EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 28, 2013

Around the Horn: Chen Chen, Lawrence Tennis

Michael Muldoon
mmuldoon@eagletribune.com

---- — Just three and a half years after emigrating from China, Chen Chen is flourishing as a sophomore at Lawrence High. He’s a high honor roll student and is 3-2 playing first singles for the tennis team.

That’s a pretty impressive record for someone who has only been playing the sport for two years.

“He’s a natural,” said Lancer coach Ken Najem. “He hits everything back, like a backboard. He plays matches and it’s a marathon.”

In this week’s Around the Horn, Chen talked about how lonely he was until his English improved, his drive to succeed and his obsession with the NBA.

Where are you from originally? “Guang Xi, China.”

Where is it? “It’s a small town near Nan Ning.”

Who do you live with? “My stepmom, Jia Li Lao, and my dad Guan Lin Chen. My stepsister, Qin Hoang, graduated from Lawrence in 2008 and Holy Cross.”

Why did you move? “My dad and stepmother wanted to get me a good opportunity for the future. I loved China but I wanted to move here to learn and to go to a better college.”

How difficult was it? “I was so lonely. I didn’t speak English. I had no friends. I learned English very quickly. I learned words every night so I can have friends. (A friend then walked by and joked, “I love you Chen.”)

How have you learned English? “I had a good English teacher. On TV, I’d copy words down and translate. I watched any show. I love basketball. I watch NBA games.”

Who is your favorite player? “Rajon Rondo. I play point guard, too. I play for the JV and varsity.”

How about Yao Ming, the great Chinese player? “I don’t like big men.”

What was your life like in China? “Middle class. We lived on the fourth floor. There were two bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. It was my grandmother, uncle, brother and me.”

Do you miss them? “Yes, a lot. Last year I went back for a month.”

Was coming here the correct decision? “After I knew English, it was a good decision. It’s a good school, with good teachers. I’m getting good grades and I have friends.”

What was the low point? “If you don’t know how to speak (the language), you are lonely. So lonely.”

What’s your first language? “Mandarin Chinese.”

Does anybody else at the school speak it? “I think I’m the only one who is Chinese.”

Do you Skype your family in China? “It’s QQ. It’s like Skype. I’m on for 1.5 hours every day so I can be ready if my grandmother wants to see me.”

How is Lawrence different than China? “In China I was lazy. I didn’t get good grades. When I came here, I changed a lot. I study at least two hours a night.”

What do you miss the most? “My family. And I miss the food.”

What’s your favorite Chinese food? “Yun Tun. It’s meat with noodles. I think it’s from a pig.”

How did you become a tennis player? “My uncle asked me to play. I had never touched a racket. I got so much better. I’m not sure how. I played ping pong in China.”

How are you doing in class? “I’m No. 7 out of 180 in the school of math, science and technology.”

What do you want to do? “Be a math teacher?”

What’s your dream college? “Boston College.”

CHEN’S FAVORITES

Song: What Do You Want From Me

Book: A Thousand Splendid Suns

Website: NBA.com

TV show: NBA games

Car: Lamborghini

Course in school: Pre-calculus with Mr. (Juan) Pichardo

Restaurant: McDonald’s