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May 28, 2008 > Fremont teen ranks among top ten finalists at US National Geographic Bee

Fremont teen ranks among top ten finalists at US National Geographic Bee

By Meenu Gupta
Photos By courtesy of National Geographic Team

Nikhil Desai represented California as one of the top ten finalists at US National Geographic Bee 2008 on May 21 at Washington, D.C. Although he looks like any other "next door" teenager, the impressive memory and unflappable confidence of this 13 year-old 8th grader from Challenger School in Newark sets him apart.

To prepare for the National Geographic Bee, Nikhil read several books including, Afghanistan to Zimbabwe by Andrew Wojtanik, DK Atlas of the World, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego Official Guide. "I compiled a binder full of blank maps of all the countries in the world on which were labeled significant features of the countries and interesting facts which may have come in the Bee," said Desai. "I believe that in the future geography will indeed become a future part of most careers; the current problem with US outsourcing of jobs is a case in point."

With the contest fresh in his mind, Desai said, "I can share with you the nine questions I was asked in the finals and the question in the tiebreaker round."

Some of the questions that he shared from memory are:

Many European writers referred to being chased by bulls in the capital of one of Catalonia's regions. Name this city.

He answered "Pamplona."

Another question:

The highest point in a country on the Horn of Africa is located south of the ranges of Ross Dayshi. Name this mountainous country.

The answer he gave was "Ethiopia."

One question required contestants to view an economic cartogram of all countries in the world. Name the country with the least GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per capita in South America that does not use Spanish as an official language.

Nikhil answered "Guyana."

Mt. Cook is to New Zealand as Puncak Jaya is to what?

"Indonesia" replied Desai.

However Desai is not perfect, he missed a few answers like the name of the Colombian port on the Caribbean Sea located at the mouth of the Magdalena River. Correct answer was Barranquilla. Nikhil said Cartagena, which is located slightly west and is also a port city.

Another question: Tillya Tepe, near the ancient city of Balkh, is located in what present-day country?

The correct answer is Afghanistan. "I answered this wrong; instead of saying 'Turkey.' This is because the question in its entirety mentioned that this small city was the birthplace of Rumi, a mystic who is commonly associated with Turkey and spent most of his life there. Due to this misunderstanding, I misheard the moderator as saying the country was "west of Iran" rather than "east of Iran", thus making a mistake," said Desai.

Akshay Rajagopal from Nebraska ultimately won the 20th National Geographic Bee but Nikhil won $500 for being in the top ten and the admiration of those who host the contest, his home state of California and, of course, the Tri-City area.

Nikhil would like to incorporate geography into his future career and leisure time pursuits. "I have a goal of visiting tall peaks on each continent, like Kilimanjaro, Denali, and maybe even Vinson Massif in Antarctica. I've always liked hiking, and doing this would satisfy both my love of geography and mountaineering." Talking about his hobbies, Nikhil said he spends his spare time reading. He also likes to work on robots and participate in the FIRST LEGO League robotics competitions. Nikhil credits his success to his parents and teachers.

"My teachers at Challenger School instilled a passion for learning in me, and geography was one of the most fascinating subjects I could find, as it not only allowed me to virtually visit different places in the world, but also learn about people everywhere and their cultures. Google Earth complemented this, by allowing me to view the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Canyon, and Uluru all in one day."

He regularly follows the news, spends time online and sometimes edits Wikipedia.
"Since Wikipedia is an encyclopedia that any person can edit, many people feel the need to often replace the useful content it contains with something completely incomprehensible. For example, one might replace the article on "Unicycle" with "Clowns ride on the unicycles" for their own enjoyment or simply to get attention. This, of course, does not help those who look at the article expecting to find information on unicycles and instead finding a strange message. What I do is "revert" this unhelpful change back to the version that is proper," he added.

Nilhil is all geared up for his next national competition, the National Science Bowl. "My team has participated for two years, both times making it to the national level. Last year, our team achieved second in the nation in an exciting match against the reigning champions from Honey Creek Middle School. This year, another local team, from Hopkins Junior High, has also made it to the finals, so it is going to be a tough match."

Ann Barrett, National Geographic Society Communications is understandably awed by Nilhil and the rest of the students who compete in the annual geography competition, "Every year I am amazed at the geographic know-how of the students who participate in the Geographic Bee. The ongoing purpose of the Bee is to inspire students to want to understand the world around them, as well as encourage schools to keep geography in their curriculum. Geography is so much more than maps and capitals; it's history, cultures, traditions, languages, wildlife, and economics to name a few."

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