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Queens Chronicle

From ‘no English’ to a winning debater

Lewis sr. from China beats the odds

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Posted: Thursday, March 8, 2012 12:00 pm

A Francis Lewis High School senior who didn’t speak English five years ago has learned it well enough to be part of the NYC All-Star Law Team that recently won the International Moot Court Competition in The Hague, Netherlands.

Pei Ran Zhang, 17, emigrated with her family from China and said she picked up English by studying hard, reading a lot and listening to others speak. She does most of the translating for her parents and 4-year-old sister.

Zhang was selected for the all-star team after being recommended by Francis Lewis, where she is a member of the moot court team. She was interviewed by attorneys, who picked 16 students from across the city for two teams.

Gloria Kocal, a spokeswoman for the Fresh Meadows high school, said that the law firm that judged her praised Pei Ran for her command of the language and ability to construct and present a cogent oral argument which exceeded many native- English speakers.

The seven-day trip to the Netherlands included preliminary rounds at the University of Leiden and a final round at the Peace Palace, where the International Court of Justice hears cases. Students from seven countries competed. Besides the United States, they included England, Russia, Venezuela, Argentina, Poland and the Netherlands.

“I was so nervous the first day,” Zhang said. “My fingers were icy cold.”

She made the opening and closing statements for the prosecution in a fictitious case involving an abusive military leader who had been forced to join rebel forces as a child.

Pei Ran’s team beat the team from Caracas, Venezuela for the championship. “We won a plaque, which we gave to the coaches,” she said. “The glory was for winning.”

The all-expense-paid trip included visits to the mayor of The Hague, the Van Gogh Museum and to Amsterdam and the home of Anne Frank, which Pei Ran said was very moving.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said the student, who has applied to several Ivy League colleges.

At Lewis, she founded a club to help new immigrants adjust to school faster. Her message to new arrivals is: “Work hard, don’t give up and keep challenging yourself.”

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