Spelling bee champ from Japan ends run at U.S. semis

by Mariko De Freytas

Kyodo

An American teenager born and raised in Japan fell short of the semifinals at a prominent U.S. spelling competition Wednesday, but said she was proud to represent her home country.

“I feel so relieved. Now I can relax. I told myself I’d be happy either way,” Michaella Bostrom, 14, said after finding herself disqualified in the preliminaries at the 87th Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Asked how she felt about being the sole competitor from Japan, Bostrom said, “I like it actually because I was born and raised there. It’s just home and it feels nice to represent it.”

Bostrom, a student at Kakegawa International Christian School in Shizuoka Prefecture, was among 281 spellers aged between 9 and 15. The competitors in Washington had advanced through local competitions in the United States and seven other countries including South Korea and China.

Described as “motivated” and “disciplined” by her mother, Bostrom studied with no parental guidance for three hours a day for many months before she won the competition in Japan, which was sponsored by The Japan Times.

This was the last year Bostrom could compete in the spelling bee due to its upper age limit.

However, she is determined to drill her young brother for next year and said, “I’m going to make it a family tradition.”

Each speller was given the chance to spell two words during the onstage preliminaries on the first day of the two-day competition at a hotel in a suburb of the U.S. capital.

Scores from these rounds and the computerized vocabulary and spelling tests determined the top 46 spellers for the televised semifinals.

Bostrom spelled “kielbasa” and “bruxism” correctly on stage, but did not garner enough points to progress to the next stage.

A few Japanese words made it into the quiz, including “karaoke,” “mikado,” “sansei” (third-generation Japanese American), and “tamari” (high-quality aged soy sauce).

The National Spelling Bee is the largest and longest educational program in the U.S. More than 11 million students participated in the bee this year, the organizers said.