Exploring some of the more unusual university student traditions elsewhere in the world, including Europe’s largest decorated ball, dropping pianos off roofs and one of the world’s largest scavenger hunts.
Polyball – ETH Zurich, Switzerland
The grandest of all university balls is held every year by the science university in Zurich, Switzerland in a tradition dating back to 1886. The Polyball, taking place at the end of November in the university’s main building, is the largest decorated ball in the whole of Europe and plays host to approximately 10,000 dancers, musicians and party-goers.
Dropping Pianos – Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA
To celebrate ‘drop day’, the final day when students can choose to drop classes at the institute, residents of the six-storey high Baker House dormitory drop a piano off their roof. This tradition started in 1972, supposedly due to the need for the dormitory to be rid of two non-working pianos and it being cheaper to get rid of them in pieces than as whole pianos. Pianos aren’t the only object to be flung off the roofs of the MIT – every Halloween a mass pumpkin drop takes place from the roof of the 295-foot high Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (DEAP) building.
Prosh Week – University of Melbourne, Australia
Prosh Week is a tradition at several Australian universities, but Melbourne’s is the largest. It is a week during the Australian freshers or ‘orientation’ period where students form small teams to try their hand at the most daring and embarrassing challenges they can think of. The winning teams are awarded trophies at the end of the week.
These can range from virtually anything, from lecture pranks, to go-kart racing. In one incident in 1971 remembered as one of the greatest-ever pranks during Prosh Week, 500 students descended upon one shop’s toy department protesting for the rights of teddy bears to be respected.
The Tree Adorned with Shoes of Love – Murray State College, USA
Any students who fall in love with one another at this institution and then later marry, are supposed to gain good fortune if they fit a pair of shoes to symbolize their coupling at the bottom of a tree. This has resulted in over 50 pairs of shoes affixed to the bottom of the tree currently in use (the first for this tradition was unfortunately struck by lightning). Even more heartwarming, on significant anniversaries couples often return to mark the year on their pair of shoes and some have even brought baby shoes to celebrate children born.
Mechoneo – Chilean Universities
An ancient tradition in Chile, the mechoneo acts as an initiation ceremony for first year students. All first years are paired up with older years, who proceed to blindfold the first years, cut their hair, rip their clothes and pelt them with raw eggs, not to mention other foods. The first years are then escorted to a swimming pool filled with horrible substances like rotting fruit and must then complete a series of challenges and dares for the rest of the day. The students who are perceived as tackling the tasks best are crowned queen ‘mechona’ and king ‘mechon’ respectively.
However, this isn’t necessarily the conclusion of the ordeal first years are subjected to – they then may have their belongings, including money and mobile phone, confiscated from them and must beg on the street to raise a certain amount of money to regain their possessions (usually £20 worth). The funds raised then contribute to large student parties around March time.
While many students view it as an important tradition to continue, increasing numbers have misgivings that it can turn into a form of vicious bullying, an accusation which the next tradition has received and further…
Rub-nong – Thailand Universities
Similar to the mechoneo in being the induction of freshers into university through a series of initiation rituals, rub-nong is thought to have been partly inspired by the British public school system. Although defenders argue it instills the values of SOTUS (Seniority, Order, Tradition, Unity, Spirit), others believe it to cause great suffering for some students. Indeed, there have been cases of individuals dying during some of the rituals, including one from a rub-nong which involved a person being beaten up as part of the ritual. Some university traditions, clearly, can develop into something certainly not intended by the original founders.
Scavenger Hunt – University of Chicago, USA
Many universities around the world host scavenger hunt competitions, but Chicago’s easily dwarfs any others for the number of participants and complexity of tasks set. The list of items to collect typically numbers in the hundreds with it thus being impossible to complete every single one in the 4-day time period. Past items to obtain have included a breathing elephant, Stradivarius violin and a nuclear reactor built in a shed, the latter challenge completed by two enterprising Physics students in 1999.