Connect with us


Making it to Yale in the World Scholar's Cup: What It's Like

If you are internationally-minded with a competitive spirit, why not consider participating in the World Scholar's Cup with teams from 45 countries?



A poster for the final stage of the World Scholar's Cup of 2023 hangs at Yale University. (©JAPAN Forward by Moa Maeda)

There is an amazing high school academic competition that more people should know about. The World Scholar's Cup (WSC) is a competition in multiple subjects, all held in English, that scholars from all over the world can participate in. It includes team debates, tests based on the curriculum, individual writing, and a team quiz.

Participating scholars can form a team of up to three and work together. Then they compete to win qualifiers from the first regional round to the Global Rounds held in multiple countries. Once a team passes those rounds, it is on to the finals at Yale University. 

It is very international. After the regional rounds, teams will represent their own country among the roughly 45 other participating countries. For example, both the Global Rounds and Yale final rounds provide opportunities to cheer for your own country during the academic results. There is also an invaluable opportunity to share pieces of your culture at booths during the culture fair. Furthermore, there is a chance to represent your country during the Scholar's Show.

I was fortunate enough to be a member of one of the teams that made it to Yale. Here's what it was like.

Flags of the 45 countries were represented at the closing ceremony. (©JAPAN Forward by Moa Maeda)

The First Day

Getting Started

Day one began with the anticipated lengthy opening ceremony. The founder and Master of Ceremony for the day, Daniel, seemed to very much enjoy talking. Before we realized it, he was going about his usual list of completely unrelated topics. (Sorry Daniel, we love you.)

The WSC staff generally seemed to enjoy talking a lot, in a way they called mutual awkwardness. That's where they randomly included original songs and unrelated stories as they proceeded with the opening ceremony.

After hours — yes, you heard that right, hours — of cringe-worthy performances and singing and inside jokes you'll come to enjoy, they began the confirmation of attendance. That means they called out the names of attending countries in alphabetical order.

The delegations from each country stood up and shouted "Pwaa!" as loud as they could to show their patriotism.


Australia, Indonesia, Kenya, and other large delegations were the ones that showed their status and patriotism by yelling the loudest. 

The Japanese team, one of the louder delegations, gave quite an impression when over 45 Japanese scholars stood up at once. Unfortunately, unlike others, the humility unique to our culture stood out when everyone awkwardly mumbled "pwaa?" and quickly sat back down in embarrassment.

A Scavenger Hunt

Eventually, students were divided into various groups for a scavenger hunt. The organizers made sure scholars from the same country did not overlap. Every group had a unique name to fit the theme, which was, for the Tournament of Champions (ToC), "American universities."

In my scavenger hunt group, there were about eight students from Kenya, Japan, the United States, Thailand, and Israel.

We went to various places according to the theme we were given and earned points by accomplishing the mission. 

Some of the tasks were "Film a scholar hugging a tree on Yale campus,"  "Film a scholar doing a handstand," etc.

Challenges that may cause people to look at you funny or are somewhat dangerous were scored more highly.

Other simple or pleasant challenges, such as 'Go to Ben & Jerry's and taste the ice cream' or 'Take a photo of the group standing in order of height' were popular and easy to tackle. But of course, they did not score as well or earn as many points.


These activities were designed to get to know the people in the group and to learn about each other in surprising ways.

Unfortunately, because time was limited, we were unable to interact with each other as much as we had wanted.

I spent most of the short allotted time getting to know two participants and learning about each other's culture.

The entrance to Yale University, site of the World Scholar's Cup. (©JAPAN Forward by Moa Maeda)

The Second Day

Scoring the Debates

The second day of the competition was Big 3, an expression coined for holding the top three most difficult subjects.

The first subject of the day was debate. It was arguably the most heated subject and the centerpiece of the WSC.

There were three rounds, and the topic ("motion") for each round advanced in difficulty. 

Although it was desirable to win all rounds, even if we didn't, there was no reason to give up entirely. 

Thankfully, the WSC system gives every team a score as well as a score for each individual debater. Each individual also has a chance of being nominated "special debater" and receiving a higher score. Based on this rubric, regardless of team results, everyone has a chance to receive an award in the individual debating category when the results are announced.

Our first opponent was a team from Indonesia. I almost lost all hope when they introduced themselves because everyone knew that Indonesian teams have a reputation for being the strongest.


Debating Our First Opponent

I tried to relax by conversing comfortably with our opponents until the start of the debate. There were few opportunities to interact with opponents so these times were the most priceless. Seeing my opponents as "friends" rather than "complete strangers" allowed me to treat them with more respect.

