Gatton students to head to Qatar for international debate championships

Noah Moore

The WKU Department of Modern Languages is taking Arabic language learning outside of the classroom with the annual trip to the fourth annual International Schools Arabic Debating Championship in Doha, Qatar, April 7 to 11.

This is the first year that Arabic professor Lhousseine Guerwane will be taking Gatton Academy students. He previously participated in the championship with WKU students last year, where the students had success in debating, with WKU alumna Mollie Todd even winning Best Non-Native Arabic Debater out of more than 50 countries represented. Among those on the trip was WKU Arabic Club member and senior Savannah Gillam.

“This was my first time visiting the Middle East, so my trip to Qatar was very special, and I’m thankful to have had the privilege to attend the Debating Championship,” Gillam said. “I am now able to develop arguments concerning important world issues and provide supporting evidence for such arguments in Arabic.”

This year’s attendees include Guerwane, the trip adviser, along with Gatton junior Sarah Yaacoub, and Gatton seniors Lindy Sipes, Alexa Thompson and Maggie Lewis. All are students in the WKU Arabic program from which Guerwane selects the most proficient students to attend. For disclosure purposes, Sarah Yaacoub is also a features reporter for the Herald.

The debating championship itself is mostly impromptu, with competitors receiving their topics for debate just minutes before the debate starts. The debates cover many different themes dealing with global topics, Guerwane said.

“Our four Gatton students will compete against teams made up of other native and non-native Arabic speakers from around the world in the weeklong competition,” Guerwane said. “The debate topics can range from politics, economics, human rights, feminism and virtually any other topic. There’s also an extra challenge in that non-native speakers are likely to compete against native Arabic speakers.”

The debating championship students’ flights and accommodations are paid entirely by the Qatari government, and the students are given cultural excursions into the town’s museums, the headquarters of Al Jazeera, a Middle Eastern journalistic juggernaut, and the Al Adaid Desert. The students will also be meeting international students who share their common passion for the Arabic language and language-learning in general.

The majority of the students on this trip are relatively new to the Arabic language. Sipes is currently in her second year of learning the language. She notes that while learning the basics of the language is interesting, this trip helps to embolden her ideas of the culture surround it.

“The basis of the trip is to debate different topics in Arabic, which I’m excited about,” Sipes said. “Arabic has become my favorite class every semester. When learning another language, learning about the language’s culture inevitably follows. This opens up doors to travel and gives insight into the way that other people live.”

The WKU Department of Modern Languages offers this trip each spring, with every other year offering the trip to Gatton students, and the other years being offered to WKU students. Lewis said learning foreign languages, Arabic specifically, can open a door to the world.

“Learning foreign language is so critically important to today’s society,” Lewis said. “It is a blessing to be able to interact with people who have so much to share with me about their culture and just themselves. It’s really all about having an open mind. I love to talk to anybody and everybody and learning languages has really opened the door to allow me to do that with so many cool people.”

Guerwane said the team leaves for Doha, Qatar, tomorrow and will return April 12 with some impressive international experience and heightened language skills to carry with them.

“It helps foster understanding and builds bridges between cultures and countries,” Guerwane said. “That’s the most important part.”

Features reporter Noah Moore can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @noah_moore18.