Most of Ruta Karpauskaite’s classmates had met—or at the very least, heard her mention—a sister on campus. However, it wasn’t until her parents arrived last May to celebrate her graduation that everyone had a chance to put two and two together—literally. “People said, ‘Wait, there are four of you?!’ ” Ruta says with a laugh.
Actually, there are eight: the Karpauskaites are a Lithuanian family of seven daughters and one son, born to mom, Malgozata, and dad, Juozas. Ruta, the fourth child, embraced her new role as “first” when she chose to attend NYU Abu Dhabi, and three younger sisters followed. That means that during the 2018–2019 academic year, there was a Karpauskaite sister in every grade: Ruta (NYUAD ’19, a double major in political science and social research and public policy), Laura (NYUAD ’20, a biology major), sophomore Egle (NYUAD ’21, also a political science major), and Dalia (NYUAD ’22, a psychology major on the neuroscience track).
Having four siblings crisscrossing a small campus, of course, wasn’t always a picture of harmony. Between study sessions, dinner outings, and dating advice, there were inevitable disagreements. “We’re all pretty strong-headed, and some of us get fired up pretty fast,” Ruta says. But now that she’s on a different continent, pursuing graduate studies nearly 8,000 miles due west at Johns Hopkins University, the eldest NYUAD Karpauskaite sister admits that she misses being able to walk across campus to borrow one sister’s belt or another’s mug—even if that meant some of her own things sometimes quietly disappeared in exchange.
Her suggestion for anyone going to college with one or more siblings? Spend as much time together as you can, while you can—even if it means occasionally being mistaken for one another. When Ruta and Egle took a comparative politics course together, classmates commented on their similar-sounding voices. “It was weird, to be completely honest,” Ruta says. “And I loved it.”
NYU News spoke to the sisters about the perks and challenges of sharing a home—and then a college campus—with so many siblings.
What's it like to have sisters as classmates?
Ruta: It was funny when Egle and I took Comparative Politics together because we were two of the most active members of the class, and we were often reinforcing each other because our views are so similar. I also took a core class—Seven Wonders of the Invisible World—with Laura, who is studying biology and chemistry and is incredible at it. I was just there because you have to take a science course, and I was a bit lost. So she helped me study, even though I was the older sister—all that stuff was so straightforward to her. I thought, “OK, this is not my thing, so I’m just going to listen.”
Egle: My sister Ruta and I share a major—political science. Because it was a second major for her, she ended up taking a lot of the foundational courses at the same time that I did as a freshman. As the younger sister, I was initially nervous about this, because in high school I’d been compared to her and we were lumped together as a unit. But my professors quickly helped me overcome that. I found that we ended up with a lot to discuss outside the classroom, and I managed to learn new things about my sister.
What are some of your favorite ways to unwind and spend time together in Abu Dhabi?
Ruta: Dalia and I loved going to classes at NYU's gym together. Our favorite was high-intensity interval training with instructor Jamie. There's also the beach, which is just five minutes away, ridiculously beautiful, and free. You can bring your class readings and still have it be kind of relaxing.
Laura: I like to pick up coffee or tea from the cafe on campus and surprise my sisters in their rooms. Then we can relax and talk about our days. We also try to see each other for family dinners—one of our favorite spots in Abu Dhabi is a restaurant called Seven Hot Pot.
Do you ever bicker?
Ruta: Of course we do. But I can't stay mad. I always have to go apologize if I have an outburst or get annoyed.
Egle: We used to argue a lot about sharing while we were still learning how to respect personal boundaries—being crammed in a house with six other girls does that to you. We would pull stunts on each other by wearing the other sister's clothes without asking. Now, as we are building our own outlooks on life, we have more disputes about politics, which as a political science major I enjoy a lot more than fighting over clothes!
What's the best piece of sisterly advice about college that you gave or received?
Ruta: All of us are very driven and motivated, so we tend to spend too much time studying, I feel. When they got to NYUAD, I told my sisters to just hang out with people, do stuff, and try to travel as much as they can. That was the main thing that I learned as an undergrad—that you have to find balance. I took up piano lessons and made friends from all over the world.
Laura: I tried my best to provide any help and guidance to my sisters when they came to NYUAD, but I also wanted them to experience the university on their own. My siblings and I went to the same high school—at one point six of us were there at the same time—and we quickly realized that it’s very easy to feel pressured to act a certain way when people already know some of your family members. I really wanted to avoid that at NYUAD, so I tried to give my sisters space to explore.
Dalia: I’m not able to put into words how much support and help I received from my sisters, but I think the best tip I received from them was to be myself. At a university with students from more than 80 different nationalities, it can be hard not to get lost in all the diversity that surrounds you. Having people close to me already there and waiting helped me get through that first year and adjust to university life.
Egle: My sister Laura always reminds me to manage my time and get my work done if she knows I have an assignment due. It isn’t always very pleasant to hear, but it definitely helps.
What’s the best part about growing up in a family with many siblings? What’s the hardest?
Laura: The best and the worst thing is the same: you are never alone. I love my family and would never have it any other way. The support and love I receive is indescribable. But, in a home with nine other people with strong personalities, it can be hard to find peace and quiet.
Egle: Growing up, I got used to being called the wrong name by accident, and I quickly learned that the world does not revolve around me. That has always helped me to put things into perspective and work harder. And knowing that I have lifelong friends to turn to doesn't hurt.
Dalia: Someone was always there with me to talk, share, help, or teach something. I’ve always been encouraged to open up about what I believe in, how I feel, or what I‘ve learned. Of course, having seven siblings who are all trying to be the best version of themselves is not an easy thing—but our wish to succeed allows us all to bring out the best in one another.