Lakeland District Debate Competes at Korean National Championship

This past weekend, the Lakeland District debate team, represented by Priten Shah and Mihir Paradkar, participated in the Korean National Championship tournament in Seoul, South Korea.  The tournament was hosted by the National Forensic League of Korea (NFLK), which is an affiliate of the National Forensic League of the United States (NFL).

As part of the finals competition, the debaters performed two exhibition debates in Memorial Hall at the Korean National Assembly.

In the first debate, Priten Shah debated Tae Hyun Lee from Leader’s Academy in the Lincoln-Douglas debate format. Lincoln-Douglas is a one-on-one debating format where debaters debate issues involving issues of philosophy and public policy.  The debate topic chosen for this debate was drawn from the current controversy related to gun control in the United States.  The resolution was, “Resolved: The United States federal government should renew the federal assault weapons ban.”  Priten defended the Pro side of the resolution.

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In the second debate, Priten and Mihir debated the defending Korean national champions in a Public Forum debate on the topic of US military presence in Asia.  The resolution was, “Resolved: The United States should substantially reduce its military presence in Asia.  Priten and Mihir defended the Pro, arguing that the United States should abandon its military “pivot” towards Asia, because it creating hostility with China and is overstretching the US economically.  Read the speech

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It was an outstanding debate, and Priten and Mihir were able to take home some nice “Korea National Champion” medals.   They were presented with their medals by Scott Wunn, Executive Director of the US NFL, and Heidi Son, CEO of NFL Korea.

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In addition to engaging in their own debates at the tournament, the tournament presented Priten and Mihir with a number of valuable opportunities.  At the beginning of the tournament, Priten and Mihir had the opportunity to meet Dr. Jeong-Woo Kil and Ja Kyung Yang. Dr. Kil is a member of the Korean National Assembly and a founder of the English Speaking Union in Korea.  Ms. Yang served in the KNA for sixteen years before becoming a policy adviser to the last Korean President.  She is currently the Chairperson of NFL Korea.

NFL Korea


They also met Yenni Park.  Yenni Park (Twitter) is one of the singers of the famous Korean pop (K-pop) group Wonder Girls. The Wonder Girls were the first ones to popularize K-pop outside of Korea, way before Psy and his hit Gangnam Style.


They also had a chance to see many of the other finalists compete on the stage in Memorial Hall.  These included some extremely talented Middle School competitors and also Korean high school students who engaged in Original Oratory, Dramatic Interpretation, and Humorous Interpretation.

Many of the Korean students competing in OO delivered interesting speeches about many of the issues that they deal with on a daily basis in Korea, including the existence of a large rich-poor gap, some of the problems associated with the English language schools, and the fierce academic competition in Korean society.  Reflecting on the intensity of the educational experience in Korea, one of the students explained:

The Hunger Games. Most of us are familiar with this young adult phenomenon about a televised battle to the death, in which 24 children kill each other until only one is living… The definition of staying alive for us is getting tops marks and getting into a good university. There is no doubt that there is a great advantage to ‘staying alive’. But, like the Hunger Games, ‘staying alive’ can have a high price…. Korea’s obsession with education is getting corpses piling up into mountains…. In 2004, there was a very ambitious man with two children, a son and a daughter. His son was in his last year of high school and the man expected very much out of him. After all, he was an honor roll student and he had great potential.  But his grades turned out not to be at all satisfactory. The man was extremely disgraced. Distraught, he drove to his son’s high school with his wife and daughter in his car. When he got there, he torched himself, his wife, and his daughter with gasoline. They all burst into flames and burnt to death.  That is insanity. That a father would feel disgraced enough to actually kill his own family because of his son’s grades. And worst of all, he left his son to feel guilty for the rest of his life…. The sad thing is that these occurrences are not very rare. Ironically, people kill themselves trying to stay alive. Education-related deaths are very common in Korea, the country with the highest suicide rate among the 30 OECD countries. Suicide is the most common cause of death amongst South Korean youth, and 53.4% of suicidal youths cited excessive education-related competition as the cause of their suicidal thoughts….There is a quote about Spartans that says: “Spartans are willing to die for their city, because they have no other reason to live.” We are like Spartans. Ironically, we are willing to die for academic survival, because we have no other reason to live.”

The intensity of the Korean educational experience should give American students a lot to think about.

At the conclusion of the competition, North Korean refugee Il Kwon Yoon delivered a speech about life in North Korea and his experience as a refugee after he left.

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After the speech, Priten and Mihir interviewed Mr.Yoon . The interview is currently being translated from Korean to English and will be published in the NFL’s Rostrum magazine.

They also met and discussed debate with Mr. Iwanaga.   Mr. Iwanaga is working to develop debate in Japan.

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And they enjoyed a nice post-tournament meal.

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A full photo library of the debating day is available here.

The hospitality provided by the National Forensic League of Korea set the standard for hospitality for every debate tournament in the world.

We arrived on Thursday night and began our stay at the Ramada in the Gangnam district of Seoul.

We started the day on Friday with lunch at a traditional Korean restaurant.

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After lunch, we were taken for a tour of Kyung Bok Palace.

Kyung Bok Palace

After the palace tour, we received a tour of the Korean National Assembly.



We were then treated to another great dinner.

A traditional Korean dinner

Additional pictures of the palace tour, the National Assembly hall tour, and the dinner are available.

We began Saturday morning with some debate prep and a tour of the COEX. The COEX is a large convention center and underground shopping mall that was a 10 minute walk from our hotel.  The 2012 Nuclear Security Summit was a hosted at the COEX.

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After the tour of the COEX, we were taken to the Insadong district area of Seoul.  This is outside of Gangnam and is one of the older areas of the city. Of course, we began the day with a great lunch.

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After lunch, we toured the Insadong market.

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We then saw “Jump,” a famous Korean theatrical performance.

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And, of course, we had another great dinner.

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Priten then prepared for the Lincoln-Douglas exhibition with LD-Tae Hyun Lee.

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A full photo library of Day 2 is available here.

We debated on Day 3.

Day four presented us with another chance for a great lunch with NFL Korea’s leaders. It also afforded Priten Shah a chance to work with NFL Korea’s CEO on some initiatives for 2013-2014, including the development of a debate class taught by Priten at Roots Academy during his GAP year, before he starts at Harvard University in 2014.  They also discussed the possibility of opening a branch of Priten’s nonprofit, the Teach2Learn Foundation, in Korea and explored opportunities for delivering educational software in Korea and Haiti for the disabled that is now being distributed by the Teach2Learn Foundation.