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The Unifying Force of Debate and the Importance of Global Connection

By Justine Mach

When I first started debating in my freshman year, I had no idea how much of an impact it would have on my life. Over the past 3 years, debate has transformed the way I engage with my community, connect with people from all over the world, and shaped my understanding of what kind of a leader and contributor I want to be for the rest of my life.

Hey everyone! My name is Justine Mach, and I am the Co-Founder of Outreach Debate. I’m currently a 12th grader and the President of the Saigon South International School Speech & Debate Program in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Founding Outreach Debate and interacting with the debate communities from all over the world, as well as in my home, Vietnam, have been incredible experiences. From teaching in rural areas of Vietnam and local university settings to founding Outreach Debate and competing at USA Nationals, every interaction I have had within the global debate community has taught me something new about myself and about the world, and I would love to share those learnings with you today.

It all started in 2020, when I joined my school’s debate team for the first time. As I learned the intricacies of rhetoric and debate techniques, I realized how unifying debate was: not only in the way that people speak to each other, but in the way that we think. Much like how certain cultures influence the way that one expresses their emotion, debate provided organized, logical structures for me to think critically and express myself creatively. By training my listening for certain logical fallacies or learning how to eloquently express my refutation in speech form, debate was like a different language that me and my fellow debaters spoke within the walls of competition classrooms. Despite our own native-tongues, home-cultures, or personal political inclinations, the fundamental frameworks of good quality debate gave us a blank slate to come together and discuss issues free of judgment or bias.

As a result of hard-work and constant learning in my freshman year, I was the champion of the Vietnam Public Forum National tournament, and was awarded a bid to compete in the USA National tournament. With my newfound interest in competitive debate and passion for bringing people together, I was determined to spread my love for debate. In 2021, I began coaching a team of college students in a local university in Vietnam. It was my first time ever doing service within the debate community, and I absolutely loved it. Despite the large age difference as a freshman teaching college students, this experience made me realize the power that debate had in connecting people. Many of my university students had just moved to Ho Chi Minh City from the countryside, many having little proficiency in English, yet, their determination to learn debate and compete served as a tool for them to easily communicate with me, and with each other.

From then on, I began to view debate as a public service activity, just as much as a competitive sport for myself. And so, I started at my high school. When I returned to SSIS after that one university coaching experience, I knew I wanted to dedicate myself to sharing the power of debate to as many people as I could. I became the President of my school’s Speech & Debate Program and the founder and coach of my school’s first-ever Middle-School Debate Team. Debate in Vietnam was on the rise.

In the summer of 2022, I met Samuel Chen, a good friend of mine, at a summer camp at the University of Pennsylvania. Up until then, my debate world had mostly been within Vietnam, with the exception of a few online tournaments and competing at USA Nationals once. And Sam’s debate world was only the USA as well. Our conversations began to open up worlds for each other. Sam shared his stories of traveling around America to compete in the national debate circuit, while I told him all about my experiences with coaching in rural districts in Vietnam’s countryside. We realized how much there was to learn from each other and from the world of international debate that we were just beginning to discover: thus, Outreach Debate was founded. That summer, we envisioned a community of international debaters, just like us, who would have the exact same conversations that we had in Philadelphia. We wanted Outreach Debate to serve as a platform for both learning, as well as connection.

When I traveled to the United States to compete in the NSDA National Tournament in the summer of 2023, I truly experienced the beauty of international connection as I fully immersed myself in the American-styles of debate conventions and rhetoric that I had learned from starting my freshman year. Meeting all of the debaters that the Outreach Debate platform had connected me to was amazing: I will never forget the moment that Ava Fiala approached me and asked if I was “Justine from Vietnam!” Not only did I have the opportunity to learn from American-styles of debate, but I was able to represent Vietnam and share my experiences and perspectives from South East Asia.

But we are just getting started. I hope that all debaters, Outreach Debate members or not, can continue to build more stepping stones to bridge gaps in international debate. In the future, I hope that the NSDA can continue to incorporate more international voices into the American debate world. This work is already underway, but the debate community continues to need your help.

I am proud to reflect on this experience and realize the significance of Outreach Debate’s impact on the global debate community. Over the 2022 Christmas Break, Outreach Debate hosted its first ever large-scale camp that attracted debaters from almost all parts of the globe: Philippines, India, Canada, Africa, and more. At Outreach Debate, the label of “international debater” doesn’t just apply to debaters from outside of America, but to all individuals. I am so happy to see our Outreach Debate instructors from Vietnam and America being involved with Chinese debate communities, and I am so excited for all of our Outreach Debate branches to continue expanding public service within their local communities.

There is no doubt that debate is an “eye-opening” activity that equips individuals with the power of critical thinking, but these lessons can only be maximized under a global context. As we enter a world of, arguably, increasing polarization and global division, the importance of global connection in the debate world is more important than ever. I look forward to continuing working with Outreach Debate to bridge international gaps and create long-lasting programs that will benefit many generations of debaters to come.

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