Zachary Badaouie should have no trouble finding Pacific Lutheran University on a map.
The Oak Harbor Middle School eighth grader is headed to PLU Friday to represent Oak Harbor in the state Geography Bee.
Badaouie, a fan of basketball and coin collecting, said he didn’t realize he had a natural affinity for geography until a few weeks ago.
“I’m mean, I’ve never heard of the Geography Bee until now,” Badaouie said jokingly. “My teacher, Ms. Merkley, she just said, ‘Oh, you can do this little thing for the Geography Bee — it wasn’t a big deal.”
He didn’t expect anything to come of his participation — until he ran into teacher Amy Merkley.
“I was literally … walking the hall and then she walked by,” he said. “She was like, ‘Oh yeah, you won the (school) geography bee.’”
Badaouie said the school bee “wasn’t too complicated” because it only involved knowing where oceans and states were located on the map, in a computer-based, multiple-choice format.
His journey to state, however, didn’t end at the breezy, school-level competition.
“The state qualifying test, I thought that was a bit harder, since you had to know more current events and modern stuff than the actual school bee.”
“I’ve heard of some of these countries, but I’d never actually placed them on the map … Benin, I thought that was in Europe, but it’s in Africa,” he said, shrugging in a ‘who knew’ kind of way. “It’s, like, whoa, now I know.”
He and his mom drill on flashcards that cement the names of countries and capitals in his head. They also purchased official geography bee study guides and use them to learn about each region’s history, topography, weather patterns, current events of note and, yes, where to place each country on a map.
Badaouie had a month to study, and said he is already feeling prepared, but will use all the time he has since he is representing his community.
“I’ve probably never studied for something … this hard,” he said.
The statewide competition will adopt a more traditional, spelling-bee-style format. He said there will be five sub-competitions at PLU and the winners of those will compete on a stage in front of a large audience for a chance to go to nationals.
Badaouie said the geography bee has given him a greater sense of place, a better understanding of where he and his community sit relative to the rest of the world.
“There’s actually a place outside of the United States; there are people outside of the United States,” Badaouie said.
“Because I’ve never been outside of the United States, I just thought that everything here rocks, and everything over there is just sort of … eh.”
”But there’s really just a whole — everything — a whole lot of stuff out there that I didn’t even know about.”