Thursday 21 Sep 2017
A first hand account of what being at the World Schools Debating Championships is really like…
Every year countries around the world select their best and brightest debaters to represent their national teams in the World Schools Debating Championships (WSDC). In both England and Wales teams are selected and trained under the guidance of the ESU. This year the competition took place in Bali, Indonesia, where Team Wales were the highest ranked European team in the preliminary rounds. Here Odunayo Salu reflects on the experience of training and competing with Team Wales.
If you’d told me two years ago that I would one day take part in a debating tournament where I’d spend my days analysing complex ideas and opinions, I’d have responded by saying that I would either be there against my own will, or pigs would have started to fly. Well, although there is a debate to be had about it, I like to think my presence in Bali this summer was a choice I made of my own free will… for the most part at least. But surely something must have changed in those two years. What was it? One simple word: experience.
My first taste of the World Schools Debating Championships (WSDC) was at the tryout weekend for Team Wales, where I found that I had something of an affinity for WSDC style debating. It’s the combination of independent idea generation and team-based strategy and consistency that appeals to me a lot. Although I had some debate experience prior to that, raising the stakes and tightening the competition was the real game changer that enabled me to discover my hidden potential.
This effect was heightened at the tournament itself, where I came face-to-face with some of the most brilliant thinkers I have ever met. In my opinion, your skill as a debater is heavily determined by the ability of your opponents, so it came as no surprise that I had improved more as a debater in the two weeks of the tournament than I had in seven or so months of debating prior to that.
Contrary to popular belief, the WSDC tournament is not where you find the best debaters, but rather, it’s where the best debaters are made, and I feel privileged to have been a part of it.
Much like your debating skills are affected by the debaters around you; similarly, your social wellbeing at WSDC is dependent on those same debaters. During the first week of the tournament you’re guaranteed to meet someone new every day, and in my experience, they’re all quite opinionated! But as the days go by you eventually pierce the veil of first impressions and everyone begins losing interest in how clever they appear to each other. Everyone starts to open up and form friendships and bonds with each other.
Sitting with my feet in the water, giving live commentary on the pool volleyball game between Team England and Team Scotland, I can tell you first-hand that it doesn’t take very long for it to all stop feeling like a prestigious debate competition and more like a fun trip away with friends who you may have met a week ago, but that you feel you’ve known for years. By the end of it, you find yourself sending and receiving 10-20 Facebook friend requests a day, wondering how you found such a vast network of new friends in the space of two weeks.
Upon reflection, there are many other ways that I could have spent two weeks of my summer holidays, but if given the opportunity, I would do it all over again without a second thought.