Isabela Arena Secanechia ’17 knows how critical English is for social and professional opportunities, and is working to teach the language to adult refugees.
Secanechia is co-founder of the edtech start-up English Language Network of Refugees (ELNOR), the pilot program launched in September 2020 within Europe’s largest refugee camp, Moria, located in Greece. Secanechia was approached by her best friend, Victoria Jones, about starting ELNOR following their shared experience in the Study, Intercultural Training and Experience (SITE) Program in Italy after graduation.
“At Arcadia, I discovered this calling to work with migrants and refugees,” said Secanechia. “Since I had ample English teaching experience after graduating, I thought this would be the perfect project and initiative to embark on.”
Secanechia was born in Brazil and raised in the United States, and she has always had a keen interest in international relations, the immigrant experience, and the multicultural, multi-ethnic connection. With global experiences and an international focus at the center of Arcadia’s student experience, Secanechia was drawn to the University.
At Arcadia, Secanechia participated in the London First-Year Study Abroad Experience (FYSAE) program, traveled to Tokyo on Preview, and studied abroad in Italy during her junior year. She also volunteered in Arcadia’s International Peer Associates Mentors (IPALs) program that helps international students adjust to university life and worked as an Italian tutor at the Learning Resource Network (LRN).
During her year abroad in Italy, Secanechia discovered a passion for working with refugees. The class, “At Home in Rome,” studied the migration and refugee crisis in Europe, but more specifically in Italy. At one point the class went on a field trip to a hotel that was occupied by a group of over 500 refugees and asylum seekers, and the students were invited by one man into his home, where he made them coffee and shared his journey.
“I get chills just thinking about it, because this is the moment where I knew,” Secanechia recounted. “In International Studies, I had taken one-on-one classes and understood the refugee crisis, but this specific situation in Italy changed the game. He told us how even after everything, he still had hope, he still envisioned this new life for himself, and how one day he wants to go back to his country. He talked about this new society that was created within this hotel, where you had people from dozens of different religious, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds coming together to coexist, who have all been through equally traumatizing experiences and who were being marginalized and rejected by Europe. That was the moment that I knew that I was going to keep working with refugees.”
Before coming to Arcadia, Secanechia had never thought about being an educator. As she was the only Italian major in her class, her adviser approached her and asked if she would be interested in tutoring, which Secanechia did with LRN. After graduation, she received an opportunity to teach English in France for a year through the Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF) Program.
“The more I taught the more I realized how education really is the pillar for international development and for social equity,” said Secanechia. “Education is socioeconomic mobility. Education is peace. Education is social justice. There’s no way around it and that got my gears turning. I wanted to work with refugees, I wanted to work with international development. It makes sense that I take whatever I already experienced professionally, as a human being, as a Latina woman growing up in lower income areas, in education and join all those factors together to move forward with my career.”
Secanechia said that she would love to continue in a permanent position with ELNOR, as it is her dream to work within an organization that is combating social challenges on an international scale. She is pursuing a master’s degree in French Studies at Middlebury College Language Schools and a Master in Public Administration at the London School of Economics.