Foreign exchange student finds 2nd home at Riverview

| Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013, 12:26 a.m.

Life as a high school foreign exchange student comes with its share of challenges.

Isabella Gudmundsdottier is thousands of miles from home, and she misses her family and friends. But the senior from Reykjavik, Iceland, seems to have found her comfort zone both academically and basketball-wise at Riverview High School.

Gudmundsdottier began the school year at Allderdice but transferred to Riverview. The winter setting has helped her transition; she's grown comfortable in and around Oakmont.

“I was definitely happy with the way people welcomed me,” said Gudmundsdottier, who was living in Saudarkrokur, a town in northern Iceland. “I came from a different school. I went to school in Pittsburgh for the first two months, and those two schools are like two different things. When I came to Riverview, I immediately started to make friends and everyone welcomed me and was willing to help me with anything I needed.”

A 5-foot-9 forward, Gudmundsdottier said basketball has subtle differences in her home country.

In Iceland prep basketball, there is a 25-second shot clock, something that does not exist in the WPIAL. Players also are allowed to go up for a rebound on a foul shot as soon as the ball leaves the shooting player's hands. Here, the ball must first hit the rim.

Gudmundsdottier, who lives with a host family, said basketball was one of the reasons she came to America. She believes she will return a more polished player.

“I'm glad we got her, and I'm glad she ended up here,” Riverview coach Keith Stitt said. “I think it's been a positive experience for her, the kids and the coaching staff. It's been neat to learn about her and her background. She does have a nice skill level. She has a decent handle on the ball and is a good shooter. I think she is just trying to get up to speed with the degree of physicality with high school girls basketball in Western Pennsylvania.”

Schooling in Iceland is also different than in America. In the states, there is preschool through 12th grade. A high school diploma leads to college or a secondary school.

In Iceland, there is first through 10th grade, or compulsory. Then comes the opportunity to attend college preparatory school for the next four years, which could be a long or short stay, depending on productivity. After those four years, a diploma is awarded and college is an option.

Gudmundsdottier will walk for graduation at Riverview but will not receive a diploma. When she returns to Iceland, she will have two years left before she finishes her schooling and will move on to a college or university. She has not ruled out a return to the United States for college.

She has thought about majoring in psychology.

Becoming a foreign exchange student is something Gudmundsdottier has wanted to do since she was 14.

“There was always something that stopped me from going,” she said. “It was going to be so hard to be away from my family. The first of January last year, I decided I was going to go and that was it. My mom and dad were very supportive and wanted me to do this because it was a really good experience. We try to Skype like twice a month, but if I Skype too much I'd get homesick. We message every other day through Facebook or email.”

After leaving Riverview, Gudmundsdottier said she would also like to bring her family back to visit.

She has been to a Harlem Globetrotters' game and hopes to attend an NBA game somewhere on the East Coast.

D.J. Vasil is a freelance writer.

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