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Local Eighth-Grader Wins US Geography Title

Fredonia student Ray Dai at the International Geography Bee in Orlando. Submitted photo

Fredonia’s Ray Dai just completed eighth-grade and has already made quite the name for himself for competing in geography bee competitions.

Most recently, he returned from Orlando, Fla., where he took part in the U.S. Geography Championship, competing against other eighth grade students from all over the country.

In fact, Dai did more than just compete. He won.

Dai said he’s always had an interest in geography, but the interest was incubated by both his teachers at school and parents at home.

“It started when I was a kid,” Dai said. “My mom got me a book of all the flags in the world, and my teacher in first grade had a world map I’d look at every day. That’s how the interest really started.”

Dai first began competing in geography competitions at Fredonia when he was in fourth grade, as Fredonia hosts the National Geography Bee every year. While he didn’t do too well his first time out, he competed again in fifth grade, this time winning the competition and qualifying for the State competition in Albany, becoming the first Fredonia student to make it that far in over a decade.

Dai was one of only six fifth-grade students in the state to qualify for the competition, and placed in the finals of that event, and was able to qualify for states the next year as well, though that was canceled due to the pandemic.

Because of the pandemic, the National Geography Bee is no longer run, though Dai would not be without competition. The United States Geography Championships found his old scores and invited him to take an assessment in February, which qualified him for the national and international geography competitions, getting sixth place in the international competition, and winning the national one. Dai said he enjoyed the entire trip down to Orlando, both for the competition, and the city itself.

“I really enjoyed competing and meeting other people,” he said. “We got to tour Orlando, and I went to Disney World with my family, which was a really nice experience.”

Dai has a few goals he would like to accomplish out of these competitions. For one, he would like to compete in the next step of the competition, which is the International Geography Olympiad, which will take place in Paris this year. While Dai is not attending this year, it’s something he would like to achieve.

Dai’s other goal is simpler though: Someday, he wants to tour the world, which is a logical step for someone as into geography as he is. Dai said he’s most curious to see the cultures and places he’s spent so much time learning about.

“I just enjoy exploring the world and different cultures,” said Dai. “I think it’s really interesting to see how different people around the world live and discover more about other places.”

Dai has gotten support from several of his Fredonia teachers, including eighth grade teacher Doug Correll, who has given Dai advice on how to study for the events. Dai has also received a lot of support from his parents as well.

For now, Dai has the summer off to relax and study for the qualifying exam which will take place in January. His next social studies teacher has already given him a textbook on human geography to help him do so. And while Dai studies, he will do so with the dream of seeing these places that have thus far been left to text on a page.

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