What is it like to be a twin? Who was born first? When your sister feels pain, do you feel it to? Do you have a special way of communicating with each other?
These are commons curiosities of singletons when they find out I am a twin.
As I visited home twice this year, I got to spend more time with my identical twin sister and my parents who live in CA and OR respectively. Observing the reactions of others to my sister and I is always interesting. For instance, when we went to solicit in-kind donations for the non-profit she works at, only some of the people we came into contact with noticed that we are twins. When we were at the beach and went to the restroom, our long-time friend who was with us came out of the restroom, saw me entering the stall next to her, and exclaimed, “Whoa! I thought you were your sister for a second, weird!” When my fiancé visits us together, I think he gains a deeper understanding of me as he sees how similar we are in our appearance, our interests and passions, our gestures and mannerisms, our way of speaking, and our laugh.
People who only know one of us are always shocked and fascinated to find out that we are twins and of course they want to see a picture to believe it and see just how similar we really are. They often guess wrong when trying to determine who is who in a photo of us together. However, my fiancé looked through baby photos and teen photos of us growing up when he visited my parent’s house in 2008, and he guessed correctly in nearly every photo!
Fortunately, my sister and I grew up together and were not separated at birth. We have since departed on our own personal and professional paths that have led us to live in faraway places, but we maintain a special bond through our sisterhood and twinness. She lives in CA and I live in Santiago, Chile. We talk weekly on Skype or by phone, text and send photos via Whatsapp, and occasionally post on each other’s Facebook profiles. We manage to visit each other about once a year. We are there for each other for the personal and professional ups and downs, although we are not in close proximity.
When we were little, we were often mistaken for twin boys because we didn’t really have much hair until we were about 1 ½ years old. Our parents tried not to exaggerate our twinness, so they would dress us in different clothes, or at least in similar clothes but different colors. They also did not want to be overly feminine with our attire, so they also dresses us in traditionally “boy” colors as well, such as blue and red, which may have contributed to the confusion about our gender as infants.
As for how they told us apart, my sister was born with a distinctive birthmark on her thigh, which I do not have. So in a diaper, it was quite easy to tell who was who. On the other hand, I had a mark on my forehead that was a sort of purple tone, like when you hold your breath and push, so that helped differentiate me a little bit. Nevertheless, this mark has gone away over time. Nowadays, our dad frequently confuses us and has created a fusion of our names since he accidently says the wrong name so often!
When we were in elementary, middle, and high school, our parents specifically requested that the school place us in separate classrooms. It’s my understanding that they wanted us placed apart so we could develop individually. However, when junior and senior year of high school rolled around, we were both loving and advancing in Spanish classes and the only option was for us to have Spanish III and Spanish IV together during our last two years of high school. Ultimately, our Spanish teacher, Don Douglas, inspired me to eventually study abroad in Chile while in college!
In high school, my sister decided to take the IB (International Bachelaurette) track, which meant she took classes that incorporated a lot of international themes and had the possibility of graduating with an additional IB high school diploma. Instead of doing the IB track, I took the Honors and Advanced Placement track. Our test scores on the SAT college entrance exam, for instance, were pretty similar, although she scored a bit higher. In addition, our GPAs were quite similar, only a 0.03 point difference on a 4.0 scale.
When it came to college, we applied to some of the same colleges, but ended up deciding to go to different colleges, although they are within about 30 minutes of each other in southern CA. She majored in International Relations/Political Science, with a minor in Spanish. I double majored in Psychology and Spanish, and later went on to obtain a Masters of Social Work degree with a specialization in Management and a concentration on Social and Economic Development. She is contemplating graduate school, perhaps an MBA with a focus on non-profit management. However, having seen my student loan debt burden and through her research regarding graduate education, she has hesitated about whether it is really necessary for her to get an MBA (probably having to take on significant student loan debt to do so) in order to advance in her career and acquire the skills and networks she seeks to develop.
In college, I received three undergraduate research grants that allowed me to do qualitative research projects in Nicaragua on poverty, in Argentina on organizations and services for survivors of domestic violence, and in Chile on culture, political history and expressions through the national dance – cueca. These research and cultural experiences were very formative for me and increased my interest in working in Latin America and my confidence in navigating a foreign country on my own. Although my sister focused her high school and college studies on international relations, I have ended up working internationally while has worked in more local, community-based organizations in CA.
Both us of have worked in service-providing and administrative roles at non-profit organizations and in administrative roles at academic higher education institutions. Her experience working with first-generation-to-college low-income students inspired my choice of internship experiences in graduate school related to community development, prevention and youth development programs. While my work and professional training in workforce development, domestic violence prevention and intervention, and non-profit management, have been sources of learning and inspiration for her as well.
As time goes on, our professional interests seem to have aligned well, although we are in different roles and different countries.
As for our hobbies and interests in our free time, we participated in some different activities in middle school and high school. We both played soccer, but my parents encouraged her to play an instrument – viola – although she never became passionate about the viola. We both ran track and field. I participated on the sprinting the team (100 meter race and hurdles), and also did field events, while my sister, on the other hand, was part of the long-distance running team and participated on the cross-country team in the off season. I preferred the high jump, which my parents speculate has to do with my early development in utero. When I was an infant, apparently I would constantly curve my back over their arms and they think it’s probably because I curved that way over my sister in utero for quite some time, so it was a comfortable position for me.
Being involved in student government and leadership groups in high school and college led us to engage in community service and really enjoy it. We also like going to the beach, hiking in the mountains, running in nature, and practicing yoga. She likes to engage in a weekly study group that continues to stimulate her intellectually and help guide her in her career, and she and her friends also started a book group that meets about once every two months. I think I would enjoy those as well, but I have yet to find such a space for myself in Chile. Nevertheless, I have joined her study group and skype in on a weekly basis!
In high school we had some different friends and some friends in common. She made many friends in the international high school program and extracurricular activities, and I made friends in my classes and other activities. Many of her college friends stayed in the CA area and are nearby so they still get together often. Many of my college friends are either living at or near their parents’ home and trying to figure out their career in a slowly recovering economy while they balance part-time, unstable, or entrepreneurial jobs, and others have gone off to faraway places to work or travel, such as Argentina, Greece, and Australia. In graduate school, many of my friends were international or have lived internationally and have moved back to their countries of origin, like Singapore and Thailand, or countries they previously lived in, such as Indonesia and Cambodia. Many of my other friends from graduate school are living where they have landed jobs in their field.
It has been interesting to see the changes in people’s lives as we grow older and to get together with many old friends when I visit home. Some family and friends will be traveling to Chile next year to visit, which is very exciting! My sister will be coming at the beginning of next year. I can’t wait to see how my sobrinos here in Chile tell us apart or if they’ll be totally confused!
My next post Part II will be about our adoption, so stay tuned!