HAYWARD, Calif. (KTVU) - Cal State East Bay in Hayward hosted a first of its kind special event— a mini soccer tournament to bring students who are from a wide range of cultural backgrounds together.
College students played against high school students and on both sides of the ball are immigrants and refugees.
CSUEB teamed up with Soccer Without Borders to organize this event.
They say the sport is a language that knows no limits—a lesson they want the young men to carry into their lives off the field.
The event "Games of Hope" invites these teens who are immigrants and refugees into a largely unfamiliar world— that of a college campus.
They came to play soccer.
"When I saw the ball, I cannot control myself. I just want to get the ball and start playing," says Mohammad Haseen, a high-school student from Afghanistan.
Putting on cleats and a jersey is a game-changer for these students.
They come from 10 different countries including El Salvador, Mexico and Burma.
Many spoke no English when they arrived in the United States, but when they play soccer, they can communicate with each other.
"Soccer is a language. We all speak soccer that's how we got along," says Ravis Mubiangata, a student at Cal State East Bay.
The 20-year-old is a sophomore is majoring in computer science.
He is an immigrant from Congo. He says Soccer Without Borders made a difference in his life.
He along with his professor came up with the idea to hold this event.
They want to change the narrative about what it means to be an immigrant or refugee during this current political climate.
"It's more than just the sport. It's more than soccer. It's more than winning or losing. It’s about the educational aspect. Feeling socially networked and connected with people," says Matt Atencio, Associate Professor of Kinesiology at CSUEB.
"I just love the freedom. Everybody is free to be who they want to be," says Ravis.
Soccer is much more than a game for these young men.
It helped them make friends and start feeling like they belonged in their newly adopted country.
"Soccer changed my life. It made me a new person," says Nyunt Khin, a high school student.
He’s an immigrant from Thailand. He says joining Soccer Without Borders brought him out of his shell.
"I started learning more English. My personality started changing,' says Nyunt.
He says coming from an impoverished family who worked in farming, soccer is helping him reach his goal of a better life.
"In my family, I'm the first one to graduate high school and move onto college, so I'm very proud of myself, working so hard," says Nyunt.
He and Mohammad are both graduating from high school next month and headed for college.
Organizers say this event is about building confidence and a community of inclusion.