As part of the CBL program we are also supposed to get to know the main sights of Cambridge. For this reason they hired a nice guy who led us through the city and told us some interesting and, above all, vivid stories about the most important sights and colleges.
During our tour through the city I noticed one thing that appears to have been valid through the whole history of the university since its establishment in the 13th century, which is competition. There is not only competition between the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford as it can be seen when their annual boat race on the river Thames takes place. There is also competition among the colleges of Cambridge. All try to get the best students with the best grades, who make the better fireworks or are better at punting. Furthermore, on an individual level, grades of students are published so that everybody can compare your exam results with the results of your fellow students. In former times the worst students even received a wooden stick as sign of disgrace, whereas the best students received special honours. This seems a bit harsh, doesn’t it?
Well, of course, to some extend it is. We all know that too much competition can drive you mad and significantly reduce your self-esteem. If we compared ourselves to other people all the time, we all would be quite sad in the long run. Nobody wants that.
However, competing with others also bears the chance that you fully apply your abilities. If somebody challenges you and doubts that you are capable of certain things, don’t you want to beat this person and prove him or her wrong? I think, we all do and, thus, we put much more energy in our efforts than we would without such personal challenges.
Although it is likely that harsh competition leads to some sort of hostility towards your competitors, the sort of competition that I have noticed here at Cambridge is different. Colleges make jokes about each other or try to outperform other colleges in boat races or fireworks. But they would never do serious harm to each other, at least not today. The competition between colleges here seems to be rather about getting the most out of you apart from your studies, because studying is regarded to be more than just learning for the next exam. It is about developing a unique personality which is only possible if you interact (and compete) with people.
I believe that this competitive tradition at Cambridge to some extend unites the people who study here and brings them together. I have seen this today at our soccer tournament at Jesus Green, where people gathered, competed in a game, had a lot of fun, and talked friendly to each other after the game was over. It was a nice evening, where we got to know each other a bit more. So, compete and makes friends by it…