Last spring I participated in the Connecticut State Geography Bee in Newtown, Conn. and qualified for the Varsity International Geography Bee World Championships hosted in Berlin, Germany. This event brings together 32 of the top geographic minds in the world, hailing from six different countries. For months, I was looking forward to competing in this event and I studied for it every day. Upon my arrival in Berlin, I was escorted on foot late at night with my luggage, in the rain, to my hostel in the eastern suburb of Kreuzburg where all participants were required to stay. At my hostel, I was appalled by my surroundings. Next door was an Antifa (classified terror organization) compound consisting of multiple blocks. The compound was surrounded by barbed-wire, litter, violent anti-state propaganda and profane messages directed towards tourists and westerners all over its rusted metal walls. Kreuzberg also had many signs that encouraged illicit drug use which deeply disturbed me. The conditions at the hostel were not much better. The hostel had no air conditioning, six kids per each tiny room, reeked of a sulfur scent and marijuana, and there were complaints of broken locks and bed bugs during my stay. My first night I did not sleep at all as the interior temperature was an oppressive 96 degrees Fahrenheit and all I could hear was the sound of sirens on the street and noises coming from the nearby compound. I was incredibly uncomfortable and disappointed that the tournament was poorly organized and not at all what I had expected.
My family and I attempted to discuss our concerns with the organizer. Unfortunately, that was not possible. At this point, we were faced with a difficult decision: To let the unfortunate turn of events ruin the week or to make lemonade out of the lemons life had handed us. We opted for a refund and utilized those funds along with my geography skills to formulate a plan B. Although I had to let go of my original dream in Berlin, I had the opportunity to explore and immerse myself in the culture of four distinctly different countries: Germany, Czechia, Denmark, and Sweden. This experience taught me that life doesn’t always go as planned and sometimes the most successful people are those who are able to adjust to a plan B.