International students thrive at debateTweet
Just because English isn’t your first language doesn’t mean you can’t master it. Ask the international students on the Debate Team, who have been successful in not only learning English, but winning debates.
Anna Pinchuk, a junior philosophy, politics and law (PPL) major from Ukraine who learned Ukrainian and Russian before English, was excited when she first found out about the team.
“It was a funny story; it was very accidental. I just saw the post on Facebook and thought ‘Oh, the Debate Team will be great to improve my English!’” Pinchuk says. “I thought: ‘This will be really great to learn about American politics and for my English and for philosophy.’”
Pinchuk and fellow international students Masakazu Kurihara of Japan and Melody Ma of China excelled on the Debate Team in the fall semester, winning Monmouth University’s debate tournament in November over regional rivals West Point.
Joe Leeson-Schatz, team coach and director of speech and debate at Binghamton University, says he is proud of the energy the trio put toward debate.
“You have to be able to understand, translate and respond in a certain amount of time, so the fact that they’re able to compete despite these language barriers is really impressive in my mind,” he says.
Pinchuk says her perspective in politics and economics has proved challenging at times. “I have a more European and Ukranian knowledge and background,” she says. “It can be very challenging, but the debate team was very welcoming to my perspectives. It was challenging − but challenging in a good way because people have been very supportive, especially my partners, team and coach.”
She says debate improved her English as well. “Before we go to tournaments we have these speaking drills where we have to speak really fast, so that we can become clear and enunciate better,” Pinchuk says. “(The drills) have been very helpful in improving my speaking. Even words like ‘imperialist’ − things I didn’t know before.”
Pinchuk’s debate experience was so rewarding that she began inviting other international students to join the team.
“I’ve been trying to go to clubs − and in class I encourage students,” she says. “It’s usually thought of as very exclusive to English speakers ... but because of how positive my experience is I’ve tried to encourage more people to come.”
Kurihara was equally excited by the opportunity to join.
“The reason why I came to the United States and am in college here is to debate,” the junior says. “My dream is to become a contemporary artist, and for contemporary artists concepts are really important. I thought if I could make a good concept and defend the concept, it’s going to be useful. Debate is a really good way to improve my ability to discuss and present ideas.”
Kurihara has found his time on the team as rewarding as has Pinchuk. “Debate is a really good way to improve your productivity,” Kurihara says. “It’s like writing a paper in nine minutes!”
Pinchuk and Kurihara have used their heritage to their advantage. Leeson-Schatz recalls such a moment at a tournament in Kentucky, where Pinchuk and her partner made it to the elimination round. Pinchuk used her native languages to bring her point home.
“We actually used a style for part of the round where she would speak in Ukrainian and Russian so we could criticize English as a universal form of language,” Leeson-Schatz says.
Pinchuk says she’s proud of the experience.
“It was very empowering for me as an individual because I could feel that my experience mattered,” she says. “Not just in terms of how much I know, but what I’ve been through living here and being from Ukraine.”
Kurihara agrees that his background often helps.
“Right now I speak Japanese in debate,” Kurihara says. “Our argument is based on identity, so I thought speaking Japanese is strongly related to my identity and I brought it into debate.”
Leeson-Schatz says he believes the students’ dedication is what helps them overcome the challenges English throws at them.
“Their hard work and their desire to succeed pushes them forward to the next level,” he says.