Last weekend, Saint Mary’s Asian Studies major Kensey Phillips made the strongest showing ever by an Atlantic Canadian student at Canada’s National Japanese Language Speech Contest.
Competing among 25 students from 13 institutions from coast to coast, Phillips took home the second-place prize in the “open category”—an exceptionally impressive feat, according to Dr. Alexandre Avdulov, a Professor of Japanese and a key supporter for students entering the contest from Saint Mary’s University.
“This is the most difficult category,” says Dr. Avdulov, “because there are no restrictions on the number of years that participants have spent in Japan, or whether their parents or other family are Japanese. So it’s really an extraordinary accomplishment for a born-and-raised Nova Scotian who’s only been studying Japanese for a few years.”
The national contest follows closely after seven regional competitions held throughout Canada. Phillips and international student Lee Jeongseob, of South Korea, earned top honours in the Atlantic Canadian competition held earlier in March.
“But going to the national competition is a different situation,” says Phillips. “You’re facing top students from all over the country. It’s much more intimidating initially, but when you get there it really is all about learning and sharing.”
Speech contests are heavily promoted by Japanese embassies and consulates worldwide as a means of cultural outreach—bringing Japanese culture to the world. As the only university offering advanced Japanese studies in Atlantic Canada, Saint Mary’s has long been a strong performer regionally and nationally, says Dr. Avdulov, who also credits the university’s strong commitment to intercultural education.
“The reason I chose Saint Mary’s was because of the Asian Studies program,” says Phillips, who has long been interested in Japanese language and culture. “I think it’s just an amazing thing for the university, and to have opportunities like this to interact with peers from across the country is just so, so valuable.”
At the regional and national level, the contests feature four categories—beginner, intermediate, advanced, and open—in which students deliver three to five-minute speeches on a topic of their choosing. Phillips chose a reflection on Minamata Disease, a form of extreme mercury poisoning affecting residents of Minamata City, near the city of Kumamoto, where Phillips spent a study-abroad year.
“We did a field trip to there,” says Phillips, “and went to a place called Hot House, a vocational centre for survivors.” Kensey’s speech focused on the social stigma faced by the survivors, and their efforts to find work and be seen as contributing members of society.
Phillips’ placement is an impressive feat for herself and Saint Mary’s, and Dr. Avdulov believes it’s no fluke. “Kensey really earned this,” he says, “and Saint Mary’s has become a regional leader. e are striving to create a comprehensive lingua-cultural environment which urtures th individuality and creativity of each student hile enriching them with a multicultural international experience. The speech contest s an excellent teaching and learning tool, which inspires students to make real stetowards global citizenship.”