Alumni Q&A: A Conversation with Sarah Galbenski ’21, Fulbright Scholar in Spain

Author: Ava Downey


During my freshman year, COVID-19 limited activities everywhere, but I found friendship and mentorship in my campus home, Walsh Hall, in a time where a lot of connection was lost. 

Sarah Galbenski ’21 lived a couple doors down from me and was—and is—a great mentor and friend. I found myself getting meals, painting pottery, and participating in yoga sessions with Sarah. 

To me, Sarah embodied one goal Notre Dame’s four-year stay model sought to achieve: to guide and support younger students. 

In addition to being a great friend and mentor, Sarah made innumerable contributions to Walsh Hall and the Notre Dame community more broadly. She is now a Notre Dame alumna and has moved on to her next educational pursuit. 

I had the opportunity to catch up with Sarah and ask her some questions, reflecting on her time at Notre Dame and what she is doing now.

Ava Downey: At Notre Dame, what did you study? How is that applicable to what you are doing now?


Sarah Galbenski: At Notre Dame, I studied Spanish, global affairs, and international peace studies. I am currently pursuing my master's in international relations at the IE School of Global and Public Affairs in Madrid, Spain as a Fulbright Scholar. 

My Spanish major has not only been a great help when communicating and making friends here in Madrid, but it also gave me a better understanding of the culture and history of Spain, which I can build on during my year here. My global affairs supplementary major and international peace studies concentration are directly applicable to my current coursework. 

I appreciated the freedom that I had to take courses in political science, economics, sociology, anthropology, and psychology (pretty much all the social sciences!) through my global affairs major, and these courses gave me a strong foundation for my highly interdisciplinary master's program. 

Furthermore, I know that my education through international peace studies will serve me well when we begin taking courses in our specializations in the program since I intend to focus on international peace and security. 

Upon graduation from my master's program, I will begin a three-month working research stay at the Organization of American States headquarters in Washington, D.C. as an IE-OAS Americas Fellow. 

I am very interested in strengthening inter-American relationships, and I know that my Notre Dame education has not only prepared me for graduate study, but will also allow me to be a better public servant in the Americas. 

Ava: What were you involved with when on campus?


Sarah: On campus, I was involved in Student Government, Folk Choir, the Kellogg International Scholars Program, Walsh Hall, and the Center for Social Concerns. 

It certainly was a challenging experience to serve as Student Body vice president during a pandemic, but I am so proud of how our team pivoted to serve the most pressing needs of the student body during an unpredictable year. 

My favorite part of Student Government was undeniably the people. Everyone I met, from FUELers to senators to department directors and members, had a genuine desire to be a force for good on campus. 

Folk Choir was my creative outlet at Notre Dame and a constant source of joy in my life as a student. I loved serving the campus community by singing at the 11:45 Mass every Sunday and having the opportunity to tour around the state of Texas as a freshman and around the region of East Africa (Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania) as a sophomore. I joined a choir here in Madrid to try to fill the Folk Choir-shaped hole in my heart, and while it is wonderful, Folk Choir is truly one of the most special groups of which I have ever been a part. 

The Kellogg International Scholars Program introduced me to some of the smartest and most interesting people on campus, and I am so grateful for the opportunity that I had to strengthen my research skills as an undergrad. 

My work on Professor Laura Miller-Graff's Pregnant Moms Empowerment Program was deeply meaningful for me, and I enjoyed using my Spanish skills to adapt the group therapy program to the cultural and linguistic contexts of Lima, Peru and Monterrey, Mexico. It would be a dream of mine to work on women's psychological, economic, and political empowerment in Latin America in my career, and my work with Professor Miller-Graff would serve as excellent preparation.

Walsh Hall was my home and soft place to land all four years at Notre Dame, and I firmly stand by the hashtag #walshhallbesthall. From our unbeatable location on God Quad, to our classic architecture and modern renovations combo, to our intimate community size, to our fearless leader Liz, to our superior mascot and colors, Walsh simply reigns supreme. 

I miss the share table and hall council snacks terribly (#walshlovesfood), but most of all, I miss all the conversations, from impromptu catch-ups in the halls to deep conversations in Liz's apartment at Soul Sisters. Walsh really taught me what it meant to live and love in community. 

Finally, my involvement with the Center for Social Concerns (CSC) shaped my worldview immensely. I participated in multiple community-based learning courses (in English and Spanish, and one while studying abroad in Chile!), seminars (Urban Plunge, Migrant Experiences, and American Civil Rights Movement), and the International Summer Service Learning Program in San José de Chimbo, Ecuador. 

I met some of my best friends through the CSC (including my lovely boyfriend), and I learned what it means to live out my faith through the lens of Catholic Social Tradition. I truly believe that the CSC is the beating heart of Notre Dame, and it instills in every participant a commitment to service, social justice, and accompaniment. 

Ava: How has your experience at Notre Dame formed your current perspective (on anything), now that you have graduated?


Sarah: I hate to be cliché, but Notre Dame really did educate both my mind and my heart. I cannot imagine any other school strengthening my faith, empathy towards others, and desire to serve like Notre Dame did. 

Just last week, one of my classmates from Barcelona came up to me and asked me if I had gone to Notre Dame. She was excited when I told her that I was indeed a proud alum, as she had just watched the movie Rudy. She said that the movie made Notre Dame seem like such a magical place, and I told her about our campus-wide stadium watch of Rudy at the beginning of each academic year and how we all chant Rudy's name at the movie's climax. 

She found that so beautiful, and it reminded me that I always have the Notre Dame community cheering me on as well, even when I'm 4,000 miles from campus. 


Ava: Sarah still keeps up with Irish football even though she is six hours ahead, and she can't wait to come back for a game to cheer on the Irish next season when she is stateside again!


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