University of Michigan student Heya Ouyang won first prize at the 22nd Annual Michigan Japanese Language Speech Contest, held by the Consulate General of Japan in Detroit. This year’s contest was held on Saturday, March 25 at the Wayne State University Oakland Center in Farmington Hills. According to the Consulate General of Japan in Detroit, the presiding judges were Consul General Mitsuhiro Wada, Mrs. Takako Shibata (representing the Japan Society of Detroit Women's Club), Dr. Anne Hooghart (representing the Japan America Society of Michigan and Southwestern Ontario), and Mr. Yoshihide Inaba (representing the Japan Business Society of Detroit).

Heya is currently taking third year Japanese in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures’ Japanese Language Program. She is a College of Engineering student with a major in Chemical Engineering and a minor in Mathematics. Heya had written about how her name represents her connection with Japan for a project in her Japanese language class. She then adapted this project into a five-minute speech in Japanese for the Michigan Japanese Language Speech Contest, working with one of her instructors, Mr. Yoshihiro Mochizuki.

Heya was initially concerned about giving a speech in front of a large group of people for the contest but says, “Thanks to the encouragement of my teachers, I decided to go beyond my comfort zone and challenge myself.” For a month and a half before the contest, Heya revised her speech and practiced her intonation and pronunciation with the help of her Japanese instructors. She says, “As time passed, I could feel my progress [...]. Ms. Sogabe and Ms. Yasuda spent hours with me improving my Japanese intonation, focusing on even the smallest details.”

Just before the day of the contest, Heya had the opportunity to give her speech in front of other students and practice answering questions. About the experience of competing in the 22nd Annual Michigan Japanese Language Speech Contest, Heya says, “After all of my effort, as I stood on the stage, I didn’t feel nervous and afraid […]. This precious experience leads me to believe that nothing is impossible, if you try.”