The Winner

Dr. Chang texted me the next week. “We have a winner!” she texted. “The winner of the math contest is Hans Brucker!”

I met Hans not long after. We met in his math classroom.

Hans is sixteen. He is Dutch. His mom came with him to the United States when he was twelve. He is blond and thin.

“I am from the Netherlands,” Hans said. “My English, sad to say, it is not so good.”

“Well,” I said, “my math is not so good. I could not Set past Problem 2 on that test.”

“Problem 22” said Hans. “That was this one, I think.”

Hans wrote out the problem.

“Yes,” I moaned, “I tried that problem and I lost.’

I watched as Hans started jotting down numbers and letters. He got the problem in less than a minute.

“See?” he said. “It is not so hard!”

“Hans,” I said, “Dr. Chang tells me you aced that test. She says you missed just six problems out of a hundred. That is fantastic! Tell me. How did you get so good at math?”

Hans sat down and told me the tale of his life. He spoke good English but with a thick accent.

“When I was a kid in the Netherlands, math Was the subject | liked best. When I was seven I found that doing math problems was a lot of fun. So I would check out math books and do the problems in them, just for fun.”

I jotted down Notes.

“In life there are some problems you can take care of,” Hans explained. “Then there are some problems you can't. But math problems are not like that. If you think hard and stick with it, you can get the math problems.”

“Well,” I said. “Maybe you can! But not all of us can, as I found out last week.”

Hans went on, “I never made a plan to get good at math. I just did problems for fun. I did a lot of problems. And after a while I got good at it.”

“The test was in English. Did that make it harder for you?”

“I used to think the word problems would be hard, but they were not so bad. I had to translate the words from English into Dutch. But the numbers are the same in English as in Dutch. They look the same on the page, and they stand for the same things. So there is no need to translate. That is part of why I like math so much. It is the same in all places. 3 + 3 = 6 in the Netherlands. It is the same here in the United States. It is the same on the moon, or on Mars!”