Illustration: Louisa Dodge
Illustration: Louisa Dodge

The University of St Andrews is renowned for its vibrant student body, and the numerous sets of twins who attend the school exemplify this quality. Amongst the twins at St Andrews, you will find identical twins who embarked on a cross country American road trip together, a brother-and-sister duo whose shared love of theater led to an awkward encounter and a pair of brothers who were initially drawn to the University by a desire to miss tennis practice. The Saint spoke to these twins, as well as a twin attending school without her counterpart, to find out what life with a twin is like and discover the truth behind twin stereotypes.

Zac and Noah Norbash

Many St Andrews students use the University’s proximity to mainland Europe to fit in some traveling between endless papers and exams, but few have taken advantage of these opportunities like fourth years Zac and Noah Norbash.

The Norbash brothers, identical twins who come from a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts, have spent the past several years traveling during school breaks, revision weeks and various weekends.

In their first year, the twins took weekend trips to Edinburgh. Since then, they have visited London, Brussels, Stockholm, Bruges and Frankfurt. During past revision weeks, they have also spent time in Malta and Greece.

“We like traveling with one another,” Noah said, “So I would say [during] revision weeks, to procrastinate on revision, we’ll end up going somewhere sunny. It’s nice to be in the Mediterranean, a sunny place with fine cuisine, when you’ve been cooped up in misty St Andrews.”

Last year, both Norbash twins studied abroad. Zac, who is studying Arabic and Russian, spent his first semester in Morocco and the next in Russia, while Noah, who is studying art history and Italian, spent the year in Venice.

The twins visited each other in their respective study abroad locations, but the months were one of the first instances when they spent an extended period of time apart.

“I guess it is a stereotype that twins stick with each other throughout school, which we did,” Zac said. “We still do stay together most of the time.”

In their senior year of high school, Zac and Noah applied to 17 of the same universities. They were accepted to five schools in common and, after visiting the schools, decided they liked St Andrews best.

The twins did, however, consider going to different universities.

Noah said: “I liked [New York University] for its scene, and I like the idea of city living. Zac also liked the idea of city living, but he preferred Montreal. We were also considering applying to different places.”

After ultimately deciding to attend St Andrews, the twins continued to stick together. They were in the same DRA flat their first year and also shared flats in their second and fourth years.

“When you’re on your own, you’re usually much more timid,” Noah said. “It’s good to have a partner in crime.”

During their junior year abroad, Zac said he found himself a little reclusive without Noah, at least until he found a close group of friends.

“Being apart from each other wasn’t so much a crushing sense of despair so much as it just made you lazier,” Zac said. “You get to realising your twin isn’t there just for emotional support, but also just for entertainment.”

The Norbashes are quick to point out the many benefits of having a twin: the entertainment value, having someone to share ups and downs wit, and opportunities to switch places and confuse teachers. (They have only done it twice.)

One downside, though, is the many stereotypes regarding twins.

“There’s a lot of pressure when you’re a twin to be more similar, to be the same,” Noah said. “So if there’s any differences between the two of us, people will immediately point them out. ‘Oh, you wear glasses,’ or, ‘Why is your brother so interested in languages?’ Normal people don’t have to explain these sorts of things.”

As their time at St Andrews comes to a close, the twins have many plans for the future, most of which involve staying together.

Some options include participating in a post-graduate program in London, joining the American Peace Corps and, eventually, owning a cheese farm in Switzerland.

Noah said: “It’s impractical for twins to spend all their lives together, so at some point we’re going to have to split up permanently or semi-permanently, but we don’t know when that will be.” Twins often share a bond that others do not experience until, perhaps, marriage or upon having children. Noah admits: “One of us is going to die sooner than the other. We have discussed that on occasion.”

John and Katherine Ellis

For most aspiring thespians, being cast in a lead theater role is a dream come true. For John and Katherine Ellis, first years from Darien, Connecticut, one offer came with a giant caveat.

“We’ve actually been asked to play a husband and wife in a show,” Katherine said. “We politely declined the offer, but that was kind of awkward. Our voices just mesh well because we’re related.”

Aside from their mutual love of theater, the Ellis twins have diverse personalities and interests.

John said: “She’s definitely the more outgoing one, [and] she sort of charges into things first. I’m much more quiet.”

Katherine described her brother as the more reflective of the pair and said he can always make her laugh, especially at herself.

