First K Student to Win Japanese Speech Contest

By Mallika Mitra

Megan Davis ’14, Katherine Ballew ’17, and Professor Noiko Sugimori.

On Feb. 8, Katherine Ballew ’17 became the first Kalamazoo College student to win an award at the Michigan Japanese Speech Contest, held at Hinoki International School in Livonia, MI. Ballew’s essay, entitled “Heading Toward a World Without Racism,” was awarded an Honorary Mention.

Ballew taught herself Japanese when she spent her gap-year before college in Japan for ten-and-a half months. Her essay reflected her experiences in Japan.

“Japan is a very homogeneous country…when I got there I was kind of hit with the first time I had ever been a racial minority,” Ballew said.

“Being there in that way, I was exposed to racial micro-aggressions and I kind of began to understand just how much those affect people.”

Ballew worked individually with Noriko Akimoto Sugimori, Assistant Professor of Japanese, who helped her edit and translate the essay.

“Once we got a final draft we started to work on saying it out loud because the pronunciation is tonal,” Ballew said.

She added that she spent the week before the contest memorizing the speech because participants are required to recite the speech off the top of their head.

The contest has two levels: a collegiate contest, which requires a five-minute-speech, and a high school contest, which requires a three-minute-speech. The Consulate-General of Japan in Detroit holds it annually.

Although she has taken the highest level of Japanese K has to offer, Ballew said she hopes to participate in the speech contest again next year.

“I was really excited that I got an award but in all honestly, I was disappointed that I didn’t place,” Ballew said. “A part of me wonders if that was because I could have done more on the speech and a part of me wonders if that was because I was a freshman and still have room to participate.”

Ballew is looking to study Anthropology/Sociology or Political Science, and may begin taking Chinese classes. Although she is proficient in Japanese, she doesn’t feel comfortable calling herself fluent.

“I want to work in an international organization that teaches children to accept other people and other cultures,” Ballew said, and discussed in her speech.

“[I want to] work in the future to teach against stereotypes and work against the creation of micro-aggressions in the minds of children.”

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