Even while debating, I kept "friendly fire" in mind, assuming that attitude and sportsmanship would have some influence on the score. (I had also heard that there was a scholar who was so absorbed in the subject that they continued arguing with their opponent and the judges, which affected their individual results.)

The first debate motion was: "Resolve that we should omit the names of historical figures from history lessons."

During the first 15 minutes, we were allowed to use our devices to do research. During that time scholars and their team members could brainstorm points.

We brainstormed, collected data, anticipated our opponent's objections, and composed our own arguments.

Usually, we spoke in Japanese so that we could confidently discuss our points without the other team understanding us. This also showed off our teamwork to the judges, who would grade us accordingly.

I was the 3rd speaker. That meant summarizing everyone's points + a memorable closing, a personally pressuring role. 

It's a simple system where you get more points if you speak with confidence. However, in this case, our opponent's third speaker exceeded our expectations in her confidence and eloquence. In the end, we forgot our frustration and listened to her points with awe.


Debating the Second Opponent

Our second opposing team was from Kenya. 

The motion was: "Movies should use regularly updated special effects."

Initially, we struggled to define the prompt, as the judge emphasized the importance of the word "regularly" updated.

Nevertheless, this time, the result was an unexpected win. But the other team showed great sportsmanship and we exchanged business cards and feedback.

The judges were also impressed with our speech. They commented that "we were the first team they'd seen that day with impressive skills."

With newfound confidence and pride, we went on to the next round.

Debating the Third and Final Opponent

The final motion was: "That AI replicas of beloved historical figures should be released to the public".

For this last round, we were led to a room in the middle of a corridor with walls made of glass.


At the thought of everyone watching us debate, I could only imagine that our luck was bound to go downhill. Especially because our first two teams had been such good opponents, I imagined we would be up against a tougher team.

Just as I was praying that we wouldn't be matched with the Australian team, who we miserably lost against in the Globals, we were faced with a stronger opponent: Team USA. I thought we might as well have been executed in public.

After a short team strategy discussion, we ended up agreeing that we should just do our best and enjoy it while we could. 

And true to our word, although the debate turned out to be a tough one, we ended up having a lot of fun.

In the end, we won one round and lost two rounds. However, I was very satisfied with my performance and enjoyed every interaction with the other scholars. 

The debates themselves were also thought-provoking in the way each team brought up an event in history from their perspective. That made me view the motion from the different values of each country.

Usually, after each debate was over, we rushed through exchanging contact information with everyone, regardless of whether we had won or lost. 

Even now I have continued keeping in touch with some of the scholars we debated against. 


Through these debates, I learned to better understand the values of my opponents and to respect them more.

Next Up: Writing Competition

In the Collaborative Writing section, students were given topics for each subject, such as Music and Arts, History, Science, and so on.

In the first 15 minutes, students could discuss the exercise with their teammates. That way, we could make sure that our topics didn't overlap and brainstorm ideas. In the remaining 50 minutes, scholars had to finish writing their responses.

Most of the prompts were in the form of essay questions. However, as long as you answered the questions, you were free to write in whatever genre was comfortable for you.

Therefore, some scholars wrote essays or descriptive stories. Others wrote and drew in the form of picture books, or wrote poems. (Despite this, the WSC staff often reminded scholars that they do not recommend poetry.)

Especially in the writing section, individuality and storytelling seemed to be highly emphasized. Therefore, there was a good chance of getting a high score if you could express yourself in your own original writing style.

Nevertheless, the judges' (WSC staff) preferences also impacted the score, making the results unpredictable.

Old and new friends pull together in teams at the WSC. (©JAPAN Forward by Moa Maeda)

Taking On the Scholar's Challenge

For this third category, students were given a test with questions based on the WSC syllabus. That was made available online in advance.

The syllabus changes every year according to the WSC theme for that year. In 2023, the theme was "Reconstructing the Past."


This test generally includes many subjects such as Arts, Music, History, Literature, Science, etc. Also, the questions are divided by subject matter.

This time, for example, the Science questions focused on de-extinction efforts. They included technologies such as cloning and backbreeding to revive extinct species such as the Christmas Island rat and the New Zealand Moa bird.

Also, some questions presented a random illustration from the syllabus and asked scholars to explain what it was.

The Third Day

The Team Bowl

The team Scholar's Bowl is like a team quiz version of the Team Challenge. It is an event where everyone can get heated. 

It works by having the questions projected onto a large screen so everyone in the stadium can easily see and answer using "clickers." First, the rule calls for the participants to look at the questions and materials on a large screen. Next, they press the appropriate button from the choices within a given time.

