OAK BROOK – Adi Badlani is sitting in a room filled with what looks like gems he could have won on 1990s game show "Legends of the Hidden Temple." An indoor trampoline with a surrounding net and arcade basketball game are on either side of him, but he isn't paying those toys any attention.
Instead, the 9-year-old is focusing intently on an electronic globe, finding out the population of Syria and Chad by tapping the countries with an attached pointer and listening to the automated recording.
This natural sense of curiosity has paid off for the Oak Brook resident, as last month he was selected one of 100 fourth- through eighth-graders from Illinois to attend the National Geographic Bee on April 5 at College of DuPage.
Adi, who was the youngest in the state to qualify, was accepted to attend after he won a January geography bee at Brook Forest Elementary School and then earned a top score on the National Geographic geography exam.
"I was a little nervous, but it was a great experience in my life," Adi said while continuing to tap the countries on his globe. Adi did well in the National Geographic Bee, but didn't qualify for the next round.
The geography buff is no stranger to competition – he's the Brook Forest spelling bee champion and competed twice in the WordMasters Challenge.
When Adi was just a toddler, his mother gave him a U.S. puzzle map and an atlas. He started reading geography books when he "got bored," he said.
"He has just been reading geography since such an early age that he has just accumulated knowledge over a few years," said his mother, Vandana.
At 2 years old, Adi could name every state in the U.S. and its capital. When he was 3, he recognized every country on the globe. By 4, he knew their capitals.
The trick to learning anything new, Adi said, is to just stick with it and use repetition. It seems like an easy suggestion for the modest mind who knows how to spell supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
"I think he's a very hard-working kid," Vandana said. "Very hard-working and very disciplined."