Each year, the Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) hold English Speech Competition called WORDS at their respective schools, and the winner from that competition goes to Jakarta to compete nationally and participate in a number of activities with other WORDS winners from all over Indonesia. Many ETAs refer to WORDS as one of their favorite parts of their grant year, myself among them. After learning so much from my first WORDS competition last year, I couldn’t wait for WORDS to come around this year.
Due to the testing schedule for this year, and judge availability, and a slew of other factors that needed to somehow be juggled (typical ETA life, that), the WORDS Competition for this year had to be scheduled much earlier in the semester than it did last year, giving my students less time to prepare. This only added to students’ nervousness, and so I decided to do away with the memorization requirement for this year, and spent far more time leading up to the completion simply telling students that mistakes were okay and that they shouldn’t be takut (scared), than I did actually helping students to write and practice their speeches.
Each year, there is a different theme for the speeches, and this year’s was “Three Wishes.” Students were asked to think about the question, “If you were given three wishes to change something about the world, Indonesia, or yourself, what would you wish for?” and structure their speech around that idea. The students who participated in our competition wished for everything from the end of corruption in Indonesia, to becoming the best scout member at MAN Model, to ending war in the world, to being able to talk again with their parents who had passed away.
There were a number of students who were able to memorize their speeches even with the short time available to them, while others read their speeches from notebooks. Some students demonstrated a talent, while for others simply giving the speech was all they had time to plan. All of them were nervous, but all of them bravely took the stage. Speaking on stage in a language that is not your own is no small feat, and I was proud of every one of my students.
Choosing the winner for the competition was no easy task for my judges, one of my site mates and my closest Indonesian friend, who was actually the WORDS winner from MAN Model two years ago. I’m glad the final decision was out of my hands, because if I had my way I would be taking a whole group of students to Jakarta.
The winner ended up being a girl named Noni, who not only gave a thoughtful speech about how in order to change the world it is important to first gain the support for your family and change yourself, but also wrote a song (in English!) on that same theme. Noni is also the reason many of the other participants even took the stage, as she spent much of her time prior to the competition convincing both her classmates and students from other classes to “Just try!” because “It is a good experience!” I’m very excited to work with Noni over the course of the next month to improve her speech and prepare her for our adventures in Jakarta.
WORDS always takes a considerable amount of planning and work, but it is worth every minute of it. Since the competition, my phone’s inbox has been full of texts from students saying things like, “Miss, after WORDS Competition I’ll be confident and run after my dream!” We may only be able to take one student to Jakarta for the national competition, but even our local competition is a great opportunity for all of our kids.
While as an ETA I am not permitted to prepare my own speech, if I were to take on the topic of three wishes, my hopes would center very much around my students: that they continue to work hard and find success in all they strive to achieve; that they see themselves as the amazing young people I know them to be; and that they continue to learn and grow as I have seen them do while I have been fortunate enough to be their teacher.