While other Princeton students spent their fall break catching up on work and sleep, three undergraduates were busy using their Chinese language skills to become minor celebrities in Singapore and the rest of the Chinese-speaking world.
Seniors Michael Medeiros and John Pardon and junior Jesse Murdick represented Princeton – and won their division – at the International Varsity Debate, hosted by Singapore Media Corporation and China Central Television.
The competition began in 1993 and debates are held every other year. The Tigers competed in the non-native speaker division, which also included the University of Sydney, the University of Nottingham, and Korea University.
Preparation for the competition began when the students returned to campus in September and auditioned for the opportunity to represent Princeton on an all-expenses-paid trip to Singapore. Professor C.P. Chou of the Chinese department supervised the trip.
“After we were picked we had practices two or three times a week with the Chinese teachers,” Medeiros said. They worked on debating style and learned what it would take to be successful in the structured, three-on-three debate format.
Two weeks before the competition, the Princeton team learned that its first round debate against the team from Sydney would be on the subject of euthanasia. “We met with [bioethics professor] Peter Singer, which was really helpful,” Medeiros said. “He pointed us towards some articles that could help our side.”
“The teachers provided us with some classical Chinese quotes from Confucius and other scholars, which really strengthened our case,” Medeiros said.
Using these classical quotations was important in setting Princeton apart from the other teams, Medeiros said. Medeiros and the other competitors have taken the equivalent of four years of Chinese at Princeton, and are now studying classical Chinese.
The Tigers won the first round and then defeated the University of Nottingham in the final to win the competition. Local news stations interviewed the competitors, and Medeiros said locals at a food court recognized them and approached them the next day.
Though it was exciting to be recognized on the street in Asia, Medeiros said he was most grateful for the personal cultural exchange that he experienced by rooming with a native speaker from Singapore.
“We got to hang out with all the kids from both the native and non-native speaker divisions,” Medeiros said. “It was a good educational opportunity for us, to meet people from around the world.”