Thursday, May 16, 2013
It all began when he was two and half.
And next week it could culminate with 13-year-old Krish Patel becoming a national geography champion.
Born in Vadodara, Gujarat, India, Krish showed an exceptional interest in the world around him that seemed to begin, says his mother Elliza Patel, while he was on the plane flying to America.
The toddler, she says, loved to watch out the window of the airplane and see all the lights. When those weren’t available to view, he would study the TV monitor on the seatback in front of him that showed where the plane was over, what area it was flying, what cities were below, and so forth.
His other favorite pastime? The Weather Channel.
“I loved to read newspapers too,” says Krish. “I would sit with my mother and she would read the weather reports to me from all over.”
Elliza says Krish’s two favorite passions were numbers and cities. The Weather Channel became a favorite because it covered weather in cities around the world. By the time he was three, he was hooked on the station.
Elliza says Krish could count to 20 when he was just a year old and read simple sentences by the time he was two.
Elliza would read National Geographic to him, feeding his love for places.
“I got my first big map and a talking globe for Christmas when I was four,” he says. The globe sits like the well-loved Velveteen Rabbit on a shelf in his room. It is no longer able to talk … that ability wore out years ago.
“I am just really curious about the world and places,” says the extremely erudite young man.
By the time he was 10 he unexpectedly burst on the geography scene. A student at Pinewood Preparatory School, Patel was intensely curious about the school’s geography bee so the school coordinator told him he could watch. But when one of the team members got sick and couldn’t take part the coordinator told Krish he could jump in and take the student’s place “for the fun of it.”
And fun it was. Krish won.
After passing the requisite written test with flying colors, Krish was qualified to go to the state level which he also won, beating 100 competitors for the top spot.
This win qualified him for the nationals. So the 11-year-old, Krish headed to Washington D.C., with his parents, to pit his knowledge against the 54 top geography wizzes from across the U.S.
He didn’t make the top 10. Undeterred, Krish returned home determined to try again the following year. He did, but, once again, didn’t quite make the top 10.
This year, however, he has cranked it up and put a real effort in to make that elusive top 10.
“I’ve prepared more intensely,” he says, I am spending more hours studying and I am taking notes this time. I am memorizing facts.”
From 3:30 to 6 p.m., Krish does his homework. Then from 6 to 11 p.m. (or later) he studies for the geography bee.
“I gave up sports for the last two weeks and I don’t watch TV,” he says, “so I can focus on this.”
The rest of the year he lives a well-rounded life playing soccer and swimming. He really likes long distance swimming, he says. He’s the goalie (or sometimes right midfield) for the JV soccer team at Pinewood.
When at home, he plays soccer and football with kids in the neighborhood. And, sometimes, he even plays video games…but only sports video games. He also enjoys cooking shows like Chopped and Iron Chef.
Krish also competes in math, taking part in the South Carolina Independent School Association competitions. He came in fourth last October.
He is the unofficial captain of the Quiz Bowl Team, which was state champion in March.
His bedroom speaks to his determination to work his way to the top at the national level. There are bookshelves brimming with atlases, geography books, and more, many inches thick, a cardboard box full of library books, globes and a computer that he uses for research.
His favorite three atlases are National Geographic, Perthes and DK World Atlases.
But don’t think a geography bee is just about where a place might be or what it might be. The questions, says Krish, can cover the economics of a place, the history of a place, literature, demographics, film, or just about anything that can be related to geography.
“My mom’s my biggest push,” says Krish. “When I have a day when I don’t feel like preparing, she helps me.”
She tells him if he doesn’t want to do it then don’t do it next time but that he is committed now so he needs to see it through.
Elliza is an optometrist but gave up her career when she came to America. Krish’s dad, Rakesh Patel, is a data analysis engineer with a company out of New Jersey. Their H1 visa does not allow Elliza to work.
“It is frustrating sometimes,” admits Elliza, “but we made sacrifices to come here. It was getting very unsafe where we lived [in India] and we were afraid for our child. But this enables me to spend time being a mother and helping Krish.”
Krish says his peers at school are very supportive. Sometimes they quiz him and all the time they wish him luck.
And if geography and math are not enough, Krish speaks fluent Gujarati [the language of his state in India], some Hindi, perfect, accentless English and is learning Spanish.
He loves to write especially essays, stories and poetry, loves history and science. He does not have a girlfriend [yet] as “they are a distraction.”
Oh, and he loves airports.
“It’s exciting because of the travel,” he explains. He has even gone so far as to design the perfect airport right down to the airlines that would fly out of it. “I like to make drawings improving bad airports,” he laughs.
And, of course, he loves statistics. “Especially sports statistics! I like to use numbers to predict things,” he says.
Elliza admits that Indian parents, as well as Asian parents, raise their children differently than many American parents, pushing their children more. “But,” she says, “we do this because he wants it. He says ‘Mom, I want to do it please help me,’ so we do. All I tell him to do is give it your best 110 percent.”
“All we ask of him is honesty, hard work, responsibility and curiosity,” she adds.
Elliza also believe that failure is a good thing and teaches children a lot while making them stronger.
“And there’s always next time,” Krish jumps in with a grin.
Krish and his parents leave Sunday for D.C. for the annual National Geographic Bee. He will compete with 54 of the nation’s brightest in the preliminaries on Monday, May 20. If he makes it through, he will compete again on Tuesday. The top 10 will advance to the final round on Wednesday. Jeopardy’s Alex Trebek moderates. The final round, takes place at the National Theater, and will be aired at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 23, on the National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo WILD.