Bedford student, Sandhu, a geo bee champ
Friday, August 23, 2013
Neelam Sandhu, 14, now a freshman at Bedford High, has a fine credit for her resume. She is part of the three-person United States team that recently won the National Geographic World Championship. The event was held July 28-31 at the Russian Geographical Society headquarters in St. Petersburg, Russia. Eighteen countries participated.
She may be among those unabashedly looking forward, as the school year dawns, to geography questions about far-away countries, their flags, major industries and products.
Neelam and two other geography superstars – Gopi Ramanathan, 15, of Sartell, Minn., and Asha Jain, 13, of Minocqua, Wis., – captured the sixth-ever United States title. Neelam and Asha and Gopi, the team’s captain, vied in round after round of questions. The world championship, held to test the geographic savvy of students from around the world, is held every two years. This year’s assembly was the 11th hosted by National Geographic. This year, Canada nabbed second place and India took third place.
The American trio won its berth at the “geo bee” by winning or finishing at the top of a series of ever more difficult challenges. Schools held bouts. Winners of those matches were tested during state-level bees. Finally, a national competition held in Washington, D.C., capped the students’ efforts. Neelam made it into the top level, or “Top 10” at the national level and met her two teammates. Next stop: Russia.
Neelam recalled the question that won for her team the world victory. The team was asked to name the country whose flag has a star representing the mainland and five more stars representing its islands. The answer? Equatorial Guinea.
She and her team already had answered correctly dozens of difficult questions. She said that there were eight rounds and each round had two or three parts. It added up to quite a few questions, she said.
“One of my questions was to name the island that is the largest at the northern end of the Persian Gulf,” Neelam said. “The answer was the Bubiyan Island. I learned that last year. I studied each country’s largest island and remembered that one.”
There were hundreds of questions that could have been asked. The moderator was Alex Trebek, longtime host of a televised quiz show, “Jeopardy!” Neelam and her teammates were prepared with hundreds of correct answers.
“I was asked which river runs through the capital city of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea,” Neelam said. “It is the Taedong River.”
The mental energy required to become the best of the best in the world was considerable. Nevertheless, there was time for relaxation, tours of ancient palaces and historical sites, get-togethers with other teams and gift exchanges among the team members from all the nations.
“Meeting the people from other countries – that was a big part for me,” Neelam said. “We did a lot of sightseeing around St. Petersburg and outside the city. We went to different palaces and castles. It was beautiful.”
Language barriers were few. Each team had chaperones with them. The companions could speak English and also a group’s native language.
“Pretty much, we hung out with everybody,” Neelam said. “We were with kids from every team. We kind of split off and made friends, then brought our new friends back to meet everyone else.”
Neelam has kept in touch with some of her new friends through Facebook. She also finds texting a convenient way to chit chat. She surely will have more to tell them as she becomes acclimated to high school. Her brother, Karam, 16, attends Bedford High. Another brother, Milan, 19, is away at college. She already is familiar with the Coalition for Bedford Youth, known as CBY. Members of CBY are a part of the high school and often are seen helping out at various events including the recent Bedford Rotary Memorial Road Races and the grand opening of Bedford Village Common, the town’s newest park.
Neelam is considering a career as an author or a travel writer or an explorer for National Geographic, a world-class organization involved in what Neelam called, “a lot of really cool things” including print publications, video productions, movies, maps, contests, documentaries and other scientific yet entertaining projects.
Meanwhile, the Sandhu household slowly is returning to its formerly peaceful status. Neelam’s mom and dad, Michael and Surrinder Sandhu, celebrated their 20th anniversary by visiting Russia to see their daughter compete in the world championship. They had plenty of time to themselves.
“We saw her once, during the final competition, for a couple hours,” said Surrinder. “Then, she was whisked away by the press.”
For more information, visit online: www.nationalgeographic.com.