The other day at work I was ringing up guests visiting from somewhere other than the United States. When I hear a hint of an accent, I love to ask where individuals are originally from. This couple in particular replied, “Ukraine,” in which I responded with a rather generic, “Oh, cool!” Surprised, they asked, “You know where that is?” “Yes…” I replied. They continued to look at me waiting for my response, in which I stated “Eastern Europe.” This couple exchanged a look that might be described as quizzical, surprised, yet unimpressed, perhaps resentful, and more sentiments that I was unable to read in a matter of seconds. “Most Americans don’t know anything about our country,” the woman stated, matter-of-factly. She was tall, but she was looking down upon me in another sense. (This couple was not an overly joyous one, in this moment at least.) Myself, being an avid player of Sporcle’s “World Capitals” and sensing that they felt unacknowledged in the world and simultaneously superior in contrast to unintelligent, unworldly Americans, I casually mentioned that yes, I knew where Ukraine is in addition to knowing their capital – Kiev. “Is that how you pronounce it?”, I asked. While I didn’t have any expectations for their response, most people show a flicker of a smile when you express some knowledge or sentiment regarding their home, a foreign place, thousands of miles away. Nevertheless, this couple nodded, took their change, and left the shop with their new towels, lacking any typical pleasantries.
Unfortunately, there is a stereotype that precedes us as Americans while we travel or encounter foreigners in our own country. Beginning in college, thanks to travel opportunities both within the US and abroad, my interest in geography, capital cities, and learning the names of all the countries of the world piqued. Unfortunately this interest in geography was non-existent in my schooling years when I needed it most! But since having traveled – driving across country borders and visiting nations’ capitals – I have become much more intrigued. A few years ago, as a result of my time spent learning the world’s geography, I could accurately recall all 197 countries (spelled correctly!) in 15 minutes. Currently, I have learned 98/197 country capitals, and while I have a long way to go I can tell you that Baku is the capital of Azerbaijan, and Djibouti the capital of Djibouti. Although I have never met someone from either of these places yet, nor have I been there, it brings my happiness to know even a mere speckle about this part of the world.
And so, here are some free and fun resources to help you in your quest to becoming a more knowledgeable, wordly individual.
Sporcle.com was the first of these tools that I began to use, introduced to me by a friend. Once I mastered the “Countries of the World” game, I moved on to “World Capitals”, “Capitals of Europe”, and more. Sporcle is a game-like website that requires you to recall information in a limited amount of time. While there are games testing geography, historical figures, and other educational information, there are also games measuring your knowledge of famous movies, tv shows, actors, and actresses.
One day at Target while perusing the $1 bins, I stumbled upon Flags of the World flash cards. Perfect for buses and trains, “fast boats”, and planes, these cards provide entertainment and knowledge that fit in the palm of your hand. I will be the first to say that my knowledge of the flags of the world is limited. Perhaps not for long!
Quizlet is an amazing resource and useful to many of us in all walks of life. If you are a university student, you should create an account for this tool yesterday. With both public and private study tools, you can create create your own study set or search a public set previously created. Quizlet offers multiple study modes from learning and matching to taking practice tests. GRE terms, country capitals, Spanish verbs, and more, Quizlet has it all. (And a very mobile friendly version to bring with you on the go!)
Whether you have a stereotype working against you or not, being knowledgeable about the world has its advantages. Knowledge of world capitals or country flags may engender interesting conversations with travelers, a winning team at trivia or quiz night, or a happy Ukrainian couple impressed by your knowledge of Eastern Europe. Here’s to mastering the capitals of the world in 2017!