It is my nineteenth birthday. My friends (more than me) have been counting down to this day for months. I don’t want a huge party, so instead, my best friend’s house is coming over for pre-drinks with my housemates and I before we all go out to the bars. Someone suggests playing Never Have I Ever to pass the time. One of my best friend’s housemates and I lock eyes across the kitchen island, giving each other panicked looks. Under no circumstances were we going to play Never Have I Ever with each other. We quickly shut the idea down.
See, my best friend’s housemate at the time was my older brother.
Yes, my brother and I both go to Queen’s. And before you ask: No, I didn’t choose Queen’s because he did. In fact, I’d wanted to go to Queen’s my whole life, and when he accepted his offer here, I immediately reconsidered. I almost ended up at… Western (ew, I know). Eventually, I decided that I couldn’t let his choice influence my own, and, well, here we are. Because my brother and I are only a year apart in age, I’ve spent my entire university career enrolled at the same school as my sibling. I always assumed he wouldn’t be here for my fourth year, but he’s now continuing his education at (you guessed it) Queen’s.
‘But Queen’s is a really big school,’ you’re probably thinking. ‘You and your brother probably barely see each other. This can’t be that big a deal.’
To some extent, you’re right. Unlike our high school, where I was perpetually known as my brother’s little sister, Queen’s is a much bigger school, and I have acquaintances who don’t even know I have a brother, let alone that he goes to Queen’s. At the same time, there are still those who know both of us and even those who endeavour to make comparisons between the two of us, especially when they find out that he’s in Commerce while I study history.
In second year, I woke up to a text from a friend that they had met my brother the night before, and I remember feeling disappointed. It had been nice to have a friend who viewed me as an individual and not someone’s little sister, and even though, logically, I knew that my friend’s perception of me had not changed after meeting my brother, I felt like it could.
In my mind, university is supposed to be about becoming independent and developing as an individual, and it is definitely more difficult to achieve this growth when a sibling is there with you. When I was in first year, I remember asking my brother to show me where the registrar’s office was in exchange for a TAM. He complained that it was unfair that I could rely on his help with navigating campus when he had been forced to do so alone. At the time, I was adamant that he should help me, but looking back, it is clear that moments like this one prevented me from gaining the independence expected from university.
This past year, I was finally able to attain some of the growth I had initially hoped for. Although technically my brother and I have both been enrolled at Queen’s for the past three years, I spent my third at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. It was like first year all over again, but this time, I got to experience it on my own. I had to become accustomed to a new environment, find my classes, and yes, even go to the registrar’s office, without someone I could rely on for help. For the first time, I got to meet people and be confident that they were seeing me for me and not comparing me with what they knew of my brother. Perhaps most importantly, exchange allowed me to distance myself a bit from my family’s expectations of who I was supposed to be, which granted me the freedom to explore new opportunities and experiences. For example, at St. Andrews, I was in a production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a show known for its risqué costumes and themes in addition to its fun energy and inclusive message. Although I have always loved Rocky Horror, I am not sure that I would felt comfortable being in this show on Queen’s campus, where I would be vulnerable to the judgment of my brother and, by extension, my family as a whole.
Exchange drew my attention to just how much we can be weighed down by the expectations of people around us. We feel like people make judgments about you based on your family or friends, or we might feel like you have to be the person that your friends and family want you to be. Having gone into a new experience completely alone with none of these expectations, I can attest that, despite these feelings of insecurity and judgement that might hold us back sometimes, we are all unique individuals who can and should be viewed apart from our networks of loved ones.
With this in mind, I am actually excited to take on my final year at Queen’s with my brother by my side. University is full of so many amazing moments, and I’m happy that I have gotten to share so many of these moments with one of my favourite people. (Please don’t tell him I said that, or I’ll never hear the end of it.) If, in return for these shared memories, all I have to give up are a few games of Never Have I Ever, I’d say that’s a pretty good deal.
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