It’s not every day that a Clark student-athlete goes on to play in a professional league after graduation. But Clark women’s soccer currently has two alums playing not only professionally, but internationally.
Inonge Kaloustian ’21 joined the Zambia Institute for Sustainable Development FC (ZISD) last March, and her former Clark teammate, Jamie Joseph ’22, MAT ’23, has been playing for Afturelding FC in Iceland since May.
Joseph began exploring the idea of competing internationally after her planned study abroad experience in Colombia was canceled during the pandemic. Because she wasn’t able to play during her senior year, she was eligible to remain on the team as a graduate student while pursuing her master of arts in teaching through Clark’s Accelerated Degree Program.
“I would describe my last season at Clark as kind of a breakthrough,” Joseph said in a Zoom call from Reykjavík. “When it was ending, I was sad, because I felt like I was just getting to the good part.” But Head Coach Brienne Smith ’01 convinced Joseph that she had more games to play, and with that motivation, the Clark alum got in touch with an agent.
The résumé she sent him was impressive: As well as serving as captain during her senior year, she was named to the United Soccer Coaches Scholar All-American Second Team, the All-NEWMAC First Team, and All-Region First Team. She was awarded NEWMAC Player of the Year in 2022 and was a two-time winner of Clark’s M. Hazel Hughes Award, given annually to the female student-athlete who makes a significant contribution to the athletics program.
Afturelding FC believed Joseph would be an asset and signed her. After earning her master’s in May, she traveled to Reykjavik to join her new team.
Kaloustian took a different path to international play.
She started playing soccer late — during her junior year in high school — but was good enough to be recruited to Clark. Kaloustian spent four years as a Cougar, including one as team captain. She also co-founded the Clark Athletics Inclusion Coalition, which earned her a President’s Achievement Award for Inclusive Excellence in 2020. A double major in biology and psychology, she worked in several research labs on campus.
Kaloustian studied abroad at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, playing on a team there. She had already reached out to the football association in Zambia to inquire about opportunities since she has family connections to the country (her mother was born in Zambia).
After graduating from Clark, Kaloustian attended Johns Hopkins University to pursue a master of health science in epidemiology (she expects to receive her degree in December). While studying at Johns Hopkins, she realized she missed playing soccer, and joined an adult league for experienced players in the Washington, D.C., area.
In December 2021, Kaloustian traveled to Zambia to attend her grandfather’s funeral. While there, she met with a Zambian coach who assessed her strengths and said he would recommend her for a senior team. She didn’t hear anything until the beginning of 2023, when she was invited to play for ZISD. In April, she was called up to the national team and played in a friendly match against South Korea, then finished the season with ZISD before returning home to the U.S.
Kaloustian returned to Zambia in August; her contract runs through February. And she’s now a naturalized citizen there.
In Iceland, Joseph has been seeing a lot of playing time, and enjoying being part of the team. “One reason I’ve always loved soccer is the community aspect of it,” she says. “You’re on the field with a bunch of different people you might not have been friends with, or you might not have even met, but you’re working toward the same goal. It’s empowering.”
But playing the game can be challenging when your teammates speak a different language. “Everyone here knows how to speak English, and will speak English, but on the field and in the locker room, they’re going to speak Icelandic. It was a super hard transition, but I’m learning.”
When pursuing her master’s degree, Joseph student-taught at Claremont Academy just down the road from Clark. “I was teaching a lot of English as a Second Language students, so I’ve gained a lot of empathy for them, and I’m constantly keeping track of how I would change my teaching practices because of how I feel here — immersed in an environment with a different language.”
Kaloustian has also been navigating a language barrier. Her extended family comes from the Western Province and speaks Lozi, but they live in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, where the prevalent language is Nyanja.
“Everyone in Zambia speaks English to a certain extent,” Kaloustian says. “If I’m with my family, like with my grandma, they’ll be speaking Lozi and English mixed together. And if I’m with my teammates, they’ll be speaking Nyanja and Bemba. So I’ve been doing a lot of learning.”
She’s also had to adapt to a different style of play. “It’s definitely more aggressive, very fast and physical. A lot of stuff that would be legal in Zambia would be considered fouls in the U.S.” she says.
“I have teammates who are just phenomenal athletes,” she adds. “When we were training, I’d be looking at them and thinking, I cannot believe that we’re on the same field right now. But everyone has just been really kind to me.”
Joseph says she has felt extremely welcomed by her teammates, which includes two other American players. “I’ve also been able to build a strong sense of community within the group of American players who are over here playing professionally,” on her team as well as others. “It’s crazy to think that coming from Clark I would have the opportunity to play with — and against — phenomenal athletes from big Division 1 schools.”
Many of her Icelandic teammates have different jobs during the day. “It’s definitely a change from college — we don’t hang out as much but get to enjoy team meals together at least once a week, which is always fun.
“But it’s also cool that we’re all from different walks of life, and we’re still able to get out on the field together and play for the same goal.”
Joseph says she’s thinking about continuing in professional soccer once her contract with Afturelding FC ends, but hasn’t decided where — maybe a semi-professional team in the U.S. And teaching is still an option; she was able to bring leadership skills from the soccer field to her classroom in Worcester, and is still adding to that skill set in Reykjavic.
When she’s not on the field, Kaloustian has been finishing her master’s thesis. She worked with Johns Hopkins to make up classes she missed while competing in Zambia, and passed her comprehensive exam this past June. In the summer of 2022, she interned at a public health policy firm, and enjoyed the work. The firm offered her a job, and they’ve allowed her to defer her start date until she’s done playing soccer — whenever that may be.
“They literally said they would hold the job for me,” she says. “It’s the best-case scenario, and just what I needed to hear.”