Where in the world is Arjun Kumar?
April 26, 2011
By Christopher Huber
Beaver Lake student earns National Geographic Bee spot
Arjun Kumar stood on the stage in front of a quiet auditorium, waiting to hear the question. The seventh-grader at Beaver Lake Middle School had spent the day wracking his brain about countries, economies, land masses and other geographic features. He had answered better than 98 other Washington students to make the finals.
But it came down to one final answer that would be the difference between going home the runner-up or taking a trip to Washington, D.C.
“If I miss one question, I don’t sorta let that get in my way,” Arjun said about the climb to the top.
The make-or-break question asked the finalists to identify the Asian country that China surpassed last year to became the second-largest economy in the world. Arjun’s correct answer: Japan.
“In the moment I won, it was like the entire room let out a breath,” he said.
The 13-year-old is the state Geographic Bee champion and is due to travel to the other Washington in May to compete in the National Geographic Bee.
“I was not surprised,” said Carolyn Santos, Arjun’s Humanities Plus teacher and the BLMS Geographic Bee coach. “Arjun loves to learn. He is a great kid who works hard and is very focused.”
In the state competition at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma on April 1, Arjun bested a 14-year-old Mount Vernon boy for the Evergreen State title. (Arjun also placed among the top 10 challengers at the state level last year.)
“The whole meaning of the thing didn’t really sink in at the moment,” Arjun said.
In the run-up to the final round at state, Arjun and the 99 other competitors were split into five groups of 20 and each answered seven questions individually, he and his father, Arun Kumar, said. The top 10 scores advanced to the next round and answered subsequent questions.
Arjun had missed a question in the first round, so had to compete in a runoff round, in which students dropped out quickly. Arjun’s focus helped keep him relaxed, unlike many others, he said.
“People just kept on falling (out) really, really quickly,” Arjun said. “It really helped that this was my second time there.”
In the end, Arjun said the winning question was relatively easy, considering his mother is Japanese and he has a friend at school with whom he discusses economics. Arun Kumar said it was a momentous event seeing his son win the Geographic Bee this year.
“It was a real, sort of warm feeling for him, because he had prepared for this a fair bit,” Arun Kumar said. “When it came down to just three people, that was when things started really heating up.”
While the chance to compete among the brightest youths in the nation is the prize for winning, Arjun also got a giant atlas from his parents so he can study up. One might think he spends all of his time buried in atlases and researching online. The Kumars said Arjun spends maybe an hour a day looking through his atlas and reading Wikipedia. Arjun, who takes ninth-grade math and is in the Humanities Plus program, seems to have a knack for learning about places.
“He’s always had an interest in reading deeply about a subject and learning it a lot,” Arun Kumar said.
Arjun has found interest in other things, like “The Lord of the Rings,” but found more real-world application with geography.
“I just like learning about the world,” Arjun said. “Geography is sort of bottomless. You can always go deeper. I know that geography will take me places.”
Thinking about the national competition, Arjun said he most looks forward to visiting the Smithsonian Institution.
“I’ve always wanted go to Washington, D.C., and see the place,” he said.
The national bee is scheduled for May 24-25 at the Smithsonian Institution. “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek serves as the moderator for the competition.
Test your knowledge of the globe with sample questions from the National Geographic Bee:
Q: What is the term for a part of an ocean or sea that cuts far into the bordering land mass and may contain one or more bays?
Q: Which Canadian province produces more than half of the country’s manufactured goods?
Q: To visit the ruins of Persepolis, an ancient ceremonial capital of Persia, you would have to travel to what present-day country?
Take the complete quiz at www.nationalgeographic.com/features/97/geobee.