YES is highlighting an alum from each year of the program.
By Ruth Acolaste (YES 2017-2018, Ghana, placed by IRIS in Des Moines, IA)
This is a story about how I became the first ever West African to judge the Open Grand Finals of the World's Universities Debating Championship (the largest debating championship in the world).
I spent my exchange year partaking in as many new activities as I could, thanks to the amount of awesome support I had from my host family and school. One of those activities included joining the theater class. The one experience that sticks with me like glue is theater rehearsals. We had an improv game that involved agreeing with what the previous person said by saying 'yes', then adding our own thoughts by using 'and'. The game is popularly known as “Yes, And”. At that point in time, I saw it as just another game to pass the time. However, this proved to be the game that would change my life.
Reflecting on my exchange year, I realized the activities from that game had enabled me to be more open to new experiences. And in my quest for new experiences, I landed myself in an undergraduate program in Turkey on a full scholarship. During my scholarship interview, I spoke about my exchange experiences in the U.S. and how that had positively impacted my life. Because of the communication skills I gained during my YES year, the interview process was more like a conversation with a good friend over a cup of tea!
Thanks to the value of sharing cultures that I gained during my exchange, I began and still share my culture with my classmates and friends here in Turkey. And thanks to that “Yes And…” game, I decided to start university debating while settling into my new environment. The most difficult hurdle I have had to overcome is the lack of an English debating society in my university. But if there's one thing my exchange year has taught me, it's that even when there's no way, just say “Yes, And…” create your own path. So, I resorted to debating online and joining the debate club of another society while still studying at my own university.
After just a year of debating, I was accepted as an Invited Adjudicator to the Korea World Universities Debating Championship 2021. This was held online because of the pandemic. After the preliminary rounds of the tournament, I unfortunately did not make the cut to judge the elimination rounds. I told myself 'yes' I didn't make the cut 'and' I will work harder to make the cut next year.
In 2022, I was accepted once again as an Independent Adjudicator. This time, I made the cut to judge the preliminary rounds. I was super proud of myself. Once again, I told myself 'yes' I made it to ESL Quarterfinals 'and' one day I'll make it to the open finals. For the 43rd edition of the competition, not only was I accepted as an Invited Adjudicator, I was also selected as one of the Equity Officers of the tournament and received a full scholarship to attend the tournament in Spain. After 9 preliminary rounds and 5 elimination rounds, I was part of the nine-person judges panel that would determine the World Champions for the 2023 World Universities Debating Championship, making me the first ever West African to judge at the highest level of debating in the world.
I am beyond excited for making it this far, but also most grateful to the YES program for playing such a crucial role in this achievement. In the spirit of the YES program itself, which is giving back to society, I now coach students in debate and judge different tournaments across the globe whenever I get the opportunity. I am also currently working on training programs to make debating more accessible to females in the West African region.
What started as a “yes and…” game in my theater class at Hoover High School in Des Moines, Iowa is the sole reason for why I am where I am today. I couldn't be more grateful to the YES program, my host family, the Goodalls, and my host school. Thank you, YES program, for teaching me resilience, and the value of being open to new experiences and giving back to society.