ELMHURST – Seth Buikema, a Timothy Christian High School incoming senior, has a passion for geography, so much so that he loses track of time while looking at maps.
That passion has propelled him all the way to the international level with the International Geography Bee in Berlin, Germany, which is taking place July 11 to 17. The competition includes tests, a global crisis simulator and a head-to-head knowledge competition.
His participation in this competition follows his success at the national level, winning third place out of 150 participants and scoring 90 percent on the qualifying test.
"I'm looking forward to participating in this and meeting new people. ... It's not like work to me. Since I just enjoy it, it'll be a fun experience," Buikema said.
He said his interests were fueled as a young child when his parents decided to get him a wall map and an interactive globe. That information "stuck" with him, he said.
"As things progressed, since I had a base, I built on it and was able to understand more and more. And I think the fact that now that I'm able to understand a lot of things related to this, I still want to fuel it because it would kind of be wasting everything I know if I didn't really pursue it that much," Buikema said.
He said his participation with scholastic bowl has helped boost his speed with responding to questions. Buikema has participated in scholastic bowl since his freshman year of high school, and he was the captain of the varsity team this past school year.
In an Illinois High School Association Scholastic Bowl match, two schools' teams of five players each face off and try to be the quickest to correctly answer questions on a variety of academic subjects, from math and literature to fine arts and pop culture. Matches start with a toss-up question, and the student who hits his or her buzzer first gets the first chance to answer it. Answering the question correctly leads to a set of bonus questions, which team members can discuss and work together to answer.
"He is lightning fast in geography, geopolitics, the geopolitical spectrum, history – in that area in particular is where he really shines. He just outperforms everyone else," varsity scholastic bowl coach Carlton Rink said. "In fact, in those areas....he's probably the fastest scholastic bowl student I've had in my 23 years of coaching scholastic bowl."
Buikema said his interests in geography have included foreign relations and interactions between local cultures and the world.
He also is interested in world music, such as Brazilian pop music of the 1960s and 1970s and African music of the late 1960s through today.
"It's interesting to listen to because it's a lot of rhythms that you can hear in music today, but you don't really appreciate them for what they are," Buikema said.
He said he wants to attend a college with a strong foreign relations program and would like to participate in a Critical Language Scholarship Program. The language program is a U.S. government initiative to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering languages that are deemed critical to national security and prosperity.