They are both Computing and the Arts majors in Silliman College and have roomed together since freshman year. At the start of each semester, they pore over the Blue Book together and decide which classes to take — they have had identical schedules all five semesters they have been at Yale.
Stephanie and Valerie Naratil ’11 said they understand why some twins strive to set themselves apart, but for the Naratils, remaining socially and academically close is not only their natural inclination — it’s their preferred lifestyle.
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“To be fair, we do sometimes make it hard for people to distinguish,” Valerie said. “It’s our choice that we have the same style, the same hair. The default is just for us to look the same.”
“We’re less likely to get overwhelmed by our work because we’re both going through it together,” added Stephanie. “But more importantly, we enjoy things more when we’re doing them together.”
Few students arrive at Yale with such a close friend in tow, and even fewer begin their four years with a deep, time-tested understanding of another member of the freshman class. Other students who arrive at Yale cannot pre-select their roommates, as the Naratils did.
While Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel said the Office of Undergraduate Admissions has no special policy for twins who apply, he added that Yale prefers not to give twins different admissions decisions if their qualifications appear “relatively close in strength.”
When twins arrive at Yale, they can choose whether or not to live in the same residential college, as all siblings can. But twins have the unique option to share a room freshman year, as the Naratils did. John Meeske, associate dean for physical resources and planning, said he does not know of a formal policy for assigning rooms to twins, which he said is done on a case-by-case basis. For the Naratils, a simple e-mail to their college dean earned them special permission to room together for their first year at Yale.
Still, at Yale, twins are able to forge paths as close or as divergent as they like. Whether living in the same room or on opposite corners of campus, twins interviewed said their bond has been a valuable part of their experiences at Yale.
Lizzie McDermott ’12 has a pierced nose and a blue streak in her blonde ponytail. She says she’s slightly more introverted than her twin, Cathy McDermott ’12, whose hair and nose remain unaltered.
The McDermotts plan to major in different subjects, history of science/history of medicine and psychology, respectively. But they chose to live in Davenport College together, and while they opted not to room together freshman year, they now live in the same suite. Both varsity athletes, the sisters spend many hours together each day, taking four classes together this semester and often rowing crew in the same boat.
“We find ourselves in the same place pretty frequently,” Lizzie said. “But only because our interests are similar, and we’re really close friends,”
Clinical psychologist and assistant psychology professor Julia Kim-Cohen said twins’ selection of similar environments based on shared genes, also called the “gene-environment correlation phenomenon,” may explain why many twins seek out similar occupations or interests.
“Twin research is actually showing that people’s genetic makeup may determine their interests and hobbies,” she said.
In fact, the eight individual twins interviewed for this article all said they plan to major in the same or similar fields as their respective twins. Even Andrew and Emma Czaja ’12, whom Emma described as “very separate people,” have watched their pursuits slowly converge at Yale.
“I was always humanities-oriented with my focus on art, history and English,” Emma said. “Andrew used to be a much more math and science kind of guy in high school, but when he came to Yale he found that his main interest was in history, too.”
Andromahi “Mahi” and Myra Trivellas ’11 share similar interests, too, both declaring biology majors and planning to apply to medical school.
Fraternal twins like the Trivellas sisters share the same proportion of genes that ordinary siblings would. But they also shared the same prenatal environment, which is a crucial setting for development, Kim-Cohen said. While some twins pride themselves on charting their own courses — together or apart — psychological evidence suggests, then, that some twins may subconsciously drift toward similar pursuits.
DOUBLE THE FUN
The McDermotts entered Yale with a distinct bond, Cathy said, as her sister nodded beside her.
“We’re pretty lucky,” she said. “It’s hard for best friends to get into the same college.”
Extrapolating from twin studies in which child twins who are kept together in the same classroom suffer less from emotional problems than separated twins, Kim-Cohen said a close twin relationship, such as the McDermotts’, can alleviate the stresses of a tough work environment like Yale. The Naratils said they rarely feel strained by their work in college, noting that they manage academic and social pressures well together.
For the Trivellas sisters, this bond proved especially meaningful in their first semester at Yale.
Though they chose to be into different colleges when they matriculated, the two played on the varsity lacrosse team together and shared many of the same friends as a result.
But while the Trivellas sisters were able to control their level of interaction at Yale, they could not have planned for how close one incident would bring them.
Walking at the intersection of York and Elm streets around 1 a.m. in October 2007, Mahi was struck by a car. She crumpled on the cement, screaming in pain; she had fractured her skull and suffered severe spinal injuries.
“I had to withdraw from school because I had cognitively suffered so much damage and had a lot of brain swelling,” Mahi said while meeting her sister’s gaze.
With Mahi in a two-day medically induced coma, Myra said she had to prepare herself mentally to lose her twin.
But after a long recovery process that left her in a neck brace for three months, Mahi regained her strength, re-enrolled in classes and retook her place on the lacrosse team the following spring.
While Mahi survived the accident to return an active student and athlete, she said she feels fundamentally changed by the trauma, no longer the twin with whom her sister grew up. Calling the changes “hard to pin down,” Myra agreed that her sister’s brain functions differently now, and said she occasionally needs to help Mahi talk to their parents or work through a problem.
Still, the Trivellas sisters did not always embrace their twin goals. In fact, the two laugh when comparing their relationship today with a childhood they called “competitive and beyond ridiculous.”
When their mother would pour them juice when they were children, Mahi and Myra said they remember engaging in prolonged fights over whose cup contained more.
“We’ve always tried to be very different,” Mahi said. “In seventh grade, the sole reason why I took French was because Myra took Spanish.”
For their part, the Czajas said their relationship at Yale remains healthy precisely because they keep their distance.
Emma, who lives in Branford College, said she rarely sees her brother, who lives a few blocks away in Silliman College.
“I generally stray away from Silliman, because that’s his territory,” she said.
Still, their relationship has perks; her brother can suggest dates for her friends when college screws come around, for example. Andrew joked that people often ask if the two can do “the twin mind-reading thing.” He said it is a great disappointment that the two cannot, adding that without telepathy, their relationship is not unlike that of any other sibling pair.
The Trivellas twins identify as neither “inseparable” nor dependent on one another. They said they simply know that, in one another, advice or understanding are always easy to find.
“As close as I am with friends or teammates, it’s hard to fully rely on someone who’s not Myra,” Mahi said.
‘SUCCESS FOR BOTH OF US’
As both the Trivellas and McDermott sisters are making plans to attend medical school in the future, neither set of twins expects to spend more time at the same institution, they said.
The Naratils, however, said it would be ideal to take jobs at the same company in different departments. They already interned last summer as analysts at the same small asset management firm in New York City, with Stephanie on the risk management team and Valerie working in hedge funds. The experience proved to the twins that they could apply their similar skill sets and work together in the future, Stephanie said.
“We’ve been able to avoid competition with one another,” Valerie agreed. “We approach most things knowing that success for one of us is success for both of us.”
Stephanie said that, because she and her sister share a closer relationship than most twins, even possibly a future, others might be quick to make assumptions.
“We’re not introverted just because we’re rooming together and living similar lives,” she said.
Valerie added that she and her sister are coexistent, not codependent.
Having dressed the same throughout their childhood, the two became used to teachers pushing them to be different and pursue separate interests. But at Yale, like the other twins interviewed, the Naratils have enjoyed the opportunity to cultivate their relationship as they see fit.