This month I had the fortune to travel to Oxford University in England to attend the Apollo Fellowship program. The Apollo Fellowship program, sponsored by Effective Altruism, was a two-week fully-funded residential summer course for 30 students from across the globe focused on debating global issues. To qualify for the program, participants had to pass a rigorous three round selection process, consisting of submitting an online debating and academic resume, a written response of three essays including a critical analysis of a debate, and finally an hour long online interview. Since this was an international program, I was well aware that many applicants would be extremely experienced national team debaters, so I thought my chances were incredibly slim. Despite this, I decided to apply and give it my all, if not for the valuable practice of going through the selection process. When I received the acceptance email, I was ecstatic! Seemingly beyond all odds, I had managed to be one of the few selected out of a pool of many international debaters.
The camp itself was an amazing experience. Each day we attended multiple lectures featuring varying different topics, usually of major global concern. These included poverty, global warming, resource depletion, or artificial intelligence alignment, but also included other areas such as global economic development and moral philosophy. This was followed by a workshop session, which allowed for engaging two-way discussion, and finally we broke into teams to debate a related topic. I loved every minute of it. The people I met were all incredibly talented and came from all around the world – from the USA, UK, Israel, India, and even Latvia! It was fascinating to learn about their different cultures during the camp. Although I was the youngest person there, everyone was nice and welcoming, including me in the group for almost everything, no matter the activity.
Before I knew it, the two weeks were over; I had gained life-long friends and an unforgettable experience. Although my debating improved drastically and my knowledge and perspective of the world was expanded greatly, two of the most important things I took away from the experience were not directly related to debating, and can be applied to almost all areas of life. Firstly, to always put in the extra effort to include others. The inclusivity and sense of camaraderie at the camp really influenced my experience, and reminded me of the, often massively understated, importance of a warm welcome. While I generally aim to make a positive impact, this really convinced me to try doubly hard, in all activities, to make everyone feel that same welcome, no matter who they are or where they are from. The second lesson was to keep dreaming big and always give it your best shot, whatever the odds. Despite how unlikely I thought my chances were, at the end of the day, nothing would have happened if I didn’t try and apply. To the other boys at Saints, I’d strongly suggest you dream big and give everything a go, because you never know when you will get lucky.
Finally, none of this would have been possible without the support of many people in the school community back home. I’d like to thank Mr Browning, Mr Blackburn, and my teachers for letting me take weeks off school to participate (despite all the catchup homework I have now). I would also like thank my debating coaches over the years, Shiva and Connor, the senior boys in the debating program, and my teammates for helping me develop as a debater. I would especially like to thank Ms Wellington for running the debating program and facilitating my love of debating all these years. Thank you all for helping me grow to where I am now, guiding me along my journey, and supporting me to participate this truly fantastic experience.
Alex Koh (Year 10)