April 5, 2018
There is a butterfly scaring people in Ruston.
As ironic as it sounds, it is the truth. A creature that was once so tiny and kept to itself is now parading around, flaunting its beauty and elegance.
It has been seen at the Louisiana Tech Tennis Complex terrorizing opposing teams and players. Its name: Sonia Chen.
Chen, a junior on the LA Tech women's tennis team, has been playing at a very high-level this season. After recording an 11-1 singles mark in the fall, including an ITA Regionals championship, she has been on a tear this spring with a team-high 11 singles victories, including a 10-match winning streak. She has also been part of a team-high nine doubles wins.
And no, she is not a literal insect but her growth on and off the court resembles the stages of a butterfly. Chen came to Tech from Taichung, Taiwan in the fall of 2015. She almost did not come to Ruston; thus, her social transformation almost did not happen.
"At the beginning, my parents did not want me to come because it is such a long way," Chen said. "My mom did not want me to come but my dad did. This opportunity is really rare, not everyone gets to play and earn a scholarship so I listened to my dad."
When she got here, she was much like a caterpillar ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢'Â¬" quiet and low-key, basking in her cocoon.
"I was so quiet," Chen said. "I barely talked the first few months I was here. I am introverted so I was shy, plus, the culture is so different between Taiwan and the U.S. Everyone here is so friendly but in Taiwan you have so much personal space ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢'Â¬" we do not shake hands or hug. But, when I got here everyone wanted to touch, it was culture shock."
"When I met her she was very quiet," second year head coach Amanda Stone said. "She struggled with things. It was a tough year."
It took a few years but now, Chen has finally broken out of her cocoon. She is no longer the caterpillar in her own personal bubble. She has become a full-fledged butterfly - she has finally branched out socially.
"Now when I see people I hug them," Chen said. "I hug them and shake their hand."
Chen said she has many people to credit for helping her socialize more.
"I had people who really helped me get through those tough times," Chen said. "My teammates, coaches, friends and family all helped. My teammates supported me, even though some graduated already. They helped me with my school schedule and helped me study as well. Their support has just been incredible."
Chen, once overwhelmed by American culture, now has fully embraced it, allowing it to be a big part of her life as she does things American women do.
"I do watch Netflix," Chen said. "At the beginning, I did not think I was going to touch the thing. I listen to English music, right now I do not have any Chinese music on my phone. I do not even speak in Chinese anymore unless I am talking to my parents."
After seeing where she was before, Chen becoming a vocal leader of the tennis team once seemed preposterous. However, after finding her comfort zone at Tech the idea is not so crazy anymore.
Stone said Chen is one of the players she chose to speak about program direction as she now sees her as a leader.
"In the late spring of 2017, she and I talked a lot," Stone said. "We talked about what kind of program we wanted to build here, what kind of relationships we wanted to have and what kind of teammates we wanted to be."
Stone said Chen wanted to show support and do what she once could not ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢'Â¬" speak to and lead her teammates.
"One of her main things was she wanted to have good chemistry with everybody," Stone said. "To feel supportive. I think she really stepped up that way."
Stone said now that Chen is an older team member she has embraced her younger teammates; the script has flipped, younger, scared players are coming to her.
"Being an upperclassman this year, she made a good effort into becoming more connected with her younger teammates," Stone said. "Our chemistry is so much better and she is so much more of a vocal leader. She has come out of her shell and is a captain now. She is a very important piece [for our team]."
Chen used to be afraid to talk to anyone. Now, she talks to everyone as she flutters around carefree and happy, unafraid of the unknown.
"I have become quite the hand-shaker," Chen said. "I am much more talkative. I can hang out with random people and feel normal."