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Alumnus Gets Celebrity Treatment Judging National Chinese Competition

North Park University Alumnus Ben Seeberger

BEIJING, CHINA (November 16, 2009) – Ben Seeberger was already honored to be teaching “oral English” to undergraduate non-English majors at Peking University (PKU)—one of China’s most prestigious academic institutions—just six years after graduating from North Park University in 2003. He also knew that being asked to help judge the English Cup, a speaking contest open to Chinese university students, was a special privilege. But he had no idea how much it would impress others.

“My students are the equivalent of Chinese Harvard and Yale students, and they all gasped in astonishment as if I had suddenly become a national celebrity, even above that of being a teacher at PKU,” Seeberger says. “It was clear then that the program is not only a worldwide televised program, but part of the cultural consciousness of every student across the country.”

Seeberger judged the recent semifinals before real “celebrity judges” took over in the finals. But he has already been invited to judge next year’s finals.

Thousands of students from across the country compete in the event. The best speakers from each province are sent to Beijing and eventually whittled down to 23 participants for the finals, which were held this past weekend. China’s official TV station CCTV broadcasts the competition across the world on its international channel, CCTV-9.

“It is not only the most visible presentation of the importance of English in China, but a constant encouragement to every college student desiring to become members of global culture,” says Seeberger.

Competition organizers requested that PKU provide a judge for the contest, and the school asked Seeberger to represent it because he was the youngest foreign teacher at the university. The other judges include lecturers at Stanford, deans of English departments, and publishers of English textbooks.

As an undergraduate, Seeberger never imagined himself teaching oral English in China. He double majored in biblical and theological studies well as English, with a concentration in writing. His roommate, Mark Roberson, served in China with the English Language Institute/China (ELIC). After Seeberger graduated from North Park, he received an email from a person in China who learned of him through Roberson, and asked him to teach English at a school in the Harbin province.

Seeberger went on to earn his Teaching English as a Second Language certificate in 2003, studied for a certificate in international business in 2005, and studied Chinese for two years at a private language institution in Tianjin from 2006–2008. In addition to teaching, he is now working on a masters’ in organizational leadership through Azusa Pacific University.

Photo: Ben Seeberger and his wife, Lan, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.