Patrick Steinhagen on his experience with debating
As of now, it’s been almost six years since I first started debating. Since then, it has been what I consider the smartest decision I have made with regards to my career and the most rewarding and persona-changing activity I have ever undertaken.
I started debating at my boarding school in Germany, after my English professor, who was also the coach of the debating society, urged me to sign up. I hadn’t been a terribly confident presenter until then, so it took me quite some determination to overcome my nervousness and stand my ground before an audience. However, I learned the tricks of the trade and developed quickly. Soon, my first successes started rolling in: I became part of the school’s team, with which I won the national school league, I was nominated for the German national team and received the 3rd best speaker award at a European tournament in which I represented Germany. This all took an abrupt end when my coach and mentor died in a fatal car accident. I told myself at her funeral that I would never stop debating. Ironically, due to the lack of a new coach, I stopped almost immediately afterwards.
When I came to Carnegie Mellon Qatar, I was thrilled to find a debating society already in place under our coach Ian Lacey. Naturally, I signed up. In the three years that have passed since then, I have represented CMUQ in 3 Worlds University Debating Championships (Turkey, Botswana, and the Philippines) as well as 2 European University Debating Championships (Netherlands and Ireland). The World Championships are nothing like the school level debates. There are almost 2000 students who congregate at some random place around New Year’s Eve for a week of brutal intellectual argument and slaughter. In Germany, not having a stereotypical aggressive, monosyllabic German accent (which you will no doubt recognize from war movies) gave you a sufficient edge over most opponents. At the World University Championships I was suddenly up against the world’s most prestigious universities, some of which have fostered their debating tradition for centuries. The kinds of people who represent these universities are barking mad. Debating is their absolute priority, their life. Academics, social interactions, life in general really, are temporarily put on hold in favor of debate. Debating against these kinds of teams was initially scary, at times humiliating, but more than anything a great learning experience. Over time we were even able to garner a number of victories against some big names, such as King’s College London, NYU, Paris, and UPenn; quite an achievement for such a small campus that is fairly new to debating and primarily consists of students whose native language is not English.
Now that my time in the Qatar debating circuit is coming to an end, I can say that I am impressed by the way QatarDebate, a subsidiary of Qatar Foundation, has been able to achieve such a growth and development in the local debating community. The regular tournaments that comprise the league have increased in quality as well as the quantity of the speakers and the nationals, which CMUQ won recently, have become more contested than ever. I will continue to watch how debate in Qatar develops and I can only urge anyone who is interested to join this great initiative.
Though debate consists of a number of things, such as knowledge, logical argumentation, presentation and strategy, one of the most important elements is teamwork. I have had the pleasure of debating with three teammates during my time in Qatar: Shweta Seetharaman, Keynan Hussein, and Dana Al-Ansari (in chronological order). Changing your partner can have quite an impact. You need to be able to rely on your partner, learn how they think, evaluate their strengths and weaknesses relative to your own and develop rituals for preparing and presenting. All of this takes time and lots of cooperation, a process through which all three have become great friends and I am forever grateful to them for the effort they put in to achieve so much together.
I am extremely glad that I invested so much of my time in higher education pursuing this rewarding endeavor and once again, I would urge anyone to give it a try. It’s well worth it. Trust me.