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The Olympiad is a nine-day international competition among pre-university students from more than 60 nations. — AAPT.ORG

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Photo of Daniel Longenecker

Daniel Longenecker

Rising Sun, MD

Homeschool/Kuwait

Grade: Senior

Hobbies

Cycling/triathlons, trumpet, board games, climbing trees, trying to start a gumball vending business, whistling

Clubs

Band, Boy Scouts, BIKE club, Filipinos in Triathlon (FIT), science club I founded for middle school students

Experience

Eagle Scout (2013), Princeton University Physics Competition 5th place, solo contestant among teams (2015); PhysicsBowl Regional Winner (2016); AIME (2016); National Merit Scholar

Bio

“Mommy, why do you have glasses?” As a small child, I constantly asked questions—even ones whose answers I already knew, just to hear another viewpoint. Eventually, people began to call me “the inquisitor,” (“What’s an in-quiz-i-ter?”) though sometimes “the inquisition” might better describe Mom’s impression of my daily barrage of questions. Eventually, Dad heroically rescued her by answering many of my queries over the phone so she could actually accomplish something during the day.

My curiosity found ample subject material when we moved from Maryland to Kuwait just after my fifth birthday. New sights and sounds fascinated me from the beginning. My perspective as an expatriate is quite different from either an American living in America or a Kuwaiti living in Kuwait—a bit of uniqueness I truly treasure.

Even as far back as my middle school physical science course, I had a strong interest in physics which led me to take the subject in ninth and tenth grade. Halfway through eleventh grade, I heard about the Physics Olympiad sequence of exams, sadly just a few weeks after the registration deadline for that year. But when I realized that I had one last chance at a place on the U.S. Physics Team in my senior year, my craving for physics surged, and in me something was unleashed. I realized that there was literally no limit to the material available – both online and in books – and in the practical ways I could apply what I was learning.

One day I used a slinky to demonstrate sound waves in my science club and started thinking, “What is the shape of the arc of a hanging slinky?” At long last, the answer appeared—eighty pages of equations and notes later.

People often ask me if I have regretted homeschooling as an expat in the Middle East. In response, I always explain that, in my case, the advantages have well-outweighed the disadvantages. Along with the ability to progress at my own pace academically, I have had opportunities to join and lead the local Boy Scout troop, play trumpet in an English school band, and join a Filipino cycling and triathlon group—excellent experiences. Perhaps the best advantage of homeschooling, though, is that from the beginning, my Mom and Dad taught me to love learning—to find those fascinating tidbits that lie under the surface of every subject and make studying the real world so rewarding.

A useful byproduct of the love of learning is that one cannot resist taking a subject toward mastery, since a superficial understanding misses out on all of the fun. Mastery, in turn, reinforces the work ethic, which comes in handy when a goal (the Physics Team) lines up with a delight (physics). Without a love of learning, none of this would have been possible.

Making the team would also have been impossible without excellent teachers, such as Mr. Chris Glykys, the kind math teacher at Kuwait English School who was willing to indulge an American student by setting up the contest; Mr. Derek Owens, my first physics teacher whose videos kindled my enthusiasm for physics; and Mr. Jeff Lanctot, my AP Physics B teacher whose physics cartoons I still relish to this day. I’ll leave you with one: “Kepler’s fourth law: The world doesn’t revolve around you, you know.” I hope to keep this one in mind as I continue to study physics at Cornell and use what I learn to serve others.

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