Fulbright U.S. Student Connects With At-Risk Youth in Rio de Janeiro Through Boxing

December 20, 2013

Fulbright U.S. Student Nicholas Wong (right). Nicholas Wong is an advocate for engaging people through travel, study and sport, particularly for young people and students. Before he ever applied for a Fulbright grant, he was a recipient of the University of Washington’s Bonderman Travel Fellowship, which allowed him to explore the world for the first time.

“One of the questions [the Bonderman Fellowship application] asked was how I was going to integrate into communities where I don’t speak the language,” Wong said. “I told them I would go to different countries and start boxing.”

Years later, Nicholas applied for the Fulbright Program where he hoped to continue to engage through travel, study, and sport. Though he was selected as an alternate the first time, he applied again and was accepted as a Fulbright U.S. Student to Brazil, where he used his time outside of the classroom to work with a non-governmental organization called Fight for Peace.

“Fight for Peace uses boxing and martial arts and combines that with education and employment for at-risk kids,” Nicholas said. “In these communities, there are very few options for youth. They are often enrolled into drug gangs. [Fight for Peace] attracts kids through a boxing/martial arts program. In order to train there, you have to enroll in courses for personal development and your GED, and get job training.”

“Boxing with kids – it’s a communication where you don’t have to speak, but you still understand each other. After a sparring match, you kind of have a respect for each other afterwards and you kind of communicate with your style of fighting.”

In Rio de Janeiro, Nicholas studied Sociology at Pontifica Universidad Catholica Do Rio De Janerio (PUC-Río) during the day and spent his evenings at the gym, volunteering with children, learning and experiencing the different cultures in Brazil from the classrooms to the inner city.

Picture of boxer's shorts with glove Fighter Marlon Cavalcante warms up before entering the ring during a community boxing event. He is representing the team “Fight for Peace,” a non-profit organization that uses boxing and martial arts to deter youth from entering the drug trade.

“PUC is a private university located in Gavea in Rio. It’s one of the richest neighborhoods in Rio. It’s drastically different to go between PUC and Fight for Peace. It’s two different worlds,” he said.

While Nicholas said his experiences at PUC were important, it was his work with Fight for Peace that allowed him to fully experience life in another culture and realize the importance of activities outside of the classroom for making people-to-people connections that transcend boundaries. 

“[Boxing] styles are different between countries – it was like a different mode of communication. People that I’m in contact with [in Brazil], they often have little contact with foreigners, so they ask me about what the United States is like, how boxing gyms are, how schools are, how much things cost. It was a really great exchange that way.”

To learn more about Nicholas’ Fulbright experience, please view the photo slideshow that he has put together from his time in Rio de Janerio.