Thanh Le adjusts to new American lifestyle where there is greater athletic pressure


Alberto Valencia

Senior Eric Smith concentrates not only on hitting the birdie but on adapting to his new home on and off the court.

Stepping onto badminton is not the only thing new to senior Thanh Le, also known as Eric. He is also new to this country.
Le is a foreign exchange student from Vietnam and admits he was terrified to come to America. “I felt scared during the flight. It was terrible,” Le said. The flight lasted about 24 hours, which was the longest he’s spent on a plane.
Le initially was supposed to stay with a family here, but complications forced a change preventing him from staying with his designated American family. One of the family members became ill, making it difficult to take Le into their home.
Luckily for him, Hung Nguyen, athletic director and badminton coach, offered to take him in. “He heard about my situation and chose me to stay with him,” he said.
Nguyen genuinely wanted to take care of Le, but he was aware that it wasn’t going to be easy. Supporting a student obviously comes with many responsibilities, but to Nguyen it was worth it. “He’s just a normal teenager. I wanted to guide him.”
Having Nguyen as a guardian and a coach, badminton was easily introduced to him. Le saw it is as a fun hobby, but soon he began to realize badminton was something he wanted to take seriously. “I asked coach Nguyen personally to give me a chance on the team and he did.
Having little experience with a birdie and racket, Le doesn’t hesitate to ask for help during practices. “I had no skill. I didn’t know how to drop, smash or clear, but asking others to help me has made me improve.”
In Vietnam, schools have clubs instead of teams when it comes to sports, according to Le.
“It isn’t really that competitive over there, but here is different,” he said. Le is more a competitive player as he describes himself. That’s one of the reason why he came out to play.
As his season started Le has had nothing but victories. His first two matches against St. Mary’s led him to believe badminton might be the ideal sport for him. But it isn’t just Le. Junior Marco Luna, his partner, assists him when in need of help. “The way we practice together really shows in our matches,” Luna said.
Initially Luna assumed that communication was something both needed to work on, but Le showed him otherwise. “We’re better than I expected,” Luna said.
Having hardly any exposure to badminton, Le has proven to his partner and his team that he and Luna can be the No. 1 doubles team. “I honestly thought he was a returning player!” he said. Understanding the game at an equal level has led them to be successful in matches. “If I move forward, he knows he has to cover the back,” Luna said.
Before badminton, Le tried out for basketball earlier in the year, but he decided to become the team manager instead. “I wanted to be part of a team,” he said.
As the year comes to an end, one of Le’s worries is his chance of graduating in America.
It still hasn’t been decided if Le will be graduating here. “I’ve talked to my counselor, but I don’t know for sure,” he said. His father has even mailed the district but hasn’t gotten a response back yet. “I hope to graduate here, that’s why I came.” Le anticipates his graduation day here.
Nguyen agrees. “One of the many reasons I took him in was for him to finish school in America.”