For example, in the Music subject, which focuses on "nostalgia," scholars are asked to guess the song by playing its chorus at double speed. These songs include classics, older 90s, and recent pop songs that we all know. An example is "Memories" by Maroon 5, which is famous for its modern remake of  Beethoven's "Ode to Joy."

Scores for the questions gradually increase, and the format of the questions changes from time to time.

With a flair for WSC humor, all of the questions link the curriculum to a meme or a scene from a video that initially seems completely unrelated. 

The WSC culture fair on the lawn of Yale University. (©JAPAN Forward by Moa Maeda)

Scholar's Culture Fair

Unlike the Global Rounds, the culture fair did not take place indoors. Instead, it unexpectedly switched to a grassy area in the middle of the Yale University campus in the freezing winter weather.

However, I was so absorbed in serving "customers" that I forgot about the cold — to the point where I only realized how dangerously freezing it was when I noticed my hands trembling.

The Japanese delegation was divided into two booths across from each other. Our tables were set up with Japanese snacks, chopstick games, origami, and character merchandise.

We also offered to write everyone's name in Japanese characters on origami and bookmarks. This was a very popular activity that kept our hands constantly occupied.

When we were less busy, I chatted with and got to know many people who came to the booth. Some of the visitors were Yale students and we had interesting conversations about Japanese culture.

I always felt a sense of pride when asked, "Are these [origami] handmade?" Naturally, I answered yes. Then I watched their surprise, followed by taking many paper flowers and animals with them as they left. 

After the event, I felt very rewarded for the hours spent crafting from 2 AM. I also felt this satisfaction when I saw how earnestly visitors listened to me while I explained the concept of "seppuku." It was a conversation I don't remember initiating. I was explaining shurikens, which was the relationship between cherry blossoms and new beginnings.

Scholar's Show Part 1

The Scholar's Show is WSC's talent show. This ToC Yale round didn't fail to live up to our expectations. The quality of the performances was on a different level from previous ones.

Many of them were unique and had a great backstory. Some scholars played the piano upside down in blindfolds. Others danced self-choreographed contemporary dances, sang opera, and sang to promote original songs newly released on Spotify.


The only downside was that all the schedules of that day were crammed and all the scholars were visibly tired. Therefore, it was difficult to fully appreciate everyone's amazing talents. 

I'm happy to say I enjoyed every one, even when it meant having to shake awake my teammates to share that excitement. 

The Fourth Day

Scholar's Show Part 2

For this fourth day, the entire Japanese delegation danced to Soranbushi. It is a traditional fisherman's dance that depicts waves and heavy baggage thrown over shoulders. 

This dance is familiar to most Japanese people because learning it for special occasions is mandatory in school. 

Normally people wear happi, a short casual version of the kimono, to dance to soranbushi. Unfortunately, I wasn't bothered enough to buy one. So I ended up being one of the few people dancing without the uniform and stood out awkwardly. 

To make matters worse, I was in the front row.

Seeing a wave of people shouting "aggressively" (as one phrased it) and dancing barefoot while in traditional costume must have been a new and surprising sight for some. Later, after the performance was over, I was repeatedly questioned about its meaning.

I felt very proud to present part of my country's culture through this show of unity within the Japan Team.


Other astounding performances included a traditional Chinese dance, a self-composed song, and a comedic magic show.

My team's medals from the 2023 World Scholar's Cup. (©JAPAN Forward by Moa Maeda)

Concluding Ceremony and Results

The final event of the November 2-6 competition ended with a long awards ceremony.

There were several divisions at the closing ceremony, which included approximately 2,500 students from 45 countries. Medals were awarded to individual students who placed 900th or higher, and teams that placed 300th or higher. Here's how I fared.


  • 436/1500: Individual Debate gold medal
  • 207/1500: Individual Writing gold medal

My Team:

  • 5th top Far Northeast Asia team gold medal
  • Individual Results: 436/1500 debate gold medal 207/1500 writing gold medal
  • 206 Team Debate silver medal
  • 199 Team Writing silver medal
  • 244 Team Bowl silver medal

Although I cannot say I am satisfied with my academic results, I can confidently say that this experience has taught and given me so much more than the worth of these medals.

I am grateful to the JAPAN Forward team for helping to sponsor me for this priceless opportunity. Next, I hope to pay it forward with what I gained at the ToC.


Author: Moa Maeda

Read other articles in English by student reporter Moa Maeda on JAPAN Forward.

Our Partners