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I’ve finally returned home after two whirlwind weeks in Doha, Qatar.

As you’ll recall, I was representing Canada as one of the country’s official adjudicators at the 22nd World Schools Debating Championships. To say it was an incredible experience would be an understatement.

Under the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned and the generous sponsorship of the Qatar Foundation, QatarDebate staged the largest competition in the championship’s 22-year history: a record 57 countries competed.

I’d every intention of blogging more regularly about my experiences; however, once things got going, I simply didn’t have the time to do so. No excuse, I know, but true nonetheless: as anyone who’s been to the tournament can attest, it’s an all-consuming enterprise. As such, rather than providing you with a play-by-play accounting of events, I’m forced to pen a retrospective…

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I’m currently sitting in the departure lounge of Winnipeg’s James A. Richardson International Airport.

The next time I set foot outside I’ll be half a world away, a stone’s throw from the Persian Gulf, in sunny Doha, Qatar.

My journey will be a fairly direct one, with a mere two stops: Toronto (Pearson) and London (Heathrow).

The uncharacteristically friendly gate agent from Air Canada (I know, weird) kindly seated me on the aisle of an exit row for the Toronto-London leg. He made my day.

Not making my day: the jerk sitting next to me here in the lounge who has decided to remove his shoes.

Attention Jerk: your feet smell like well-worn hockey equipment.

Here’s hoping the gate agent and the smelly feet guy cancel each other out, thereby restoring the universe’s cosmic balance and ensuring a (reasonably) easy trip.

Rest assured, I’ll let you know either way.

In a little over 48 hours, I’ll be saying sayonara to the snow banks, farewell to the frigid temperatures, adios to the Arctic cold.

No, I’m not heading south to some all-inclusive resort. Nope. I’ll be heading east. To the Middle East, in fact. Doha, Qatar, to be exact.

Qatar?

Yes. Qatar.

For a holiday?

Not quite.

I’ll be representing Canada as one of the country’s official adjudicators at the 22nd World Schools Debating Championships.

Since 1988, the World Schools Debating Championships have been held annually, hosting high school students from around the world in what is tantamount to the Olympics of High School Debating. I had the privilege of debating for Canada at the competition ten years ago – and instantly fell in love with the event, its ideals, and the people it brought together.

My involvement with debating and public speaking, however, started much, much earlier.

I delivered my first speech at the tender age of six and, frankly, never looked back. By junior high, I was routinely participating in local debating competitions; by senior high, competitions across Canada. (Editor’s note: Self-congratulatory statements to follow. Apologies in advance.) I enjoyed a fair bit of success, too: I was named the Canadian champion in 1999, won the World Public Speaking and Debating Championships held in Cyprus in 2000, and, as I’ve just mentioned, earned a place on the Canadian High School Debating Team representing Canada at the World Schools Debating Championships in Pittsburgh, USA that same year.

Pittsburgh. Not the most pleasant of places in February, I know. But the competition: it was extraordinary.

The caliber of my competitors and the depth of knowledge required to compete on an equal footing with them; the sense of camaraderie that came from living, working and debating amongst a 5-person team; the young people – just like me! – that had come from every conceivable corner of the planet to debate in an atmosphere of respect, understanding, friendship and in the spirit of healthy competition: I had never previously experienced anything like it in my life – and I was hooked.

So, when I graduated from high school and went on to university, rather than continuing my own debating career I chose instead to assist future Canadian teams and began my second career as an international judge. A decision I’ve never once regretted.

In the ensuing decade I’ve travelled to Singapore, Lima, Stuttgart, Cardiff, Seoul, Washington, Athens, and, in a few days time, Doha.

I’ve met a lot of wonderful people along the way. Judged many outstanding debates (and some less-than-outstanding ones, too). Toured ancient ruins, demilitarized zones and national parliaments. Seen the insides of scores of high school gymnasiums, libraries, lunch rooms and theatres. In short, I’ve had a blast.

But ten years is a long time. And, in this year of new chapters, new beginnings, it’s time to bring this volume of my life – Ade, Kris; Debating and Public Speaking, 2000-2010 – to a close.

Thankfully, I can’t think of a better way to go than with this forthcoming championship, the largest yet; surrounded by friends; in pursuit of such noble goals as free speech and international understanding.