What it’s like to go to UEA with your sister
It’s my uni too, okay?
I probably wouldn’t have even considered UEA as one of my five options if my sister hadn’t gone here.
She’s two academic years older, so when I started my English Literature degree in 2013 she was in the final year of her Psychology degree. At first I thought it was really cool – I had a better idea than most students of what the five Ls were, that Pimp My Barrow was the biggest event of the year, and that to not make it to the LCR was really very tragic.
I guess I’ve always copied her. When I was choosing my secondary school I went to a comprehensive because she went there. The choice was absolutely mine and neither she nor my parents pressured me but it was the wrong one and I later switched to go to a girls’ grammar.
When it came to picking unis, I’d had the added advantage of visiting my sister regularly so was fully acquainted with our concrete jungle and seeing the square in all its sunny glory. Everyone kept asking me: “Are you only going to UEA because Charlotte’s there?” I’d deny it repeatedly but secretly worried I’d done what I did when I was eleven, and it was true: UEA was safe for me and what made it safer was how reputable it was for my degree – but I should have been brave and pushed myself to go somewhere else.
After I’d received my offers it was a genuine toss-up between Leeds and UEA and if you ask me where I wish I’d gone now then I’d say Leeds, because UEA will never really be my uni. Don’t get me wrong, I love UEA and think it’s wonderful. But I’ll always be that girl who went to her sister’s uni and it’s a rubbish label to have because it makes me seem incapable of being my own person. It also more significantly meant that if she saw me chundering in the LCR she could threaten to tell mum.
Sure, we were only together for one year at the same university, but Norwich isn’t the biggest place so we’d bump into each other all the time. I remember sitting in my onesie looking out of the ceiling-to-floor window one incredible hungover morning, breathing out fumes of stale wine and vomit, and seeing her jogging past with her boyfriend for an early morning workout – I’ve never resented her more. She had her life together as a healthy, happy, almost graduate, and I was an emotionally volatile fresher who still didn’t know how to reference properly.
There were some benefits, though. I rang her on the day of my first introductory lecture because I was lost and she literally guided me from my accommodation to the other side of campus to where I was supposed to be. I suppose it was like having a permanent student ambassador on hand. It was also such a gamechanger to say I’d been invited to a third year’s house party and that I had unlimited plus ones – I felt like a BNOC in the making.
She had her car as well so could drive me to ALDI for food trips and when I went to do that first year thing of buying a bike for second year she was on hand to help. When my parents came up to visit though they’d have to spend the weekend here to have one day with my sister and one day with me – we didn’t want to share. It also meant that when we were coming home for the holidays or returning to uni we’d have to do two car trips because our one people carrier just wasn’t enough.
Obviously I have my own life at uni and my own friends, but it’s just not very cool to go to the same uni as your sibling, is it? I don’t enjoy uni as much as she did, either, and I think that’s partly because I didn’t go to somewhere I truly loved. My sister has always said she’d love to come back and live in Norwich when she’s older, but I’d hate to do that. She spends enough time in at mine anyway for her UEA alumni reunions – my house which apparently “smells like old people” is still preferable to the rates at Broadview Lodge.
It was lovely to be able to pop over to my sister’s house for a cuppa if I was feeling homesick, but my other housemates didn’t have the luxury of seeing their siblings at a drop of a hat and neither should I have really. It was ideal for her as well when her hot water went that she could just nip round to mine for my endless en-suite supply.
When my housemates and I came to choosing our house for second year, my sister and parents suggested I chose her old house – why on earth would I want to live in the exact same place as she’d done? There was a point where I considered it but then realised I wanted to get away from being the little sister that copied everything. Coincidentally my housemate’s brother is at UEA, too, and he’s just signed the contract for our house for next year. It doesn’t seem to bother them at all and they’re very close, but for me I felt like I was suffocating in my sister’s been-there-done-that.
Going to the LCR was an issue, too. I didn’t want my sister to see me making out with anyone, and neither did I want to catch her with her boyfriend. I felt like I had to constantly watch over my shoulder in case either her or her housemates saw me and went snitching. It was always good fun though if I did spot her out and I felt really proud that my big sister wanted to come over and say hey to me.
It was even more fun when my housemates didn’t want to go out, like at the Christmas LCR, and Charlotte would invite me to come with her friends. I guess it was like I had an extra set of friends, and it was one of the best nights of my undergraduate life screaming Mariah Carey with my big sister as fake snow clogged our throats.
It’s a shame though that I’ve never been able to find out things for myself – like the pure joy when you first make it to the top of Chancellor’s Drive, or how the puppet man is the best/creepiest celebrity to come from Norwich. I didn’t really get to experience Norwich as a dewy-eyed fresher because I already knew what to expect, and that made my university experience really anticlimactic.
If ever family friends want to find out information about UEA, it’s always my sister they’ll go to because like I said, it’s her uni, not mine. Maybe I’m just being the typical middle child and thinking the world is against me, but I always feel a little bit judged for not going somewhere different like my younger sister did. But hey, at least I’ve already been to one UEA graduation, so I know exactly what to expect at mine this summer.
Going to the same uni as your sibling may well be a safe choice – but despite all its benefits, it’s the wrong one.