Nihar Janga is the reigning National Geographic GeoBee champion. His victory came with a $25,000 scholarship and a Lindblad expedition to the Galápagos Islands. We caught up with Nihar in his hometown of Austin, Texas, during the annual conference of the National Council for Geographic Education. Edited excerpts of our conversation follow.
Q: What got you interested in geography?
Nihar Janga (NJ): After I did the spelling bee I realized there were a lot of words I studied that had geographical origins, and I wanted to explore those further. As the years went on, I learned I didn’t know about the world as it truly was; it was just based on Texas and where I was. Preparing for the GeoBee reduced those ethnocentric beliefs and helped me understand more the reality of the world and how it should be.
Q: How is your freshman year of high school going? Has your GeoBee experience been beneficial?
NJ: I’m taking AP Human Geography this year, and I feel like I learned a lot of the concepts while studying for the GeoBee. Since the GeoBee is more of an applied competition it helps with the higher-level thinking that’s required in AP Human Geography.
Q: What are you looking forward to most on your expedition to the Galápagos?
NJ: I’ve always wanted to see the giant turtles, obviously, because they’re so big and you don’t really see those anywhere else. There’s also the marine iguanas, and the experience as a whole—going with National Geographic—is obviously going to be great.
Q: Are there other travel destinations that piqued your interest while you were studying for the GeoBee?
NJ: One summer my family went to a bunch of countries: we went to Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Australia, India, Italy, Greece, and I think we stayed in Hong Kong for a little bit. That experience as a whole adds to me being a global citizen, because actually seeing those cultures in the real world that I studied in geography enhanced my learning. I could actually see that these things are happening and it’s not just something that I’m getting from a textbook.
Q: In addition to studying geography, you recently started rowing. How’s your season going so far?
NJ: Well, I’ve just started rowing. I’m a novice. Next fall season I think I’ll be going to varsity. We’ve had two regattas so far, which are basically like really long rowing race events. I’m getting better, but it’s obviously going to be a struggle because I just started.
Check back next week for the third installment in “Five Questions With a GeoBee Champion,” in which we speak with three-time Montana state champion Grace Rembert.
Registration for the 2019-2020 GeoBee is open through Jan. 24, 2020. Title I schools are eligible for a discount on GeoBee registration. Go to NatGeoBee.org to learn more.