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UWRF student wins award at Japanese Speech Contest

April 8, 2015

When one thinks of the activities that an 18-year-old might pick up for “fun,” learning a new language is not the first thing that comes to mind, but in the case of UW-River Falls student Kevin Leor, that’s just what he did.

One country, four years, and six new languages later, Leor’s hobby has resulted in a prestigious award for his mastery of Japanese. Leor received the Japan Airlines Award at the 29th Annual Japanese Language Speech Contest held on March 21 at the Consulate General of Japan-Chicago.

Leor, a native Spanish speaker, then living in his hometown of Monterrey, Mexico, decided to learn English as a teenager out of his love for American movies. Since then he has mastered English, Japanese, French, German, Italian and Portuguese. Leor’s language skills have not only garnered him honors, but have led to him becoming a modern language major at UWRF.

Leor used the speech contest as an opportunity to raise awareness of recent violence in his native Mexico, specifically an incident on Sept. 26, 2014, when 43 male students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College of Ayotzinapa went missing in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico.

The students, on their way to hold a protest at a conference held by the mayor’s wife, were detained by local police and presumably killed by a local crime syndicate. The mayor and his wife are believed to have been behind the killings and have subsequently been arrested.

“I wanted to speak about the changes going on in Mexico,” Leor said. “It makes me sad to see all the tragedies and I worry about my family. What happened to those students could have happened to me.”

Leor hopes to have the opportunity to speak with others about the 2014 incident, including those in Spanish, political science and journalism classes at UWRF.

Magara Maeda, an instructor of Japanese at UWRF, is not only impressed by Leor’s language skills but by his ability to educate and inspire others.

“Kevin started studying Japanese at UWRF last fall and has enjoyed learning about Japanese language and culture,” Maeda said. “Being a Mexico native and a university student himself, Kevin was urged to talk about this tragic incident in his own words to the Japanese audience. Participating in the speech contest was a great learning process and Kevin gained a lot. It also encouraged his classmates to study Japanese harder.”

The Annual Japanese Language Speech Contest is open to all individuals who reside in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Participants must not have lived in Japan for two or more years in total since 2005, come from homes where Japanese has been spoken regularly, or participated twice in the same category of the contest in the past.

Details regarding the contest are available at www.chicago.us.emb-japan.go.jp/JIC/spchcont.html.

For more information, contact Leor at kevin.leor@my.uwrf.edu.