"When I left home for Cambridge, my sister left for Oxford"Jess Molyneux

Oxbridge life can get pretty intense. You know what else gets intense? Sharing every aspect of life with one person for nineteen years: from the womb to birthdays, the ‘top table’ in primary school, to the stress and anticipation of the Oxbridge admissions process, my identical twin sister and I have been side-by-side every step of the way.

That is, until this academic year when I left Manchester for Cambridge at the same time as my sister left for Oxford. When opening your own brown envelope or UCAS Track notification has only ever been half the story, the ups and downs of Cambridge life can feel a bit funny all on your own.

From the beginning, the experience has been characterised by a series of paradoxes. Separation felt totally natural, but was, at the same time, the weirdest and biggest thing I’ve done to date. Forging my own identity and making my own choices, and feeling like I was doing these things in a vacuum, without the usual comparative echo of my sister’s equivalent or diverging decisions, was simultaneously emancipating and anxiety-inducing.

The nub of it was something which everyone experiences: university life is scarily free. It’s not just the release from teachers or parents breathing down your neck, not just the liberating knowledge that no-one is checking up on your work because it is, after all, your £9,000 and your degree. It’s not just the stressful excitement of doing your own laundry, or the dangerous gloriousness of being able to eat whatever you want. It’s that every tiny aspect of your life is now up to you.

Especially as an English student whose lectures and supervisions don’t exactly constitute an hour-by-hour timetable, how I divide up my day is for me to choose from an infinite number of possibilities. Libraries open 24/7 are super convenient, but they only add more options to the swirling mix. I’m the only one calling the shots when it comes to how much time I devote to reading, to lectures, to writing, to socialising, to exercise, to hobbies and events, to sleeping, even to eating, and when and where I do all of those things.

My sister has always been like my reflectionJess Molyneux

That’s a lot of mental energy. Perhaps this amazing but terrifying total control is weirder, or at least more pronounced, for me as a twin. Having always had a reflection, someone your age doing roughly similar subjects and hobbies against whom you can evaluate your choices, is a sort of comfort blanket which lots of other people left behind when their parents stopped planning their days for them.

It’s not just about learning to be independent, as in the cliched trope of kids who can’t boil an egg or iron a shirt before they go to university. Those things are the easy bits that you can pick up in a flash and check off the list. What’s harder, or at least more draining, and maybe more unexpected, is all the planning and the deciding.

Talk it up a bit, though, Jess, as my dad would say. This is all making me sound like a stressball and an overplanner, when really it’s a small but constant part of life that gets easier to cope with. Because the result is sweet freedom. It’s deciding for yourself what awesome things you’re going to get involved in. It’s realising that, actually, there might be a million possibilities for ways you could balance your degree, your social life, and everything else. But whilst that means more to choose from, it also means more ways to ace it. It means that doing things in the way you want is not just allowed, but the only way to cope.


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For me, it’s confirmed what I already knew but everyone else refused to believe: twin telepathy is a lie. When my sister and I compared notes during the break, we were both surprised by choices the other one had made that we wouldn’t have predicted. (Women’s football is the most standout example. I’m more proud of her two handballs than her GCSE results.) Even two people who share most of their DNA, and have been so used to making choices which reflect one another, often unintentionally, don’t end up striking the balance in Oxbridge in the same ways.

All of our lives at Cambridge are a little like fingerprints – that one thing which identical twins don’t share; it’s a nice way of thinking, I think, about the way we leave our mark here, creating our identity in, and inscribing it into, the city with every one of our tiny, daily choices.

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