‘We’re individuals, not a novelty’
Studying with your mirror image
It was the middle of the Albertus initiation period. It was August, bloody hot, and art history student Rens van Beukel (21) was waiting in a seemingly endless queue. Behind him, he heard someone whisper: ‘He’s not real.’ And: ‘That’s a fake first-year.’
For a second, he was stumped. What the hell? But then the penny dropped. They weren’t talking about him, but about his identical twin brother, Dirk. He happens to also be a member of Albertus. Except he is a second-year student.
People refused to believe we were twins
‘I explained it to them’, says Rens. ‘But people just refused to believe we were twins.’ They may be identical, but Dirk had graduated high school a year earlier than Rens, who had to take an extra year to qualify for university.
Dirk, a business administration student, chuckles. ‘That was when we truly realised what it was like to be twins in Groningen.’
Flirting with the wrong person
In one in 250 pregnancies, two foetuses share an ovum and a sperm cell. This creates identical twins: two children with the exact same genetic material, which means they look exactly alike. This would mean that approximately 240 Groningen students could be part of a set of identical twins. This can lead to both uncomfortable and funny situations.
Psychology student Fransje Meijlink (19) knows all about it. She is a member of Vindicat, as is her identical twin sister, Sofie. ‘I was at a party at De Kroeg and having a great time talking to a really cute guy. We’d been talking for a long time. Then he went to get a beer and he didn’t come back.’
Bummer, she thought, I guess he didn’t like me that much after all. But ten minutes later, he suddenly returned. ‘He’d run into my twin sister on the way back and started talking to her, and it had taken Sofie a while to realise what was going on. Then she sent him back to me.’
For student twins, cases of mistaken identity are perfectly common. Sometimes they don’t even correct people, as it can be a never-ending story. ‘Someone will call me Fransje as we’re talking’, says Sofie, who studies international business. ‘Before you know it, it’s too late to correct the other person. I’ll just leave it.’
People will call me Fransje, but I’ll just leave it
‘It can be really uncomfortable for people when they only find out later that they were mistaken’, Fransje adds. ‘I just play along. I feel bad putting people in that position.’
Sometimes, they’re too polite. When Rens thought he saw one of Dirk’s fellow club members at Zernike, he greeted him enthusiastically. He kept doing so for a whole year, until the twins ran into the guy in the city centre together. ‘I nudged Dirk, like, there’s your friend from the club! But Dirk had no clue who this guy was. And I’d just spent a year saying hi to him!’
They might seem like small incidents, and yet. Being part of a set of twins means people tend to see you a certain way. Since you look exactly like your ‘other half’, people assume the two of you are actually the same. ‘Some people just don’t take the trouble to get to know us’, Sofie explains. ‘They’re just kind of lazy, I guess. We’re similar in many ways, but you have to take the time to get to know us and know who we are.’
The sisters do actually have different personalities. Fransje can be a little harsh at times. ‘I’ll tell people what I think, while Soof tends to avoid conflicts.’
We coordinated our outfits to make sure we wore different things
They do their best to show people that they’re different. The pair came to Groningen at the same time and went looking for a room at the same time. But they obviously couldn’t show up to an interview at the same time. Especially as Vindicat members, since they often competed for a room in the same houses.
‘We coordinated our outfits to make sure we wore different things and made sure we didn’t interview at the same houses at the same time’, says Sofie. ‘It was the first time that we really had to think about how to do this. But we want people to know us as individuals and not as a novelty.’
They’re not always successful. When they were forming year clubs at Vindicat, they were always referred to as ‘the twins’ and people considered them as one of a pair. ‘I always felt like people saw us as two parts of a whole and that they had their prejudices’, says Sofie.
Particularly annoying is the way people compare the way they look. ‘They’ll comment on our weight or other personal stuff. People are really direct about it’, says Sofie. ‘Some people just keep staring at us’, says Fransje.
They’ve come up with a standard answer when people ask them how they differ in the way they look. ‘I always say that Sofie has a rounder head and that I have a scar. That’ll help people tell us apart.’
Yet the twins would never want to be without the other. Fransje and Sofie’s parents moved to Vienna when the girls were enjoying a gap year after graduating high school. ‘We wanted to go to university in the same city. To provide a home for each other’, Sofie explains.
They start to miss each other when they’ve only been apart for a few days. ‘We don’t need words. We can just look at each other and know what the other is thinking’, says Fransje. Sofie agrees: ‘Fransje is the most important person in my life.’
Rens and Dirk are each other’s ‘very best friends’ as well. ‘I think everyone should have a twin’, says Dirk. Rens: ‘Although we wouldn’t know what it’s like to not be a twin.’