Interview with Nathania Engelhardt: Creating opportunities around the globe

ByJos Buijvoets

Interview with Nathania Engelhardt: Creating opportunities around the globe

In the Netherlands, she was involved for years with keeping Wageningen Debating alive as well as being a constant presence at tournaments. Nathania “Nany” Engelhardt finished her master in Communication Sciences and returned to Curaçao to build a debating community. From being a student in the cold the Netherlands to being a major force in Spanish debating: this is the story of Nany.

Nany was asked to join Wageningen Debating while an active bachelor student by founder Lara Minnaard. “I thought I had nothing better to do, so why not. I knew only a little more about debating than what I saw in The Great Debaters. I saw myself playing the part of a black social justice fighter.” At Wageningen Debating she saw people come to life. “I saw a lot of people change through debating. They became less shy, more critical and more confident.” The most important lesson she learned personally was the importance of listening. “The more time you have, the more you can spend on being persuasive. Listening is key to debating.”

As a debater, Nany started travelling the world, something she continues doing until this very day. “Cape Town and Slovenia are top of my list of favourite places. I have memories you won’t soon forget. From sandboarding in the deserts of Peru till partying in Mexico until 6 am. I meet fun people everywhere and we go out together. When this fails I go out alone and discover the city on my own.” Nany ended up getting most of her energy out of helping other people grow. After a board year at another student association, she became a board member at Wageningen Debating and later took on as chair from Lara, guiding a new generation of student debaters.

A few years after Nany leaving Wageningen became a sleeping association. “In Wageningen, they still debate, just in a way that’s different from competitive debating. Creating dialogue is central to us. Lara is still organizing debate activities, so debating is definitely still secure in Wageningen.”

As someone who learned four languages at home, Nany was also drawn to the Spanish circuit. Using her experiences as a member of the Dutch debating community and through interactions with outsiders, she can analyze the following. “A lot of big names in debating owe their position to the availability of an established structure with a large network of experienced coaches. Only a  small percentage of this has to do with talent. Maybe I could have won more if I focussed on my own development instead of building up an association. My father always says “If my father was king, I would have been the prince.” There is no point thinking about what could have been. Talent is equally distributed; opportunity is not. This is why I now spend my time creating possibilities for those that could not even experience a small association such as Wageningen”

Nany eventually returned to become founder and president of the Debate Education Foundation Curaçao. “My plan was always to return to Curaçao, even before I entered debating. This is my home. They need me more here than in The Netherlands or somewhere else. It is more difficult to build everything from scratch and it earns me less money. I’m used to this however and don’t do it for fame or wealth. I’m building something for the kids that come after me.” The foundation is involved in debate-related societal projects. Nany also coaches the country’s high schools and the debate club of the University of Curaçao. Using her position she managed to win Curaçao bids for Pan-American UDC in April 2020 and CMUDE 2021 [Spanish WUDC] where she will be the convenor.

She can explain why she’s embraced more in Spanish than in Dutch debating. “It has to do with culture. I recognize more of myself in Spanish-speaking cultures than in Dutch.

For a lot of Dutch people, it is self-explanatory that Curaçao belongs to The Netherlands but, except for the king, we don’t have a lot in common. The parties, the language, the way of talking and thinking in Latin-America, these are more in tune with what I already know from back home. I felt more at home in this circuit right away. I felt this at my first tournament. Despite everyone being competitive, the atmosphere is still relaxed, there are more parties, involving music I know and a lot more dancing. There are more spontaneous conversations and it is less white (Nany laughs in POC). It is not perfect, but I do feel more affinity with the circuit and have a believe we can grow together. Curaçao still feels like home the most, however. I want to put my country on the map and help the community grow by organizing tournaments.”

Naturally, Nany also has goals set for herself. “I want the organization here to become self-sustaining. A new generation has to come that develops a new generation of trainers that trains a new generation etcetera. I hope that after five years I can fully focus on the organizational side of things and my own personal projects. I also want to be able to travel a lot, but then just for fun.”

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About the author

Jos Buijvoets contributor

Jos is an honorary member of the Tilburg Debating Society Cicero. During his student days, Jos oversaw a major expansion of T.D.V. Cicero's membership base in his function as secretary (2014-2015) through the use of (targeted) promotion and by initiating organizational changes such as the addition of the international branch.