Michael Medeiros ’11, Jesse Mudrick ’12 and John Pardon ’11 ultimately defeated delegations from British, Australian and South Korean universities to win first place in the nonnative-speaker division of the 2010 International Varsity Debate. Competitors hailed from 10 different universities and competed in two divisions, one for native speakers of Mandarin and another for nonnative speakers.
The delegation of three Princeton students, all of whom began studying Chinese after coming to the University, was chosen in September to represent the United States in the debate. The competition is widely broadcast by China Central Television across the Chinese-speaking world.
With about one month to prepare, the students began training for the debate tournament under the guidance of East Asian studies professor Chih-p’ing Chou, who also directs the Princeton in Beijing language study program.
Medeiros explained that training often involved practice debates in which they were pitted against their own Chinese professors. The students learned the debate topics in September and met with Chou several times a week in October to prepare. In preparation for the debate over euthanasia, the students were advised by bioethics professor Peter Singer, Medeiros added. Medeiros is also on the multimedia staff of The Daily Princetonian.
“It’s different from, say, a speech contest,” Chou said. “For a speech contest you can prepare the entire text in advance. In a debate you have to improvise a lot of answers and questions.”
The students traveled to Singapore on Nov. 1. During the competition, they participated in a series of one-hour debates, in which teams delivered a speech defending their position, asked questions of their opponents and answered questions posed by their competitors.
In the opening round, Princeton bested the University of Sydney, arguing in favor of legalizing euthanasia. In its final debate against the University of Nottingham, the delegation successfully argued that the rise of the Internet and social networking websites such as Facebook has positively affected interpersonal relationships.
The students had little time in between competitions for anything other than studying for the next debate. Though their competition included several graduate students and Ph.D. candidates, the trio of undergraduates ultimately came out ahead. For the team’s first place finish, each of the students was awarded 500 Singapore dollars, roughly equivalent to $380.
“I was really not quite surprised. They worked very hard,” Chou said.
Chou noted that debate preparation involved little emphasis on language basics, though he explained that the foundation the students gained at Princeton was crucial to their success. “Our training is more vigorous here, especially for accuracy of pronunciation and grammar.”
For the students, one surprise during their time in Singapore was how curious local reporters were about how they trained.
“It was not uncommon for us to receive a call in our hotel rooms at 10 p.m. to come down for an interview with the local news,” Medeiros said. “We didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into.”
Chou explained that the debate “is one of the very serious events for China and for Southeast Asia. It’s a well-received program, a big event, especially for Chinese students.”
The prestigious event began in 1993 and occurs every other year. It was hosted jointly by Singapore MediaCorp and CCTV.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2010/11/16/26902/