Do you know which city — Omaha or Seoul — is at a higher degree of latitude? Do you know what strait separates the Australian states of Victoria from Tasmania?
Thirteen-year-old Kaylan Patel does, and answering that final question correctly guaranteed him one of 54 spots in the National Geography Bee, to be held next month in Washington, D.C. The annual competition is sponsored by National Geographic.
To get to the national competition, Patel had to win the school bee at Windermere Preparatory School in December, pass a state qualification test in January and beat 103 other students to win the state bee in March.
He is no stranger to winning geography bees. He has won the school bee four times, and this is his second time winning the state bee. For the last two years, he has participated in the US Geography Olympiads, sponsored by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Patel placed second in the nation and competed last summer in Berlin, Germany, in the International Geography Bee as a member of Team USA and in individual events. He returned home with two gold medals and a bronze and is ranked No. 5 in the world for his knowledge of geography.
How does a teenager become so adept at knowing facts about rivers and cities, religion and language, food and myriad other minute details the world over?
By spending hours and hours poring over atlases, maps, study guides, desk references and question books.
“It’s knowing every nook and cranny,” Patel said.
Adding to the difficulty, he said, is the fact that earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters create new rivers, mountains and islands that are constantly being added.
Beating 600,000 students to make it to nationals proves that Patel knows a great deal about the world, but he admits there are some countries in western Africa and southeastern Europe that are easy to confuse.
Patel has enjoyed reading atlases and maps since he was a young child. At age 3, he received a book, “My First World Atlas,” that introduced him to maps and animals. As he got older, that passion intensified.
Patel’s knack for geography goes back to his fourth-grade year when he won the school bee and went to the state competition. Four years later, he is only the second person in the 30-year history of the bee to win back-to-back state titles.
When he’s not studying maps and learning new facts about world geography, Patel likes to cook and watch sports on television. He also plays defense on the Windermere Prep basketball team, is in the National Honor Society and loves theater production.
If he could live anywhere in the world, he would choose Australia.
“There’s just everything — cities, forests, deserts and … the language is the same,” he said. “Maybe picking up an accent would be cool.”
For now, Patel is content in West Orange County, collecting his ribbons and trophies for his knowledge of world geography.
And he knows that Omaha is at a higher degree of latitude than Seoul and the Bass Strait separates the Australian states of Victoria from Tasmania.