KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kai Wen Soon is an eighth-grader at Plaza Middle School with many talents — ice skating, tennis and tae kwon do to name a few.
Another of his favorite hobbies is playing music, usually on the violin or the piano.
"The ability to convey emotions through more than just words and expressions through an instrument is really captivating," said Kai Wen, who started learning the piano at age 7.
Whether it's sheet music or a good book, Kai Wen's other passion is reading, which also led to a new hobby.
"There's a lot of words you don't know in a book, and then I usually look them up and then just learn more about the words, so that when I come across it again and would l know the word," he said. "Through that, my dad would kind of push me to the spelling bee."
Kai Wen has participated in spelling competitions since the fifth grade.
"Every year, when he goes to the competition, he's improved a little bit by bit and we are very impressed," Kai Wen's mom, Bee Soon, said. "It's a long journey. He worked hard for that."
He qualified for the Scripps National Spelling Bee for the first time this year.
"Through those years, I kept persevering and just getting better at spelling words," he said.
Studying hundreds of words, Kai Wen said getting it right is similar to solving a puzzle.
"You just take some of the pieces you already know, like if you already know that this word has double letters or, in this specific language, there aren't any double letters, then you can fit those pieces together and create a word," he said.
Although nervous for for the national bee in D.C., Kai Wen's also excited.
"Seeing all the experiences I could go through on the national level is quite cool," he said.
His parents, Bee and Kim Soon, said the whole family is excited to make the trip.
"Even the sister is very excited for it," Bee Soon said smiling. "She packed luggage already."
Whether it's playing the piano to help calm his nerves or studying the hundreds of words, he's ready to take on the best spellers in the country.
"I'm honestly just happy," Kai Wen said.