Wednesday, 10 August 2016 09:31
Article by Elizabeth Clarke, Speech and Debate Coach at Brophy and Xavier
One June 1st 2016, Elizabeth Clarke traveled to Chengdu, China with students Tristan Brown and Shaloni Pinto for a cultural exchange and a debate tournament: the 2016 Chengdu Youth Debate Challenge. Prior to their arrival, hundreds of students from Chengdu had been competing in preliminary tournaments to qualify for the exhibition in June which included debate teams from several of Chengdu’s sister cities (San Francisco, Louisville, and Honolulu). It was a truly unique educational and cultural experience proving that healthy, good- hearted competition can foster learning, growth, and friendships.
The first few days of the experience were centered around the Debate Challenge. On the first day of their arrival they visited a school and met the students from China and the US who would also be competing in the Debate Challenge. The US and Chinese students were mixed up at random into teams that would have to work together throughout the tournament to succeed. They drew the Blue Team; which consisted of Elizabeth Clarke,… as the only American team and their six new Chinese teammates. By the end of the tournament it was as if they had been friends for years! While in the end they were not the most competitively successful team, they were privileged to work with wonderful people in the tournament. It was easily one of the best experiences they ever had in debate.
It’s also important to note that this was not a normal tournament-- their hosts in Chengdu gave them an amazing welcome. There was, in fact, a red carpet. At the opening and closing ceremonies, prominent diplomats addressed the students and teachers. Great care was put into selecting judges for each round. Their host’s hospitality was simply unparalleled. It was also remarkable how well prepared the Chinese debaters were. Even though they were debating in their second language, they were formidable opponents! The final round was between a Chinese and an American team. The American team came out on top, but it was a very competitive final round! The quality of the tournament, in every facet, was top- notch. Elizabeth Clarke describes it as “the most well thought- out and best run tournament we have ever attended.”
This thoughtfulness and hospitality continued throughout the week as their competition hosts became tour guides taking them to the Panda research facility, the Shu Dynasty Museum, and to “The Alley”-- a cultural and commercial hub of the city. They ate, learned, and shopped their way through Chengdu. One of the best events was when the students engaged in Chinese Opera by painting their own masks and then performing a fashion show for their coaches. But this was exemplary of every event their hosts planned for them. Everything well thought- out, all the food was delicious, they learned an incredible amount about the city. Most importantly, they had a lot of fun and made some very good friends. The farewell at the airport was not without tears. It’s easy to think of debate as a mode of communication that can divide cultures; but on the contrary, a healthy exchange in a vigorous marketplace of ideas can be unifying-- they have so much more in common than not. They cherish this experience and would love to return.
Published in Activities