Geography Whiz

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), April 9, 2014 | Go to article overview

Geography Whiz


Byline: Kelsey Thalhofer The Register-Guard

At school this week, Roosevelt Middle School seventh-grader Tor Parsons had a special treat for some of the many people who came up to congratulate him on his recent academic success.

"The 50th and 100th person to congratulate me got free geography trivia questions," Tor said with a grin, as he rattled off his latest stumper: "Which country has the most capitals?"

The answer - though no classmates could guess it - is South Africa, with capitals of Pretoria, Bloemfontein and Cape Town.

That question - and hundreds more - was the kind of trivia that Tor, 12, mastered to win the statewide National Geographic Bee last Friday at Western Oregon University in Monmouth.

Next up for Tor: the national bee in Washington, D.C.

His state win, said Tor, was the result of years of interest, hours of studying and a lot of luck.

"I bet there were a lot of kids who were a lot better at geography than me," he said of the nearly 100 other students at the competition. "I got a lot of easy questions, and that was just luck."

His homeroom teacher, Eric Johannsen, pointed out that those "easy" questions - sample: "Which Belgian city is often referred to as the capital of Europe because it is the meeting place of the European Union?" (Answer: Brussels.) - might not seem so easy to everyone.

Whatever the case, Tor says he plans to continue his previous study strategies to prepare for his all-expenses-paid trip to the national level bee on May 19-21. That includes poring over atlases and quizzing himself on the GeoBee Challenge iPad app, designed to ready kids for the competition.

The National Geographic Bee is an educational program of the National Geographic Society" that's open to students in grades 4 through 8. The bee's purpose is "to encourage the teaching and study of geography."

Tor's dad, Craig Parsons, is a political science professor at the University of Oregon. But he says his son "definitely knows more than I do about geography, (at least) in a factual sense."

Lately, he said, Tor has shown an "increasingly deep and broad sense" of what's really going on in the world.

"We get The Economist magazine, and I never get to read it - it disappears" into Tor's hands, Parsons said.

Tor's love of geography can be traced back to an enduring affinity for trains that began in his childhood.

"He would look at maps and hand-draw regional train networks," Parsons said.

When Tor was in fourth grade, he competed in and won Edison Elementary School's National Geographic Bee, and went on to compete in the state bee, where he was eliminated.

Still, the contest was his first cue that learning facts about the world might just be his thing.

"I realized that I knew a lot about geography, but I didn't know that I knew an abnormal amount about geography" until after becoming Edison's champion, Tor said.

The following year, when Tor was in fifth grade, his dad took a sabbatical year in Bordeaux, France, and the whole family moved abroad. While Tor missed out on the geography bee, he learned French - and learned that he loved travel.

His favorite spot, he said, was a village called Rocamadour in southwestern France. There, he said, an ancient monastery sat perched on the edge of a giant cliff. …

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