Maps of Vietnam, Egypt and Germany were taped to the walls of 13-year old Sravya Kuchibhotla’s home. She swaps them for maps of other countries every few weeks to help her memorize the names of far-away rivers and mountains.
Sravya, a seventh-grader at Davis Drive Middle School in Cary, hopes the maps, plus her regular three-hour study sessions, will land her the championship title at the National Geographic Bee. The competition begins Monday in Washington, D.C.
If Sravya is named the champion, she’ll be the first winner from North Carolina in the bee’s 26-year history. The champion will get a $25,000 college scholarship, a lifetime membership to the National Geographic Society and a trip to the Galapagos Islands.
Last month, Sravya beat out 102 other students from across North Carolina for the chance at the national title.
Sravya and a student from Charlotte were the final two contestants in the state competition, and they got this question: What is the body of water that separates the Taymyr Peninsula from the Novaya Zemlya archipelago?
“I knew the answer,” Sravya said. “You just have this thing of self-doubt.”
Seconds later the judges announced, “One of you is right.”
“I zoned out and then I heard my name,” Sravya said.
The answer: the Kara Sea.
Sravya started reading about different countries a few years ago. But her interest in competing in geography bees peaked last year when she was watching the national finals on television with her mom.
She found herself answering along with the contestants and figured she would give it a shot. For the past six months she’s been quizzing herself on countries’ languages, currency, history and major landmarks.
Sravya studies five days a week while also taking part in chess championships and Telugu language competitions. Her parents’ fireplace mantle is filled with her trophies and awards.
“It gives you a better perspective,” Sravya said of geography. “Before, Japan was just a country in Asia. Now I know the capital city in Japan.”
She can also tell you the country’s neighbors, flags and current events.
Her parents are from Vijayawada in southern India, but her love of learning about foreign lands doesn’t trace back to their roots. Watching news coverage of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti as a 9-year old changed her world view, she said.
“I didn’t know where Haiti was,” Sravya said. “ I didn’t know if it was 30 miles or 1 million miles away. The images I saw, what happened to the country, it just sparked my interest.”
Her mother, Jyosthna Kuchibhotla, is proud of what Sravya has accomplished so far and supports her championship dreams.
“With all of the hard work she’s put in, it would be great if she won,” Kuchibhotla said. “She will be in competition with the best students in every state.”