Fulbright ETA Elba Garcia has been actively involved in her host institution’s social and international projects. In February, she travelled with her mentor, Mariana Marques, to Milan to participate in “BRACE”, a project for the integration of young refugees and asylum-seekers in Europe through football.

Elba shares her experience with us. Thank you, Elba, well done!

“Last February, I was part of a different and exciting project! The project took place in Milan, Italy, and is composed of passionate partners from Spain, Italy, Belgium, and Portugal. The project, “Breaking baRriers to immigrAnt soCial intEgration through football” better known as BRACE, mentors and aids young refugee and asylum-seeking boys below 18 years of age from Sub-Saharan Africa Occidental to assimilate into their new community after escaping political and social instability in their home countries. ISG, my home institution, presented research findings about the barriers faced by the refugee and local communities while recommending practical methodologies and strategies tailored to the Italian community.

During the conversations and brainstorming sessions, some partners were comfortable expressing their ideas and contributions in Spanish, English, or Portuguese. I was asked to translate between these three languages to ensure all partners understood the ideas shared; I’ve never been prouder to learn and speak these three languages. Hearing the personal anecdotes and the success of the strategy within the partners’ communities resonated with me because they recounted the struggles and perseverance of the immigrants in a new and unknown country. My family immediately came to mind. When my family and I migrated to the U.S., they experienced a culture shock without speaking English and homesickness; nevertheless, they persevered because their goal was to provide a better opportunity for my sister and I to succeed through education. Although I had my own struggles as a child of immigrants, I was very fortunate to have my family to lean on for support, which gave me the confidence to become a strong individual as an adult. I learned that some young boys were unaccompanied minors navigating their new life away from their families and home.

As I observed the young boys work as a team during their football match, I could not help but develop a great respect for all their strength and courage. At the end of the day, there were no losers in that football match. Only winners. The brotherly support and mentorship developed through football united all team members as a single community, regardless of their country of origin. It’s truly a beautiful scene to admire. I am proud to have been involved in BRACE and know there’s a haven for current and future immigrants seeking an opportunity to discover their talents and personal aspirations.

Outside the football field, I engaged with the partners and learned how they blended their passion for football and community engagement. As a Fulbrighter, I shared my experiences as a first-generation college graduate and my cultural identity as an American Nicaraguan. I recounted how I incorporated parts of my Nicaraguan traditions into the holidays such as Relleno Navideño for the Christmas Eve dinner, running with the luggage out in the street at the stroke of Midnight on New Year’s Eve for travel opportunities throughout the new year, and eating 12 grapes within the first minute of the New Year for 12 wishes throughout the new year. I also spoke of my newly acquired Portuguese traditions like my cafézinho depois do almoço to my daily routines!

I look forward to the next BRACE meeting in Lisbon around early May. I left Milan with a tummy full of great food, a spirit full of optimism, and a heart full of hope for the future. ”


Read about BRACE on the news:

Il Gazzettino Metropolitano: Quando lo sport fa rima con inclusione: il Bresso 4 e il progetto ‘Brace’