At the very start of the school year, I chose to join the school’s debate club, not knowing anything other than the fact that it would mean arguing in English and that it would give me extra study points. I attended debate for an hour and fifteen minutes once a week and quickly grew to love it.
It wasn’t just arguing. It was going for or against a motion in teams of three, trying to prove that your team was on the right side of the motion through carefully thought-out arguments that had to be clearly and pleasantly presented to the judges. On top of learning how to debate in a set format, learned how to construct strong and logical arguments. I also got how to see things from multiple viewpoints, since debate pushes you to sometimes propose a motion you don’t actually agree with or oppose one that you strongly support. Furthermore, school debates provided great opportunity to make new friends and get more confident at talking in English, something a lot of other non-native English-speaking people noticed happening to them as well.
So, as one might imagine, when our teacher Mike announced that there would be a debate competition that we could attend, a lot of people got excited about it and decided to join in.
Joining the debate competition was made easy for us. We simply had to ask for permission from our parents and make it clear whether we wanted to be debaters or observers (people who help the debaters by observing how debates are going). The event organizers also wanted to know our dietary information to provide everyone with the correct types of food, and our contact information to note us on everything going on with the competition. The only things we had to organize ourselves were transportation and where we were going to stay the night, since the competition took place over both days of the weekend.
Sadly, the competition initially got postponed because of the corona situation. The change was not sudden or unexpected though, and the organizers took care of informing everyone with instructions and new dates 19th – 20th March. As these new competition dates approached, we were also informed of the prepared motions we would have to debate so we could prepare for them in advance. The sides we would be taking in each debate were not disclosed.
After four periods of debating in school, gathering four teams of excited students to compete, planning the transport, and preparing for the planned motions, we left Tampere and took our trains and buses to Helsinki. There, we headed towards SYK (Helsingin Suomalainen Yhteiskoulu) where the competition was being held. The school itself was nice and spacious, well suited for the competition, with all the classrooms available for our use. The school cafeteria was large, and the seats were arranged in such a way that it was easy to talk to a lot of people at the same time while eating. The event organizers present were chatty, cheerful and acted in a very professional manner, which was helpful in trying to navigate through a school that big and something as new as a first ever debate competition.
It was nerve-racking waiting for the first debate to begin. It suddenly felt so much more real, and despite training for the prepared motions, it felt like I had no words and could freeze at any moment. Once we entered the classroom where the debate was being held and started getting into the feel of the debate more, the anxiety eased, and it quickly became very enjoyable. The judges were calm and gave good instructions before and during the debate and gave highly informative and constructive feedback afterwards. Being able to talk to the other team after the debate was the best feeling though, and it remained that way through the whole debate competition. Everyone made new friends from other schools throughout the debates.
We didn’t always have the same opinions, but everyone got along well, and it felt good to be a part of it all.
Winning and losing in these debates was not at all something we’d been keeping track of. It was more so the feedback we got, especially the personal feedback the judges kindly gave if we asked them to do so, that mattered. It helped us notice things we would never have realized when debating on our own, making us even better at what we were doing as the competition went on. After each debate we also got to relax for a good while, enjoying the delicious food that we got there, and the amazing company made up of our own teams and the new friends we kept making. The atmosphere was lively and comfortable, and everyone seemed to be ready to tell fun stories or go over the topics discussed during the debates. We didn’t always have the same opinions, but everyone got along well, and it felt good to be a part of it all.
After the first day of the competition everyone made their way to the places they were staying at. To some it meant a relative’s or friend’s house, but to most it meant a hotel room they’d booked. I myself, like many others, stayed at hotel Haaga. It was just about one and a half kilometers away from SYK and was recommended by the debate committee. I spent the night well-rested in a cozy room with a big, comfy bed and woke up ready for another day of debate.
On the second day of the competition, we all participated in debating the last planned motion. After that each team had gathered a certain number of points from their debates and we all got to know which teams made it to the semifinals. Four of the best teams got to continue debating and even though most of us didn’t make it to the semifinals, we still wanted to see how the competition would go from there. The atmosphere was tense and full of anticipation. The penultimate motion was interesting: “This house prefers a world with no lies”. There were people we knew debating so friends stayed to support friends and after the semifinals two of the best teams remained.
With the last motion definitely being the most thought-provoking and current one yet, everyone seemed to feel the need to stay and watch the finals unfold. We watched two very talented teams debate whether Finland should join NATO or not. No one was disappointed, not even the team that lost. Because as I already said, the debate competition wasn’t about winners and losers, it was about improvement and self-expression.
I’d like to thank everyone involved in the competition for making the experience a laid back yet well-organized setting and for providing us with the opportunity to learn through experience and professional feedback. It was truly an amazing weekend that I would recommend to anyone who is interested in debating, no matter what skill level they think they possess.
Alma Mlivic, Tampereen lyseon lukio debater