Clash of the Nerds

by - 12:41 PM

On June 4th, fifteen of the Netherlands' brightest geography geeks gathered in the far north of the country to compete for one of the four tickets to the international Geography Olympiad in Krakau, Poland. Three days long they worked hard in heavy rain, tropical temperatures, knee-deep mud and waist-high vegetation. An epic battle was fought out on the heathlands of Drenthe and in the university halls of Groningen.
Why am I telling you this? Because this blogger here was one of those fifteen competitors.

At the beginning of this year I made the qualifying test that could get me into the national finals. I didn't expect to go to those finals, because I was unsure of most of my answers.
Months later, near the end of May, I received an invitation for the national finals, when I didn't expect it to happen anymore. I was stunned, shocked, overwhelmed and quite frankly scared to death. Spending three days with a group of total strangers? Terrifying.
I doubted, doubted, doubted and quickly accepted, before I could change my mind again and spend the rest of my life regretting that I didn't go. So I packed my bags and left at 5am on the morning of June 4th to travel from the far west of the country to the far north. It was my first time travelling alone and by train and it was even more terrifying than the prospect of having to convince fourteen strangers of my awkward awesomeness, but that's a story for another time. Right now it's time for the story of fifteen teenagers on the northern heathlands.

Fieldwork Rocks
I was the first to arrive in the city of Assen, where we would gather. As the others came in, it didn't take me long to realize that the amount of testosteron was going to be extremely high in the next three days: there were thirteen guys and one other girl, whose name was also Envy (what are the odds?!).
They crammed us into a tiny van and brought us to a miniscule settlement (five farms, a pub and a steak house). Surrounded by Elvis posters in the 'village's' pub, we got a lecture on the original use of the heathlands. The amount of information was overwhelming, the only thing I still remember is how to avoid your sheep from escaping, which will probably be very usefull information for the rest of my life.
After the lecture we were let loose on the heathlands for some fieldwork and die hard data gathering. We set of in twos and threes. I got stuck with a scrawny junior who said nothing except: 'There's no current on the fence.' Let me tell you this: I'm never trusting anyone anymore when it comes to fences. I got a nasty shock.
The fieldwork itself was fun, even though my 'buddy' wasn't a real buddy, more of a barrel full of annoyance. Probably because everything that could go wrong, went wrong. We had to make a 1.20m deep hole in the ground with a special 1.20m drill. By the time the drill was 60cm into the ground, we had a 1.50m soil sample... and had to start all over again.
Then, after making a pretty little soil sample, the real trouble began: we had to determine the type of soil. But when I said the color of the sand was black, my buddy called it gray. When I told the sand was grayish, my buddy had to see for himself and said it was obviously black, When I thought the soil was dry, he found it wet and called everything sand, even loam and humus.
It didn't end there though. The vegetation had to be determined too. It took me some time to get used to the determination table. It tested it on an oak, to make sure I was using it right. Now I may be from the grassy polders of South Holland, but I do know what an oak looks like.
The determination table told me it was an Italian poplar. I've never seen one of those in my life, but I doubt the look like oaks and carry acorns.
My buddy didn't listen to me and called it an Italian poplar anyway. I got pretty fed-up with him. We were supposed to be in a coniferous forest, but there was no conifer in sight. Every mosquito on the area decided to visit the mosquito paradise known as my body. And then on top of that I was stuck with a resentful jerk.
In the end we got all the data we needed, but it took hours to get back to the pub, because my buddy just had to see the locations were others were taking soil samples. Never in my whole life have I been so happy with a heavy rain shower. Finally I had an excuse to go back to the pub.

Powerpoint Sucks

This was only a tiny part of the room...
After a rainy barbeque that night, the other Envy and I got an apartment to ourselves (while the guys had to share tiny rooms with five beds and nothing else in them) and began working on the assignment based on the fieldwork. We immediately hit it off and soon our assignments were totally forgotten. I didn't mind, because we had to make a powerpoint based on our fieldwork data. The problem: I'd never made a powerpoint in my entire life and had no idea what I had to do with the huge amount of data I'd gathered (which actually came down to a lot of pictures of cows and flowers).
So I ended up scattering my files through the room, eating crisps and generally making a mess. Envy did the same and when the jury walked in on us they were more impressed by the enormous mess we'd made than by our work...

The next morning I finally figured out how to make a powerpoint. I was happily working away on colorful arrows, effects that did 'Swooooooooooosh' and even more pictures of cows and flowers. I even put in a few pics of sheep for the sake of variety. I was having a great time, until I realized I was forgetting to include information, which made my presentation the crappiest one the world has ever seen. The occasional outbursts of genius I'd shared with Envy the night before were gone... And when I tried to hand in my work and my USB stick fell apart into five pieces, I just gave up on the first assignment.

Who wants information if you can look at cows and flowers ?!
That afternoon I got a second chance: The theoretical test was right up my alley. I was tired though (I'd barely had any sleep and my fieldwork buddy had refused to carry the drill because he was reading the map, so I'd walked at least 4k with the drill on my shoulder) and I was so focused I forgot about the cup of tea on the corner of my table, which I knocked over when I tried to find a map of Brazil in an atlas that was at least half as heavy as me.
I had confidence in the test, even though I knew that a lot of people were way smarter than me. That didn't bother me though, because I was having a great time with Envy that day.

Out of Luck
The last day was dedicated to a tour through the city of Groningen, eating sandwiches and the results. It was a competition after all, the ultimate battle between the fifteen smartest Dutch geography geeks, though there was no sense of competition whatsoever.
I didn't win anything... Envy won the competition and got to go to Krakau. I'm really happy for her. She was a great friend and Potterhead, the first Hufflepuff I've ever met. And because we share a name, a zodiac sign and all our geographical knowledge, it feels like I won a bit too.
In three days I overcame my fear of strangers, met new people, made new friends, discovered what it was like to be the dumbest person in a group, figured out how to make a powerpoint and discussed the values of Hufflepuff house. Is there a better way to enjoy a competition? I don't hink so, my friends, I don't think so.

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