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D'you know what 'zyzzyva' is? Let a Scrabble champ tell you

Khaleej Times 2017-04-21 20:35:17

Iwas recently taught two new words by a 17-year-old student in Dubai. Zyzzyva was one of them. It's a tropical American weevil found in palms. The second was an anagram of the young chap, Sanchit Kapoor's, name. The word was shitcan, which, before you recoil in horror, basically means to reject or disregard something.

Now, I'm someone who enjoys learning new things every day. Yes, it's a cliché, but my parents - though not pushy - always told me that a craving for knowledge was an essential quality in a person. 

But I have to admit, my recent new learnings left me a little red-faced. This was someone half my age teaching me - a journalist - new words.  

In my defence though, Sanchit is a World Youth Scrabble champion, so I guess words are more his forte than mine (I know, I really shouldn't be admitting this).

My encounter with him was a pretty grounding experience. But it also made me question how school children today differ from when I was a nipper.

Come August, Sanchit will be making his way overseas to the US to commence a four year scholarship at UC Berkeley. He is one of the first international students to receive this particular scholarship - beating more than 85,000 other applicants to the post, might I add - so he's clearly worth his weight in gold. But boy, was this kid humble.

Rewind back to 14 years ago when I was his age and I'm fairly certain I'd be a bouncing ball of joy, shouting from every rooftop that I'd just got a scholarship - with the obligatory "na na nana nas" in tow too. I wouldn't call myself an "in your face" type of character, but a feat like that would have warranted some over-zealous celebration. But Sanchit was just the opposite. He was mature, dignified, not shouting from the rooftops.

When I asked how he celebrated the news, he casually replied, "There was no celebration as such. I did grab dinner with the family, though."

And what I found even more astonishing was his hesitancy to accept that what he had achieved was exactly what I said above; a feat - and a great one at that.

But he didn't seem to agree. Yes, he was happy for the opportunity but he made mention to the fact - on several occasions - that he had been rejected from several other colleges that he had applied for too; Stanford, as well as a couple of Ivy Leagues, being among them. He didn't need to reveal that information, but he did.

He wasn't scared to reveal his failures, but he wasn't keen to highlight his successes either. He had a level of maturity that far outweighed any kid I have ever met. Initially, I put him down as one of these academic types who found social situations awkward, but I was wrong. He just wasn't a gloater. It was nice to see.

But as I mentioned, this is something I often find myself pondering over. I find expatriate children different to other children. They seem far more superior to the child I was in the '90s; clearly more confident, more grown up, more determined to get what they want.

I guess mixing with peers from different nationalities has a lot to do with this too. They're more accepting, blind to colour, creed or race. But I think the age we live in has had a lot to do with it too. We're living in a world where technology is carving out a fast-track for a generation intrigued by being in-the-know, where the ability to gain knowledge is just a click away. But at the same time, is it desensitising the generations of today?

I come from a home where both successes and failures are celebrated. My parents taught me that failure is okay, but maybe kids today are under too much pressure, with hefty competition getting in the way of feeling worthy in their feats.   

I couldn't help but wonder where Sanchit will be when he reaches my ripe old age of 31. I know for sure it will be somewhere impressive, but I also felt compelled to shower him with many a congratulations because he seemed unaware of just how worthy he was.

- kelly@khaleejtimes.com

Kelly covers education. She finds it endearing when people call her Kel

Kelly Clarke

Originally from the UK, Kelly Clarke joined Khaleej Times in November 2012. She has a keen interest in humanitarian issues and took over as the dedicated Education Reporter in August 2016. In her spare time she loves to travel off the beaten track, and often write about her quirky experiences of pastures new. Kelly received her BA Honours in Journalism from Middlesex University, UK in 2008. Before joining Khaleej Times she worked as a Supervising Editor for three Healthcare titles in London. @KellyAnn_Clarke