From Singapore to Salt Lake: Sonja Wessel
Traveling can be an escape from your everyday life and most would prefer to do it for a short period of time - not their entire childhood. For Utah freshman Sonja Wessel, this was not the case as she grew up in Singapore and was constantly traveling the world. While some would been discouraged with the continual change, Wessel relished every second of it.
"Growing up in Singapore was the best experience of my life," said Wessel. "I lived there for 14 years and was able to travel the world, and learn about so many different cultures. Because I grew up over there, I feel like I was raised differently and have a unique eye for the world."
The Ute freshman and the rest of her family traveled all over Asia visiting Japan, Thailand, Bali, Myanmar, Philippines, and Malaysia, but it was her visits to Cambodia that had her become involved in humanitarian work.
"I saw a lot of poverty that taught me to look at things differently and try to figure out what I can do to help out," said Wessel. "My parents wanted to instill in me the power that service work can have on people, so we all got involved with 'Caring for Cambodia'," said Wessel. "We traveled there every two years and would help build schools, paint classrooms and my personal favorite, bond with the kids. We got to really know them and the whole thing was an amazing and heartwarming experience."
Wessel hasn't been back since she moved to the United States, but she still thinks about them and going back all the time. Another great opportunity Wessel was able to take advantage of during her time overseas was representing the U.S. in the Youth National Touch Rugby World Cup.
"In Singapore, touch rugby is very popular and during my sophomore year I was able to play on varsity with my older sister, Ella, and it was the best experience ever," said Wessel. "It's a really high paced exciting sport and it teaches you to really work with your teammates. I was lucky enough to go to the touch rugby World Cup Championships with my sister and best friends which was incredible."
Both Caring for Cambodia and touch rugby have been great experiences for Wessel, and she knows neither of them would have been possible without the influence of her family, which is comprised of her parents Lisa, Jens and her two sisters. The relationships Wessel has with her family only grew stronger when her family moved back to the U.S.
"My family and I are extremely close, and I honestly can't put into words how much they mean to me," said Wessel. "I feel like moving across the globe from Singapore to the states really brought us closer because we knew it would be tough, but we could do it because we had each other. Even during Covid shutdowns, which was especially tough for me, my family was always there for me and they truly are my rock."
Wessel's bond with her family wasn't the only thing that grew when she moved back to the U.S. as she fell more in love with volleyball. While growing up in Singapore, Wessel mostly played soccer and rugby, but came to enjoy indoor volleyball in eighth grade. She continued to enjoy it and once she moved to California, she decided to swap out the indoor court for the sand.
"I started to fall in love with beach before I left Singapore but once I got to Southern California, I realized it was the Mecca of beach volleyball and I was able to play in a ton of tournaments," said Wessel. "I felt like beach was more exciting because there's only two people, so you never know what's going to happen. To me indoor volleyball is very structured and in beach you're diving around, getting dirty, so it's more rewarding when you get those big points that you fought hard for."
The freshman from Singapore was unsure if she even wanted to play collegiate beach volleyball but it would only take one visit to change her mind.
"Once I came out and visited Utah, I really loved the campus and Coach Whicker and those two things really drew me here," said Wessel. "I just had a really good relationships from the get-go with coach and she would check in on me a lot. She really established a strong relationship with me and she's a very nurturing person. Then once I started getting to know the girls on the team, I was even more excited to get out here."
"I feel like I've already made some amazing friendships that will last a lifetime and to me that is the most important thing," said Wessel. "It's not something I really had living in California and I'm just a lot happier now that I'm playing volleyball and doing what I love. It has already been a great experience and something I am never going to forget. We all have each other's backs and we always check in on each other. They're my family away from home."
Wessel's goal for the season is to take it match by match, but no matter what happens, she's more than prepared for what the sand and life my serve her way. Her life experiences around the world have taught her lessons that will last a lifetime.