|The finalists of the English Speaking Union’s Korea Public Speaking Competition held at the British Embassy in Jeong-dong, central Seoul, hold up their awards. Sitting from center left to right, Choo Oun-ju, head of the JoongAng Ilbo Education Co.; British Ambassador Scott Wightman; and CEO of HSBC Korea Matthew Deakin. The high school grand prize winner, Park Min-jung, 18, far left in the second row, will have a chance to compete for a place in the international competition held in the United Kingdom. By Park Sang-moon|
The competition began at 9:30 a.m. at Yonsei University, where 60 students between elementary and high school who were chosen from 1,200 applicants competed in the 3rd ESU Korea Public Speaking Competition hosted by the JoongAng Ilbo, the Korea JoongAng Daily and the British Embassy, and sponsored by the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC).
Of the 60 students, 18 went on to the final round, which was held on the same day at the British Embassy’s Aston Hall in Jeong-dong, central Seoul.
The finalists, many of whom wore their school uniforms despite competing on a Sunday, were divided into elementary, middle and high school groups and given five minutes to speak on the topic of “being open to all possibilities.”
Because the topic was open-ended, students were able to bring in their own perspectives, experiences and creative abilities when preparing their speeches. The contestants spoke on a variety of relevant societal issues ranging from protecting the environment, ending school violence, technological developments and food shortages.
These students had high aspirations because the winner of the second ESU public speaking competition, Kang Jeon-wook, went on to compete in the ESU international debate in the United Kingdom and beat out 80 competitors from 47 countries to win the grand prize last year.
After the students gave their speeches, one of the three judges, which included a representative of the British Embassy, asked follow-up questions and then held a two-minute evaluation period.
The grand prize winners for the elementary, middle and high school categories respectively were 12-year-old Kim Yeo-joo of Daejeon Daedeok Elementary School; 14-year-old Cho Jae-young from Daewon International Middle School in Seoul; and 18-year-old Park Min-jung from Daegu, a recent graduate of Buchanan High School in California.
The winners were presented awards by president and CEO of HSBC Korea, Matthew Deakin; the British ambassador to Seoul, Scott Wightman; and Choo Oun-ju, head of the JoongAng Ilbo Education Co.
During the contest, parents watching their children at the podium often looked more anxious than the students themselves.
For many it had been a long day - some contestants were not from Seoul and had to come to the city early in the morning to compete in the preliminaries, waiting anxiously the whole day for the award ceremony, which was held at 7 p.m.
Kim Seong-han, 49, father of Kim Da-bin, a sixth grade student of Sungwon Elementary School in Chuncheon, Gangwon, was one of the fathers present, quietly supporting his daughter from the back row surrounded by many mothers.
“Our family situation is a little different from others. My wife is the main breadwinner and I support the household,” Kim stated.
This included being his daughter’s main supporter and accompanying her to the speaking competition.
He was a little rueful that his daughter had a few stumbles during her speech because she felt nervous in the final round with all the parents watching.
“I hope she doesn’t feel overly competitive with the others to the point that she wishes others won’t do well,” he said.
His daughter is interested in going into debate in the future. Though his 12-year-old daughter didn’t place in the top four of the elementary school category, he wrapped a comforting arm around her as she smiled.
“I was very impressed by their enthusiasm for the English language and their confidence - it’s not easy for a young person to get up and speak in a foreign language in front of a room full of strangers,” the British ambassador said. “I hope that many of them will choose to go to one of the U.K.’s world-class universities when they are older.”
Park Min-jung, the high school grand-prize winner, spoke on the “possibilities of creating an ideal society” and impressed the audience with her poise and eloquence while giving a well-organized speech on how agricultural and environmental problems need to be addressed.
“I’d always wanted to compete in a speech contest, and I saw this competition advertised in the newspaper,” she said.
Park spent two years studying in the United States, before which she studied at Gimpo Foreign Language High School. She will start as a freshman at Yonsei University this spring semester and is interested in pursuing other languages.
Her mother, Jung Yeong-nan, 50, admitted, “We came from Daegu on the KTX at 4 a.m. this morning, and we need to catch the 8:30 p.m. train to go back.”
But despite the long day Jung was beaming at her daughter.
“She got into college already, so she doesn’t have to do this, but I feel really proud of her,” she said.
Prizewinners will be given benefits should they apply for an internship at the JoongAng Daily, along with an opportunity to participate in the 2012 ESU Korea Tour.
By Sarah Kim [firstname.lastname@example.org]