The World is His Oyster

Tennessee State Geography Bee champ Arunabh Singh.

Armchair travel will take the ready adventurer far from home. For 14-year-old Arunabh Singh, it gives him the ability to explore places like Africa and the Arctic Circle, led by his imagination and a love of geography. His curiosity is a handy passport to both virtual travel and competitions that test his knowledge.

Last April, the eighth-grader from Schilling Farms Middle School achieved his life’s goal by winning Tennessee’s Geographic Bee. Arunabh grabbed the title by correctly answering the final question: “Russia and which other countries had disputes over oil reserves in the Barents Sea?” “Norway,” he said confidently. In winning the championship, he received an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C., to compete in the finals of the 23rd annual National Geographic Bee, organized by the National Geographic Society.

Early Learner

Arunabh has long loved geography. As a kindergartner, he would listen to the older students compete in his school’s geography bee and know the answers to many of the questions posed to the fourth- and fifth-graders in the competition. Early on, he demonstrated an eagerness to learn about the world beyond India, his birthplace. At age 3, he listened to the BBC News with his parents and located the countries mentioned during the broadcast on a globe. Later, he read the newspaper over breakfast, just like his dad. But he had to wait for his chance to compete.

In the meantime, he sketched countries and continents on paper napkins, pored over atlases, and kept learning. By the time he was a fourth-grader, he was ready. At age 9, he won the geography bee at Sycamore Elementary, and advanced to the state competition. He went on to place in the top 10 — in not one but three state championships before finally winning the top honor this year.

To prepare for the national bee, Singh returned to his well-thumbed atlas, almanacs, and geographical dictionary. Students in the national geography bee are not given study materials, but Arunabh routinely scans The Economist and Wall Street Journal, and reads widely about the environment, meterology and geology. “I’m always looking stuff up on the Internet,” he says. “Things change, especially in geography. “

Arriving at the nation’s capital, he enjoyed a trolley tour with other teen geography buffs but once the national geography bee started, “The pressure was on,” he says enthusiastically. Nonetheless, Arunabh ably represented the Volunteer State, correctly answering seven of nine questions before being eliminated.

Then in June, he represented Tennessee at the National Junior Beta Club competition in Nashville and won the top national award in the Social Studies category.

Seeing the World

Born in New Delhi, Arunabh moved to Memphis at age 4 with his mother, father Jai, and older sister Eesha. New Delhi remains his favorite place to visit because, “My cousins live there,” he said with a grin. “The state Uttar Pradesh is near New Delhi and it is interesting. There’s the Ganges River, Taj Mahal, and lots of landmarks.”

The teen grew up speaking Hindu as well as English.

“He corrects my British pronunciation and hopes that I will start using American pronunciations,” notes his mom, Madhu.

The family has traveled to Niagara Falls, Ottawa, and Toronto, Canada. But Arunabh hopes to someday explore California, Nevada, and Hawaii. His dream destination? “I’d love to tour the pyramids in Egypt.”

Though always eager to reach his destination, Arunabh doesn’t mind when a flight is delayed. He soaks up the airport scene saying, “There’s so much geography in airports, with many flights going so many places.”

Arunabh hasn’t decided on his future profession yet. For now, he’s happy to learn more about geography, camp with the Boy Scouts, and build on his rock collection. His recommendations for kids eager to do some armchair travel of their own? Check out the Concise Atlas of the World, National Geographic Almanac of Geography, and Merriam-Webster’s Geographical Dictionary.

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