Growing up with a twin, the Ellis siblings said they appreciated having a friend who was always around, especially since they knew exactly what the other’s life was like.

Although she doesn’t completely support the stereotype that twins have telepathy, Katherine described a time when she and John both had to write an essay about their favourite holidays.

“We were in completely different rooms, but we both ended up writing about the same holiday,” she said. “[We wrote] basically the same sentence.”

In terms of the downsides of having a twin, Katherine said teachers often see twins as double packages.

“One U.S. history teacher absolutely loved [John], so he’d kind of look at me with disappointment every time I went to his class. I would say that’s a downside, but it’s also nice when the other teacher likes you better,” she said.

While the Ellis twins didn ot plan to attend university together, they ended up liking many of the same schools and ultimately decided to come to St Andrews together.

Katherine said: “I think we were happy going together or without each other. I’m kind of glad he’s here, [because] especially when you start [in] a new place by yourself, it’s kind of nice to have the security that if I was ever alone or lost, I could always call him.”

John agreed, saying it was nice to have his twin around during Freshers’ Week.

“It’s a nice thing … when you walk into the Union and [can say], ‘Hi, I know you.’”

Drew and Connor Roberts

In their junior year of high school, Drew and Connor Roberts, fourth years from a town near Dallas, Texas, received an important piece of advice from their school counsellor.

A representative from St Andrews was visiting, and the counsellor advised the brothers to attend, even if their only reason was to listen to the representative’s Scottish accent.

Drew and Connor both met with the representative, mainly to avoid attending the first half of tennis practice, and by the time college application season arrived, St Andrews was at the top of the twins’ list.

“We’ve been asked the question of, ‘Were we going to go to different universities?’” Drew said. “We were saying we were going to leave that until we heard back from every school. I think one of us wouldn’t have gone [to St Andrews] without the other one, [since] it would’ve been too far. It’s safe to say we came to the decision separately, not [as] a matter of my brother’s going so I have to go.”

Despite the fact that the Roberts twins both study modern history and lived in St Salvator’s their first year, their university experiences have followed largely different trajectories.

“We have very, very similar interests, but we’re very different people,” Drew said.

Connor has continued living in St Salvator’s, serving as its senior student last year, and is involved with hall committee. Drew moved out of halls and became involved in different leadership roles this year.

The twins’ post-graduation plans also differ, with Drew hoping to work as a brand ambassador in the whiskey industry and eventually in the U.S. Foreign Service and Connor hoping to focus on coaching football as a top-flight manager for a team like Manchester United.

In general, Drew said that having Connor at the same university has added a level of security.

“If I want to tell him something I don’t want to tell anybody else, I know he won’t say anything, and I’ll do the same for him,” Drew added. “Some people have to take years to kind of build that up with a friend, but we’ve just had that naturally.”

According to Drew, the negative aspects of having a twin have less to do with his brother than typical twin stereotypes.

He said: “[People ask], ’Can you read each other’s minds?’ ‘If he gets hurt, do you feel the injury, too?’ No. No, we don’t. The answer is no. I’ve been asked that so many times it doesn’t really bother me anymore.”

Charlotte and Lillian Engel

Unlike the other twins profiled for this story, Charlotte Engel is spending the school year almost 4,000 miles away from her twin.

Ms. Engel, a first year in the Joint Degree Programme with the College of William and Mary, is studying history at St Andrews, while her sister, Lillian, is studying film at Elon University in North Carolina.

Initially, both applied early decision (if accepted, a student is obliged to attend) to a school in the U.S., thinking that if they were accepted, they would be able to attend the same university.

“Once we ended up getting rejected from our [early decision school], that was kind of the moment when we knew we were not going to go together, which was kind of a weird feeling since we’ve always been together,” Ms. Engel said.

Throughout their childhoods and teenage years, the Engel twins were close. They shared a bedroom until they left for university, and they always had the same friend group.

Since coming to St Andrews, though, Ms. Engel said she has been more independent.

“I don’t have the immediate fallback of having somebody automatically there,” she said. “Now I have to make my own friends and make independent decisions.”

The twins still talk all the time, and Ms. Enegl said she appreciates the fact that they will have many new stories to share upon their reunion.

*****

At a school like St Andrews, where academic families extend for generations and our small town feels like home to many of us, it is nice to know that students also bring their own family connections to campus (sometimes quite literally in the form of a twin).

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