Tuesday, January 22, 2008

IDEA Training in Seogwipo, South Korea

On January 19-20, IDEA offered a free training for middle school students in Seogwipo on the island of Jeju of South Korea. Jeju is far from the bustling metropolis of Seoul and is populated mostly with fishing villages, tangerine orchards and in the summertime, tourists lounging around at resorts. Elizabeth Humphrey, a Fulbright scholar and former debater and part-time IDEA employee, is based on Jeju at Seogwipo Jungang Girl’s Middle School and hosted the training for debaters from several schools. The training covered basic debate, argumentation and public speaking. Elizabeth and I worked with 23 students, and focused on getting each student speaking in English and equipped with the basic skill of constructing an effective argument.

Some of the older and more eager students wanted to try a full debate on Sunday, which we of course encouraged. They felt all the frustrations that first time debaters have (filling time, taking notes, responding to arguments) and were so keen to improve that they asked to debate again but on a different topic. Students chose their own topics and focused on the death penalty and whether homosexuality should be accepted in Korean society. As a conservative society with regard to sexual mores, it was quite surprising that most students were keen to defend the equality and acceptance of LGBT communities. Some of the younger students worked on constructing arguments and giving prepared speeches on whether Korean men should be conscripted into the military. Currently, all healthy men must serve 26 months in the military.

Several of the students were quite enthused about debate and are looking to begin clubs at their high schools next semester. So many of the debate opportunities in Korea center around Seoul, a metropolitan area of about 20 million, so offering training and opportunities for engagement to students and teachers outside Seoul, such as in Seogwipo, is important.