52 hours of travelling, 120 hours of confusion, and a lifetime of bliss. This is what the World Scholar’s Cup Tournament of Champions put me through in the 6 days I spent at Yale, New Haven, Connecticut. The morning my mum and I arrived, we were obviously lost, exhausted, and irritated with the very confusing American public transport system. The maps made no sense, multiple subway lines had the same colour marker, and the stations were hard to navigate. We had to stop and ask someone for directions at every corner! Needless to say, we did not have bright smiling faces when we arrived at the venue. This unfortunate beginning, however, did not stop me from spending the following 8 hours getting to know my fellow scholars and competitors, namely Shaurya Chandravanshi who placed 1st overall in The Hague Global Rounds and Xavier Dickason who also placed 1st overall in Sydney Globals. In the day we planned to study together, we spent about an hour going through one of the six subjects we needed to know and the rest of the day was spent aimlessly talking, joking about, and exploring the town. We were clearly responsible students.
The following day came and the event kicked-off with an over-the-top opening musical number, too many inside-jokes about chairs, and a very nervous Justine. At this point, I spent a total of 4 hours studying for the competition. All of which were in the plane ride to the US. The plane I was in had a whole section of scholars going through their printed notes and Quizlet decks which inspired me (Well, more like scared me) into actually putting as much effort into this competition as my competitors did. I felt unprepared, unready, and inadequate to participate as my mum and I took an Uber to the Sterling Chemistry Lab to partake in a day of debates, tests, and essays. I did some final last-minute cramming using the detailed notes I made 3 months ago. To put the cherry on top, I was in a team that I’ve never worked with or seen in my entire life. We were expected to collaborate independently as a team in debate while having only met them a day prior. I was so nervous that I had nightmares of every single event! I’d wake up in a cold sweat after dreaming about failing a test, losing a debate, or generally being incompetent.
In the testing room, I sat next to Noam Rotem representing the Rehovot School for the Gifted and Talented, a Scholar’s Cup veteran and friend who was dubbed Alpaca Scholar of The Year and placed 8th overall in the biggest Global Round that season in Beijing. As we waited for the test to start, we chatted and he told me that he was so nervous that he’d do terribly on the test because he didn’t study as much as he would’ve liked. The previous year he hadn’t really studied and “only” placed 19th in that category. From my end, he was visibly upset and that made me feel even more inept. The fact that he could place relatively high in the most aggressive and dreaded category of the entire competition without studying mocked me. I sat through that 120-item test in that hour and moved onto debates with self-loathing.
For the debates, I was with two girls from Oman and we surprisingly worked very well together! We debated in an amended Asian Parliamentary Style without a closing speaker and 5 minutes of speaking time instead of 7 minutes. I served as the main rebuttal speaker and we debated motions such as “THBT sentient robots should have the same rights as humans”, “THBT more sympathy progresses society faster”, and “THS assign universities at random”. We won all of our debates and progressed onto the essay writing with confidence and relief that we were almost done with what the scholars call “Triple Threat Day”. We were given an hour to write an essay or a written response to one of six motions of our choosing, some of which were “a life unexamined is not a life worth living,” “describe a change you could make in your daily life to help you avoid marginalising people,” and “you have the power to change the world so that children will undergo a rite of passage of your design. Describe this rite of passage.” I tackled the final prompt and wrote a recipe for a cake. Now, how would a recipe work with a rite of passage? Metaphors. We were given points for creativity so the program encourages students to write poems, songs, or short stories rather than the standard 5-paragraph essay. It was a huge risk as it was very unconventional but I somehow placed 15th in writing. Hurray!
The following day, my teammates and I didn’t do as well in the Scholar’s Bowl — a multiple choice quiz with clickers. Nevertheless, we were finally relieved that it was all over. No more studying, no more brain-usage, and no more pain; It was just cultural and social exchange onwards! In the following days we had a cultural fair, a Yale student Q&A panel, a dance party, and two talent shows where students showed their country’s traditional dances, sung Minecraft meme parodies, played instruments, dyed a person’s hair for fun, and many more. It was all community-building and truly established WSC as a globalised event.
At the end of the 5-day program, I formed friendships with people from Oman, Israel, UAE, the US, UK, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and more. Before the closing ceremony, I accepted that I failed the scholastic side of the entire event and was almost put down but, being surrounded with the friends I made, I kept my head high and proud for having survived the entirety of this academic decathlon. It was a bizarre experience meeting online friends I’ve known for the better part of 2019 and making new ones from cultures I was largely unfamiliar with.
To any spectators of the awarding ceremony, it was clear that World Scholar's Cup is an extremely competitive event, but it was also clear that WSC is far from cut-throat: it is a community that thrives on the success of everyone, not just a few individuals. When the organisers were announcing the overall individual champions of the competition, my new-found friends crowded at the front of the stage, eagerly waiting for my name to show up as the top 10 student countdown began.
Noam placed 8th, Xavier placed 7th, Shaurya placed 4th, and I somehow placed 2nd. It was more than unexpected. I believed that I wouldn't be able to compete in the same calibre as these people! When I insistently attributed it to luck, Shaurya responded with “humility is good but delusion is not,” and that was the end of the ceremony. We had dinner, said our goodbyes, and immediately made a group chat. For me and many others, World Scholar's Cup is more than just a competition. It is an absurd, endearing, and childish community that makes independent learning fun, even if it does have a cult-like obsession with alpacas. It took me on a rollercoaster of emotions with a multitude of downs that felt like ups because I was with people that I know I will never forget.