Zambia or Zimbabwe? African country trips up Alaskan in geography bee

Posted: Wednesday, May 22, 2002

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Yan Matusevich's passed through the preliminary round of the National Geographic Bee, but was tripped up in the semifinals by the landlocked country between Botswana and Mozambique.

The moderator asked the 13-year-old Fairbanks student what country was home to the Matopo Hills.

''Zambia,'' guessed Yan.

''Zimbabwe,'' said the moderator, ending Yan's hopes for the national title and a $25,000 scholarship.

Yan's quest began in January when he won the Fairbanks-area geographic bee. Then he took first place in the statewide contest in early April.

The seventh-grader said he has had a map of political boundaries in his room since he was 3.

''I always followed the news, even when I was little. And I like to read statistics on the world. I don't know why. It's just interesting,'' he told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. ''And I just filled myself with information that I thought was useless.''

Yan is also a bit of a world traveler. On Thursday, Yan will fly to St. Petersburg, Russia, to spend the next several months. He has been doing that each summer since arriving in Fairbanks three years ago.

His mother teaches French and world literature as an assistant professor of foreign languages at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. His father, Maxim Matusevich, and his grandparents still live in Russia.

His grandmother, Alla Mazour, spent the past several months in Fairbanks and coached Yan while he prepared for the state and national bees. He speaks English without an accent, as well as French and Russian.

''That helps me in geography a lot,'' Yan said, ''because I can kind of linguistically guess what countries are by the words, how it sounds.''

The National Geographic Bee began 13 years ago after National Geographic Society trustees were ''shocked'' by a Gallup Poll comparing U.S. students' knowledge to that of nine other countries, said chairman Gilbert Grosvenor.

''One in four couldn't locate the Pacific Ocean, a rather large body of water,'' Grosvenor said following Tuesday's preliminary round.

The society has spent $110 million on its geography education effort since then, he said. Most of the money goes toward training teachers, he said, and it's paying off. ''It's really exciting to see how far we've come.''

Calvin McCarter, a 10-year-old Michigan homeschooler, won the National Geographic Bee on Wednesday.


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