is paired with a “buddy” or two from his or her affiliated social house. The houses approach the buddy system in different ways—when I was a first year, my roommate and I had one buddy; when I lived in Ladd as a sophomore, every first year had a boy buddy and a girl buddy.

The buddy relationships are what you make of them, and they tend to be the strongest during the first few weeks of school. Don’t be afraid to ask your buddy to a meal; it’s a great way to connect with people you wouldn’t otherwise get to know. But if you’re not a huge fan of your buddy, don’t worry about it—some people just don’t click.

A lot of first years and social house residents will view the dynamic between first year bricks and the houses as one fueled exclusively by alcohol. Without a doubt, beer and a few boxes of Franzia will be present at many College House functions. Affiliates are invited over early when Houses throw parties, and Houses will occasionally host pre-games with a keg or a few thirties. But the social houses do not exist solely to give first years alcohol.

When I lived in Ladd, there were a few incidents when first years indicated that they believed our sole purpose was to get them drunk—one weeknight, the house was very casually hanging out, and a handful of affiliates came over and blatantly asked for alcohol. It was really weird and uncomfortable—and we didn’t have any to give them.

That being said, social house residents really do want you to feel comfortable coming over, watching TV, playing video games, doing homework, or asking for advice. It’s just important to know what is appropriate when.

College House residents are on campus now for their own orientation, a lot of which involves getting to know their affiliates.

I should note that even though Orientation is a dry week for everyone, the alcohol prohibition has, in practice, been less strict for sophomores, juniors and seniors on campus this week. As a Ladd House resident, College House orientation was one of the best weeks I’ve had at Bowdoin.

Orientation is a bizarre time for first years—being herded to various activities feels like day camp, and you’re probably hearing from friends at other colleges who are getting drunk at frat parties every night. I’ve been there. Two years ago, in reaction to the College’s expansive definition of hazing, the Orient’s editorial board likened Orientation to hazing: first years are singled out based on age and forced to participate in activities against their will.

Obviously, Orientation is not hazing, but it isn’t a particularly fond memory for most students, either, especially because rules are more strictly enforced this week. First years have been kicked out during orientation, so being new to campus doesn’t give you a free pass to be stupid.

It will be over soon, though, and you’ll be starting classes, making friends, joining clubs, partying and stressing over homework before you know it. Try to live in the moment this week and actually experience Orientation—because when it’s over, you’ll know just how good you have it.