‘The only way is to try it’
There has been a lot of times when the voice in my head has told me I was not smart enough to do something. Joining the debate club in my university a couple of years ago was one of the most memorable ones. I decided to join the debate club because I am an argumentative person, and besides the Christian club that sounded pretty boring, it was the only one in English. I had done public speaking contests in Spanish when I was in high school so I thought it would not be so different. Oh, I was wrong.
Once I got accepted after an interview, me and all the newbies went to our first debate session. It was a three hour meeting with everyone in the club. After all the necessary introductions we were split into different rooms, and watched our ‘sunbaes’ ,which is a Korean word for senior, debate. My ‘sunbaes’ were given a motion at the beginning of the session and had fifteen minutes to prepare a speech. Each speech should last no more than seven minutes. When the debate started I was amazed, and afraid. They were unbelievably well spoken and articulated. The arguments were solid. If I can compare to something, it would be like watching a tennis match. A debater throw an argument, and the opponent respond back and throw another argument. I am not gonna talk about some technicalities, but that was basically it. I was afraid because I knew it was beyond my abilities at the moment to prepare a speech for fifteen minutes on whatever random topic, could be economics, politics, religion, sports, and then deliver a speech like that. I started to think I made a huge mistake entering the club.
After the first debate finished, we were asked to incorporate in one of the groups and debate. Just like that. I did not even know that each debater had a roll to fulfill and the debate I just watched was the only one I had ever seen. I tried to avoid it but every newbie was doing it, so I could not escape. I joined a team and tried to do my best, and my best was probably the worst speech of the night. It was then when I discover even if 90% of my classes in university were in English, my ability to speak it was mediocre. I was so nervous I don’t even remember the topic now, I just remember going to the front of the classroom and start to mumble. I looked at the other member faces, all poker faces, just staring at me. I wanted the earth to open and swallow me. I mumbled for two minutes that seemed like an eternity. I tried to say more because we were instructed to at least fill the seven minute mark, even if our arguments were poor, but I could not. I finished and sit down wanting to cry. The only thing that prevent me from doing it was the fact I did not want to embarrassed myself more than I did. I cried in my room a lot after it.
I thought about quitting. I thought about sending a message telling the president of the club I had changed my mind and I will stop being a member. I talked it with my roommate and my friends, I tried to quit but at the end I could not. Quitting was telling myself I could not do it. Quitting was agreeing with my head that my English was poor and I lacked abilities to debate. Quitting because I was embarrassed and feel like a dumb person while debating will make me a coward I thought, so I stayed. I sent a message to the president asking for feedback about my first debate, and to explain me all the debate rules and technicalities. She was kind enough to make time for me, met me at a cafe and slowly teach me the basics. She told me everyone is bad in their first debate, but honestly, I keep thinking mine was probably a record. Anyways, I decided to stay, although for a long time, every time I had to go a sessions (we had them twice a week) I had a heavy feeling in my chest.
I felt dumb while debating for a long, long time. I made a lot of grammar mistakes while speaking and I discovered the flow of my ideas was disorganized, so my speeches were hard to follow. I was also not that analytical and inquisitive like I thought I was, so my arguments were weak. I listened to a lot of debates from my seniors, attended some workshops, and read a lot about everything. Although you cannot know what the debate is going to be about, the more you read about everything, the better arguments you can present. I remember once I had to debate about e-sports and why they should not be on the Olympics. I had no idea about e-sports, and of course my arguments were pretty basic and easy to rebut. I tried to prepare myself better, and I was improving slowly. The fact that you always have to debate in teams, made myself feel a stronger compromise with my improvement. I did not want to let my team down. My team members were way better than me, one of them even got the championship of the Korean Inter-varsity Debate Tournament during next semester, so I wanted to do my part the best I could.
With my team, we went to our first tournament in the rookie category four months after my first debate and we got to semi-finals. I was shocked and thankful for my teammates. I was disappointed because I wanted to go to finals, but at the beginning of the tournament I thought we will be eliminated in the first round. That is when I knew I still lacked experience and I was not definitely really good at it, but from doing a two minutes speech to the semi-finals, I improved a lot. Debate became really fun for me, although there were times I still felt really dumb, and I used to compare myself with my ‘sunbaes’ which did not help with that feeling. But I did it. I stayed in for a little less than one year and I quit. But this time quitting was different, I wanted to prioritize other stuff, and debating takes time, but it was not because I was embarrassed or I because I thought I was not smart enough. I felt good, I improved, I proved myself that the voice in my head that told me I could not do it was wrong.