My Hong Kong Debate Open 2013 Experience – More Than Just Winning Debates

The HKDO cover photo from the HKDO facebook page shows just how diverse the teams were!

The HKDO cover photo from the HKDO facebook page shows just how diverse the teams were!

I’ve always dreamed of winning an international competition and although, I fell one step short last week during the Hong Kong Debate Open (HKDO), I’ve got to say that all the learnings, insights, memories and experiences I got from HKDO more than made up for the loss.

It’s been a week since HKDO but it’s only now that I’ve found time to look back at the experience and appreciate the entity of the event. It’s really amazing how I got to partner with one of the greatest Filipino debaters of the past decade, Kip, who is also my school team’s debate coach.

It’s not everyday that you get to partner with one of the most revered and prominent debaters in the Philippines. When the idea of partnering with Kip, my debate coach, for an open tournament presented itself, I knew that I just had to take the chance. Being that I’m just four months into debating, I still have a lot to learn and honestly, there’s no better way to get better at something than by learning from the best!

Making it to the Grand Finals actually looks just like a bonus when compared to everything I learned from this entire experience! :D

Making it to the Grand Finals actually looks just like a bonus when compared to everything I learned from this entire experience! 😀

What doesn’t break you, only makes you stronger

Entering the competition, I was really enthusiastic of my team’s chances of winning since I was partnered with Kip. Reality struck however in the first few rounds that it wasn’t enough that my partner was really really good; I also had to do my part. During the start, I was honestly a bit complacent but I realized that debate just like almost anything in life is a team sport, which means that it’s not enough that your teammate does your part and you don’t.

Due to the rough start, there were moments during the tournament where in I was wondering why I was even in the competition. The immense pressure of living up to the expectations really got to me. But at the end of the day, everything I went through was worth it for I learned how to cope with pressure, turn it into motivation and instead of feeling worried about the results, I learned how to channel my anxiety into inspiration. More importantly, I learned how to just go out there and have fun during my speeches!

Enjoy the Anxiety, Forget about the Pressure

Looking back, I’d have to admit, the thing I will miss the most from the entity of the experience was the feeling of anxiety I got before and after every round. Honestly, it’s that feeling of uncertainty and anxiety that I will remember the most especially after we got a fourth during the 3rd round. At that point, things were looking a bit grim and I honestly had a bit of doubts that we would even break. Fast forward 3 round later and we end up sweeping the rest of elimination and finishing 3rd in the breaks. Then, when break rounds started, every round was more pressure-filled but at the same time, extremely nerve-racking and exciting!! Honestly, these are the moments we live for!

The round I will remember the most though was the semi-final round where everything went wrong because these moments where you mess up really badly and make a fool of yourself are the moments that you look back to and simply laugh at. Luckily, my partner had one of his best rounds during that same round so we ended up pushing through and making it to the finals.

Cuz there's always time for a bit of fun! :D

Cuz there’s always time for a bit of fun! 😀

A Universal Language

In almost every round, you would hear a variety of accents. There wasn’t one round where everyone had the same accent. Every team in every round I participated in was so diverse. Every person brought with him a different background, understanding, accent and opinion to every debate. This made the experience highly engaging and exciting for despite all the differences, debate has given all of us a forum and means to interact and talk about real-world issues and possibilities!

Your Imagination Is The Limit

No matter how realistic certain motions can get, one of the things I learned about debate by partnering with Kip during HKDO was the fact that anything is possible in debate. A big part of debate is about using your mind to imagine, think of the possibilities and more often than not, see how far reality can go.

When your partner talks about transferring the Statue of Liberty to Tian An Men Square during a round about national treasures or completely abolishing national history from the educational curriculum, it’s inevitable that you eventually realize that the sky is the limit in debating. This really showed me that debate is about stretching reality and imagining a world of obscure and esoteric possibilities.

Skills For A Global World

Just before the Grand Finals started, Professor Forrester, a member of the Global Affairs Office of HKUST and business ethics teacher (who once taught my sister and invited her to present in Harvard), talked about how he hopes that we debaters, use the skills we develop from debate to do good and help solve the problems of the real world. This really hit home for me for at the end of the day, I now believe that debating isn’t just about winning or learning new facts, but it’s also about applying what we learn in order to make the world a better place.

Outside the beautiful HKUST campus!

Outside the beautiful HKUST campus!

Debate has truly opened my eyes to the possibilities of the world. More than just the critical thinking skills, I’ve learned how to appreciate and find the silver lining in every aspect of humanity.

At the end of the day, it’s amazing how debate can bring together people from different ages, nationalities and backgrounds. Despite all the tensions, the nerves, the anxiety before, during and after rounds, looking back, the overall experience has definitely helped me grow not only as a debater but also as a person.

10-20 years from now, I’ll be looking back at the Hong Kong Debate Open as a very special tournament for more than just the fact that it was my first time to break and reach the Grand Finals of an international tournament, I also got to partner and learn from one of the greatest Filipino debaters of the past decade.

I’m really grateful for all the opportunities, experiences and lessons debate has given me so far. I’m also thankful to my family for supporting me along the way and allowing me to participate in these debate competitions. And off-course, I’ll always be thankful to my partner, Kip, for taking time off to partner with a beginner like me and help me achieve a feat that I could only dream of.

Thankful to my family for all the support! :D

Thankful to my family for all the support! 😀

I may not have brought home the championship but like what a lot of people have said, the fact that I’m only four months into debating, reaching the Grand Finals of an international tournament is quite a feat in itself. And besides, maybe I didn’t deserve it yet for I still have a lot to learn and a long way to go! Yet, even with the loss, I was able to bring home so much more than just a trophy and certificate; I was able to bring home lessons, memories, skills and silver linings I will carry on for the rest of my life.

All that being said, I honestly can’t wait for the next debate tournament I get to participate in and lucky for me, I wouldn’t have to wait longer for the Philippine Schools Debating Championship is right around the corner!

-David Ongchoco

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