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July 8, 2010

Learn about the World while Feeding it, Made Super-duper Easy. ~ Beth Bartel

Do you Know your Geography? Do you Want to?

I certainly did. Want to know, that is.

When I was a kid, the world seemed endless. Costa Rica was an island, as was Spain (I might have gotten that last one from Madonna’s ‘La Isla Bonita’); the Sahara and the Gobi and the Mojave were big deserts, but I probably couldn’t tell you what continents they were on; the Bahamas may have been in the Caribbean or the Atlantic or the Pacific or the Indian ocean (do the Beach Boys ever tell us? I swear ‘Kokomo’ is the only reason I know Aruba and Jamaica are in the same vicinity) (I knew the Bahamas were islands from The Dead Milkmen‘s ‘Bitchin’ Camaro’… it’s starting to look like I should be writing on geography lessons in popular music).

Almost all countries, actually, were floating around in imaginary space somewhere ‘over there’ until just recently. (Where, exactly, is Slovenia?) I realized one day that the world, that seemed to me so very infinite when I was a child, is indeed finite.

There are a limited number of countries to learn about—making the task appear much more manageable. Explorers and satellites have taken much of the mystery out of the unknown ‘over there,’ with the upshot being that we can explore those areas ourselves, through maps and books and amazing tools like Google Earth. I still have yet to learn a bit about each country to give it context (I plan to sit down with my awesome encyclopedia-like atlas that gives a description, with pictures, of each nation), and I still need to learn a little history and politics to understand the souls and roles of these places, but at least I’m on my way.

My secret?

It was easy.

And a great procrastination device.

Try out Free Rice, and donate rice through the World Food Programme while you learn that Slovakia is southeast of the Czech Republic and Albania is north of Greece. (Wait, and what about Slovenia?) Free Rice started with English vocabulary quizzes and now tests you on geography, art history, math, chemistry and other languages (Spanish, French, German and Italian) as well.

Go to to the “Change Subjects” link from the home page to get to the expanded subjects list.

That’s where I started. And then a friend sent on this other great geek site, sporkle, and I got hooked on that as well. There’s a ton of topics, more than you’ll find time to explore, and I went straight for the geography quizzes.

Now I can tell you where Uzbekistan is, have an idea of place in mind when watching teams from different countries compete in the World Cup (Ivory Coast, Ghana, Algeria and South Africa were all in it, and are all African nations, but how close together are they? Do any of them share any borders?). And now I know that an island nation called Timor-Leste exists.

Oh, and in case you were still wondering, Slovenia is here (in dark green):

and apparently has some terrain that looks like this:

What an amazing world, eh?

Beth Bartel lives in Boulder, interns at elephant journal and KGNU, and likes swinging on big swings.

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