From the small island nation of Cyprus to the southern coast of Australia, the University of Portland’s Athletics department has caught the attention of many international athletes. The Beacon took a look at the wide range of places that UP student-athletes are from and how their journey brought them to the bluff.
During this fall season, 49 international athletes currently compete for UP. Specializing in soccer, basketball, tennis, rowing, cross country and volleyball, international athletes have shown success throughout their seasons thus far.
Three international athletes — George Tasouris (Cyprus - men’s soccer), Jenny Whalen (Sweden - women’s soccer) and Jonas Gertsen (Denmark - men’s cross country) — gave a closer look into their lives. From where they’re coming from and where they’re going.
UP has dozens of international athletes playing fall sports. Click through to see them all.
Graphics by Charlie Rogers and Ellie Black
George Tasouris: Cyprus
Hailing from Cyprus, George Tasouris brings laser-focused vision and a sense of drive to the UP men’s soccer team. After receiving his undergraduate degree at Grand Canyon University (GCU) and completing all academic and athletic goals he had set for himself in Arizona, he set his eyes on earning a master’s degree at the University of Portland while continuing to play soccer.
“A draw to the U.S. was the ability for me to get a free education while doing what I love, which is something that is not supported anywhere in Europe,” Tasouris said.
It was an adjustment coming from the European soccer scene, where from a young age, everything is about making it pro, with a focus on how much you can learn from the sport. In the U.S., there are more frequent encounters with players who are on the team just to say that they are, and not taking the game as seriously as their European counterparts.
“It makes an impact when you bring a player in that is all about making it, 100% focused on the goal, and not really caring about outside life,” Tasouris said.
Before playing in the U.S., Tasouris played on the Cyprian national team while serving in the army. He was one of the luckier ones, as he received more desirable posting hours due to his status as a player on the soccer team.
“I would finish practice at night, guard from 10 p.m. to 12 a.m., wake up at 5 a.m., guard from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. and then straight to practice again,” Tasouris said.
For his final semester at UP, Tasouris is focused on both finishing up the soccer season strong and signing a contract with a professional team. He hopes to start in the U.S. and then move over to Europe.
“I have some satisfaction from the game, but I never really stop on the way to something better,” Tasouris said.
Tasouris provides inside to anyone looking to live abroad in the future.
“Keep an open mind, ask questions, be curious,” Tasouris said. There are a lot of things taught in Europe that are not taught here, and vice versa. Accept that there is going to be change, accept that it is going to be a bumpy road for you.”
Jenny Wahlen: Sweden
Playing international soccer has always been on Jenny Wahlen’s radar. While she was competing on her club team back home in Sweden, she would have long conversations with her American teammates who had all experienced soccer at the university level. Collectively, they said playing college soccer was one of the best experiences of their lives.
Wahlen reached out to an agent who helped her check all of the boxes for studying abroad. From taking the SAT to creating highlight videos, Wahlen had to keep up with all of the U.S. educational requirements while finishing up her studies back home, eventually committing to UP.
“I had good connections talking to the coaches here,” Wahlen said. “A big draw was the long history of successes like with Megan Rapinoe and Christine Sinclair.”
Flying out to the PNW amidst a global pandemic, while taking classes and playing at the D1 level was no easy task, but Wahlen managed it with grace and optimism.
“I never visited before committing,” Wahlen said. “So the first time here, it kind of felt like I was on vacation.”
A faux vacation that has lasted almost four years. As Wahlen wraps up her senior season, she looks ahead to playing at the professional level somewhere in Europe.
“I am going to try and play somewhere in Europe after I graduate,” Wahlen said. “I have already reached out to an agent, so hopefully she can help me find somewhere.”
This cycle of leaving, building and leaving again is an inevitable part of youth. With her years on the Bluff dulling the initial homesickness she felt upon leaving Sweden, she is preparing to create a home in a new place once more.
“I got to a point where I did not miss Sweden too much. I just wanted to be here,” Whalen said.
To students with their eyes set on future horizons, of studying abroad or pursuing graduate school outside of the U.S., be mindful of where you choose to roam.
“Do research before choosing a country,” Wahlen said. “Choose a place that will fit you, look at programs that you are interested in. Why would you want to study something that is not interesting to you?”
Jonas Gertsen: Denmark
Men’s Cross Country
Jonas Gertsen never even thought that coming to the U.S. was a possibility, but after he catapulted his running career to receive global attention, Gertsen noticed doors beginning to open.
“[The recruitment process] started back in 2019 when I started improving a lot for running,” Gertsen said. “I qualified for the European Championships, and apparently there are a lot of American coaches who go there to watch the races.”
After being introduced to the Portland cross country coach – Rob Connor — and talking to people that he knew who went to the U.S. for athletics — Jonas (yo-nas) decided that Portland would be the best fit for him to continue his running career.
“I didn’t know anybody when I got here,” Gertsen said. “I had never been to America. I didn’t visit or anything. I’m used to a Danish culture where you have friends you’ve had your whole life, you don’t really make new friends.”
When Gertsen came to UP to run his freshman year, “away” from his hometown of Copenhagen, he didn’t know anyone. This clean slate forced him to put his extroverted cap on and start building new connections in Portland.
“It’s very easy to make new friends, especially being part of a big team,” Gertsen said, “ ... they’re all very open and easy to get to know. It’s easy to talk to people here.”
As a junior political science and philosophy double major, Gertsen found a strong sense of community 4,973 miles from Copenhagen, his favorite city on earth.
If he had to go about the recruitment/transfer process again, he wouldn’t do anything differently. He doubles down on how he landed at UP and what got him here.
“I’m pretty confident in what I’ve done so far,” Gertsen said.
With fall athletics nearing the end of their seasons, get out to the soccer field, volleyball court and race course to cheer on your fellow pilots. Stay tuned for more international student-athlete profiles in the seasons to come.
Ellie Black is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Charlie Rogers is a reporter for The Beacon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.