It is a gloomy afternoon on the turf of Jess Dow Field. A light chill is in the air as Guðrún Helga Guðfinnsdóttir pulls on her soccer gear. On the field, she stands firm, pulls back her leg and. slams her
foot into the ball, sending it launching into the goal.
Guðfinnsdóttir, sophomore, sport management major, has been playing soccer since she was 4.
But at Southern, where she is a midfielder on the women’s soccer team, she’s a long way from her home in Iceland.
“I feel like here, soccer is way different than back in Iceland. It’s helped me grow a lot. And it’s also helped me on the field and off the field to be more independent,” Guðfinnsdóttir says.
She says soccer in Iceland holds significant cultural importance, with a growing popularity. Iceland’s national team received international attention in 2016 reaching the UEFA Euro quarterfinals.
Guðfinnsdóttir’s journey from Iceland to the university, was prompted by the opportunity to pursue higher education and compete at a high level of competition.
Women’s Soccer Coach Adam Cohen says the unique system in the United States, a blend of academics and athletics is not often found in other countries. With the aid of a scholarship, Guðfinnsdóttir is now living on campus, immersed in both soccer and academics.
“Guðrún is intelligent, very tactically aware. She’s technically good with the ball, and she’s one of the most determined workers that we have,” Cohen says.
Cohen discovered Guðfinnsdóttir’s talent through the international recruitment process. Correspondence with her from Reykjavik, Iceland, marked the beginning of a relationship that would see Guðfinnsdóttir decide to make the move. He says that Guðfinnsdóttir made it clear how much she wanted to come to a school in the United States.
“One of the benefits for the international student-athletes is that they like the possibility of coming to the United States and going into a university and playing at a competitive level,” says Cohen.
Cohen says he commends Guðfinnsdóttir’s involvement in various campus activities, emphasizing her adaptability and eagerness to contribute beyond the soccer field. Guðfinnsdóttir’s commitment to academics, and campus life stands out. Cohen sees his role as more than just a coach, by guiding her on becoming connected with the university community.
“My transition to America has been really good. I’ve got great teammates, who have really made me feel at home, and the coaches have been super supportive,” says Guðfinnsdóttir.
One teammate, Mackenzie McCormack, is also Guðfinnsdóttir’s roommate. She says the team relationship that is now personal, and is a testament to the camaraderie forged through soccer.
“I would describe her as very communicative and physical; she doesn’t back down. I like how GG is always positive and passionate about the game,” says McCormack, sophomore, biology major.
Another member of the team, goalkeeper Patricia Kirejczyk, sophomore, sociology major, also spoke highly of Guðfinnsdóttir and the impactful addition she has made to the team.
“GG [Guðfinnsdóttir] as a player is very determined. She takes any chance she has as an opportunity to put forth the effort needed to win,” says Kirejczyk.
Kirejczyk says how Guðfinnsdóttir is a very comforting person, and she is extremely easy to talk to and get to know, and is genuine in how she acts.
Reflecting on her time in Iceland, where college soccer does not exist, Guðfinnsdóttir highlights the contrast in play styles.
“In Iceland it is more like physical and tactical. Here’s more like, everyone’s just has to know their role and as a little bit more physical and just play,” says Guðfinnsdóttir.
According to Guðfinnsdóttir, U.S. soccer tends to involve strategic walkthroughs, rule-focused training and a strong emphasis on individual roles within a team.
After graduation, Guðfinnsdóttir plans on taking these skills back to her homeland as a better player who can better her future team.
“My plan after graduation is to go back to Iceland where I want to get my master’s degree in sport management. I want to be an athletic director, and work connected to the business side of a soccer club,” she says.
She says she cherishes her time in America. From the new skills and abilities she has learned, to the new friendships she has made. Guðfinnsdóttir encourages other student athletes from outside the United States to come to Southern.
It can be a cultural shock at first, but you will adjust quicker than you think,” says Guðfinnsdóttir. “If you’re thinking about coming from another country to pursue your dreams, just go for it. I promise you won’t regret it.”