While I am on the train back home after a hard week – after a hard day with an exam that exhausted me above average – I was struck by a double feeling. Something sprung my mind that was already there for a long time, or though so it felt, but that only today is finding its right translation in words and actions. Or should I say, something for which I have finally found the right words after having been confronted with a number of actions.
As I have studied politics, the past years I have grown used to large classrooms. In our bachelors, we often were with over 200 students. For some courses even 800. In my masters, the number of students was lower, but teaching and studying remained at a very individual and isolated level. We all were in a classroom following the same course, but in the end we took exam separately. There was no intense form of co-operation during the courses. And I do not know if there is a causal relationship between this isolated learning process – but when exams were over at the end of every term and the grades got communicated, through an individualized software program on which you did not have access to the grades of others, I felt I did not compare my results to what was average. For a first and simple fact: we did not get to know what the average grade for each course was, but second and foremost because I did not feel any form of intense competition with my other students to strive for the best result. Sure, you get along as friends and study buddies. And sure, you care a lot about the results of others. But it was not competition. In no way, the mean stimulated you to continue or increase your efforts.
This is where this year at AMS makes a substantial difference. And now, in a period of exams, it has become evidently clear to me: the mean just got real. At least in our class group, for every course there are group assignments to make and group papers to write. There is a stimulated form of competition between groups – sometimes even by direct evaluation by the other groups – and competition within groups (with the help of a peer review scoring table). You learn to connect with every person of your different groups in a professional way and learn to grow the maturity to make progress despite differences of style, working ethos and longed for results. After a while, this way of working makes you want to strive for the best result for your group and for a healthy stride for the best result within your group (depending on what type of person you are and what your longed for result is). By working together, you get submerged in the work of others as well and the mean gets real. You vividly get to know who your competitors are.
At the same time, there is a tricky part to this. The context and atmosphere of AMS is directed to working together on an almost 24/7 basis. And this rhythm not only makes of others the professional partners they are during this year, but your colleagues become friends you respect highly and value deeply. You become affectionate towards people of whom you hope they succeed (and you along with them) and people of whom you even hope you can teach them a thing or two. In return you hope to learn what others have to offer you as well. Colleagues become friends. Not competitors you want to outsmart.
And even though I have realized this two-folded way in which AMS works for a very long time already, it is only now I feel able to express what this peculiar bond between people really is based upon: what we have always seen as a number – being the average or the mean, however you want to call it – you can now feel and live through the actions of others. Through others, you learn what is expected and how you can offer yourself as a differentiating factor to make progress that benefits all. By being a friend in need and at the same time a competitor indeed, you not only make a difference to yourself but above all to others.
And just for the record, I want to emphasize in the most direct way that my class mates are all highly above average.