USGO Note: Mahit Vaddadi was one of the four students from the USA who attended the 2015 International Geography Olympiad, held in Russia. These are some thoughts about the competition in his own words, that took the form of a Facebook post to his fellow iGeo participants from around the world:

Hey Everyone,

I hope you are all having a great time back home. This past week was probably the greatest week of my life. I met some of the brightest, smartest, and the most amazing people in the planet. The competition was an eye opener to not only where I am at with my skills, but also how small, and how homogeneous our world really is.

For all of us, the journey starts with that one small map, and the book of flags we all pick up when we were little kids. We become infatuated with cool looking flags, countries that look far away and much different from where we live now. Then, we become driven to find out their cultural essences, their unique places, and their complex societies. We start to realize what the inner working of humanity, and the inner workings of Earth itself is. and we love it so much.

And that is what brought me to Tver, Moscow, and the Computeria Student Conference Center. It is what brought all of us together. We love our planet, our people, and most of all, we love learning about it.

Also, I never expected that I would ever be here after playing my first full year of Quiz bowl, and playing in the Varsity USGO. I had never expected to sit in the final round and get second in the country. It would have been really nice to top it off with a medal here, but sometimes results can never go the way you want it to be.

Whenever I got the call that I was selected to go, I was very scared, but at the same time, I was very pleased. For many years, Russia was an adversary to the USA, and tensions have still lingered in some topics. I live in a declining small town in the middle of Pennsylvania, a place filled with the Rust Belt charm of old factories, mines and homes, and small patriotic families. Opportunities like this come very few and far between for people like me, and whenever I got it I was congratulated my many. Many of the places I have read, seen, and things I have heard about Russians are that they are mean, shady, arrogant. Many of my friends were also really shocked that I was going to Russia of all the places in the world.

All of those stereotypes were completely proved wrong when I had come here. I saw some of the most amazing buildings in Moscow, and Tver, and the hidden charm of Russia’s countryside, and small towns depicted and masterfully taken by Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Pushkin. I also saw the great past being mixed with the exciting present. The volunteers were some of the nicest, most friendly people I have ever encountered, and the people I met in places, and competed with were some of the most humble, caring people I have ever seen. It was the first time I had ever traveled outside of my hometown in my own, getting in a plane in my own, and going to Europe. I would like to thank everyone for helping me throughout this journey.

Most of all, the participants are like family to me, and you guys definitely treated me as part of one. We took care of each other, we comforted each other at times of need, and congratulated each other at times. At the beginning of the Olympiad, I felt very homesick, and I felt a little shy to meet people. But once I got to know everyone, I realized how we were all the same, and I have made some great, everlasting friendships. It is probably the first time in my life where I can truly say that words can never describe you guys. I met some very powerful people, and I also got to stop and meet with the Chief Geographer of the USA, which is a very high post.

Now, I feel that I have found something new within me, and I hope that time will tell that it will be for the better. I found a new drive to reach for the stars, and a drive to do more of what I truly love. I can only thank you guys for helping me create it. It was a great experience to be there, and I have learned a lot about not only geography, but about life.

I have come back home, and life goes in its lackadaisical, quotidian pace. I miss hanging out, and I will miss you guys greatly for the next 12 months. Hopefully, we will all meet again in Beijing at the 2016 iGeo, or fate decides when we meet again.