Youth Diplomacy and Activism Conference (YDAC) 6/7/15

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One of the most popular extracurriculars in Fulbright Korea – that I completely forgot to mention in my extracurriculars post – is YDAC, a debate and diplomacy conference for high school students. It’s held twice a year, but I didn’t participate in the fall/winter conference because I wasn’t ready to take any more than I already had on my plate.

YDAC, or the Youth Diplomacy and Activism Conference, is a day-long event featuring a debate, the chance to meet a real diplomat (usually a foreign service officer from the US Embassy in Seoul), and workshops related to diplomacy and activism. There are three regional YDACs, in Seoul, Busan and Gwangju, and naturally, the one for my region is in Busan.

The preparation process began back in April, but I’d been thinking about YDAC long before that. Initially, I counted myself out because I didn’t have any particular experience or interest in debate. However, upon finding out that at the previous conference, my school won one first place, I felt obligated to participate.

On Departure Day, when ETAs all left for our new placements across the country, I had a 5-hour drive to Gimhae with my Fulbright coteacher. YDAC was one of our many conversation topics. I might have led with a “I heard last year you won!” but I was surprised to be met with some resistance.

Yeah, we won, he seemed to admit grudgingly, but it wasn’t an official contest, so it wouldn’t matter for the students records. I was stunned to hear his perspective after only hearing sugar-coated tales of success at orientation. He went on to talk about how the previous teacher had been so stressed and taken on so much more work to participate in YDAC – more negativity, I thought, and changed the topic. In retrospect though, I think it was his concern for the other ETA that led him to speak against YDAC.

So when I sent out Spring 2015 YDAC fliers to the other teachers to show off how our students were featured, my Fulbright coteacher wore a stormy look on his face as he asked me when I’d received this flier. I proceeded with the help of other teachers instead.

Choosing a team

The first thing to do was to form a team. Busan’s YDAC allows five students to participate, so I advertised to my classes – without much success – and reached out individually to a few students. Interested students were given an application with three questions to answer, asking why they wanted to participate, what topic(s) they were interested in discussing, and evidence of whether they could be a good team player.

The application itself was a bit of a hurdle (for students), but the students who applied were determined. I emphasized while advertising that they didn’t have to be amazing at English to participate, just passionate and willing to work hard. I told the story of a low-level school that ended up winning first place, and one class really bought into it, leading me to get most of the applications from that class.

Instead of focusing purely on English ability, particularly as one of YDAC’s goals is to give this opportunity to students who might not otherwise have the chance to attend such an event, I focused on team dynamic. After discussing the applicants with one of the homeroom teachers, I settled on five students, some of whom were an unexpected choice to other teachers, which only made me more certain about choosing these students.

Choosing a topic

Next step, a topic for the debate portion of YDAC. I already had a list of topics from my team’s applications, so we had a brief meeting and a couple rounds of voting to decide. The choices included ISIS, Korean reunification, multiculturalism, commercialism, Korean education, racism and gay marriage. To my surprise, they overwhelmingly voted for gay marriage!

While I told them I knew a lot about the topic, there was a lot of background information for them to catch up on. In our first real meeting, I passed out a vocabulary sheet. When we got to the definition of “homophobia,” one student admitted, “me, a little.” On the inside, I was jumping with excitement at the opportunity to have an honest conversation. Having been worried that not all of them were comfortable with this topic, this comment opened a window for us to discuss how they felt about the topic, and how it was okay if personally they weren’t so sure.

We began with the topic “gay marriage” but ultimately, students decided it would be too difficult to pass a resolution on gay marriage in Korea today. We altered our topic to “gay rights” and the team got to work researching. Proud of them.

A few weeks later, a student told me that a guest teacher talked about sexuality in class one day, and was surprised that my student knew the acronym LGBT. She was so proud and excited to tell me.

Preparation

Preparation proved to be tricky as it was difficult to find time to meet. However, my students took a lot of initiative, met on their own, and did a LOT of work. The components they needed to prepare were a resolution (stating their topic, the current problem, and viable solutions), a poster, a speech script, and pro/con statements for all of the other teams, stating whether they agreed or disagreed with their resolutions.

We finished their script and wrote all the pro/con statements…the day before YDAC. Ahhhh. I forget they are still high school students and they aren’t always efficient…

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…but we got the job done, had a good time, and enjoyed having dinner together.

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The Conference Itself

Nothing works out perfectly. We set off early on a rainy morning, meeting directly at the light rail station. One student called, informing me that he would be 30 minutes late, and urged us to leave first. Of course he didn’t have the directions I gave him the day before, but I kept him updated with Kakao messages and he made it. Another student, who had the role of team representative, had a cold and worried that it would mess up her pronunciation. She also brought the wrong bag, meaning she didn’t have any of her notes. Eeks!

Thinking back, it’s amazing that I wasn’t freaking out. But maybe it’s being in the role of teacher that did the trick. When everything’s going wrong and your students are already nervous about their speeches, you have to be the encouraging, positive one. It’s your job, really.

The conference didn’t start right on time, as a number of teams trickled in late – oh yeah, there was also a bus driver’s strike scheduled for that day, but it was cancelled last minute. My final student arrived last, but just in time for the opening ice breaker.

The debate, the main event, was split into two sessions, morning and afternoon, and each team was split into two rooms. So each team would present twice, but a different pair of students each time, joined by the team representative, who would field questions and do the rebuttal for both rooms.

In the first round, my students were nervous and a little discouraged after their speech. I regretted not making time for us to practice more. Nevertheless, I was excited for them. In the afternoon session, I had to remain in the same room to judge, but in the other room my students apparently slayed – other teachers were impressed and one student came bounding into the room, telling me their resolution had passed!

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There was a short presentation from a US foreign service officer and a Q&A for students. After lunch at McDonald’s, we finished the afternoon session and Vinnie from the Fulbright office presented a workshop for students. It looked like tons of fun.

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The final part of the conference was the awards ceremony. My team…won 2nd place! The looks on my students faced turned to shock, then excitement, then cheers. They also won best poster, voted on by fellow students.

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To finish the night, my team had dinner at Ebadom with two other schools: Yeong il High School from Pohang and Gyeongnam Girls High School in Busan. The other ETAs and I watched students chat, make friends, and take selfies…and we may or may not have joined in.

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