First-Year Journey: Sam Al-Bahish Finds Global Opportunities at Notre Dame

Author: Shannon Rooney

During his college search, Sam Al-Bahish ’23 looked for schools with a wide range of international learning options. The finance intent from Houston, Texas, didn’t want to just study abroad—he wanted a truly international education that included opportunities to make a difference in ways that were meaningful to him. 

Helping other people, no matter where they live, is important to Al-Bahish. That’s why Notre Dame’s many international service-learning opportunities appealed to him. During high school, Al-Bahish visited both Ghana and Palestine, countries that inspired him in different ways. 

In Palestine, where he visited in the summer of his sophomore year, Al-Bahish became more aware of the country’s particular issues with economic development due to war. Though it was initially a family visit, he was able to find a volunteer position tutoring two English classes at a learning center. 

While there, Al-Bahish saw that the people were hungry to learn and work internationally, but didn’t have the avenues to actualize these goals. This inspired him to seek out a major that would educate him on the economies in low- and middle-income countries. He wants to understand them in order to help resolve development and corruption issues in the future.

Al-Bahish also volunteered abroad Ghana, where he was a teaching assistant at Shalom Elementary School in Accra. There, he helped out in the classroom and raised money to fund soccer programming for students through the Play and Learn Foundation. 

Soccer is a big part of Al-Bahish’s life. He’s been playing the sport since he was six and in high school, he became co-captain of his school’s varsity team. 

“The tangible feel of the ball against my laces and the freedom to run enticed me, but the sport’s ability to aid my growth made it a constant in my life,” says Al-Bahish.

In particular, soccer helped shape him as a leader, teaching him the importance of good communication, among other lessons. As co-captain of his high school team, he was responsible for leading some team practices, updating schedules, and even fundraising for the team when it faced challenges due to lack of school funding. 

“From this experience, I have learned to negotiate and work hard to do what I love,” says Al-Bahish. 

In Ghana, as a high school junior, Al-Bahish connected with his new neighbors through soccer, passing a soccer ball around an abandoned parking lot with whoever showed up. “Although we lived different lives, a passion for soccer served to bring us together and catalyze true discussion,” says Al-Bahish. 

Al-Bahish plans to pursue his interest in communication across borders via study abroad in his junior year at Notre Dame—he just hasn’t decided where yet. He has classmates who are choosing between a few study abroad options and says that many are landing on more than one.

“You have so many opportunities,” he says. “It almost becomes difficult in that sense that you have to figure out what you actually want to do rather than [asking], ‘ Can I study abroad?’ [Notre Dame] also has a really good financial aid policy with study abroad. So, it’s doable.”  

Meanwhile, he’s using course options to round out his international education. 

In his first semester, Al-Bahish took his University Seminar, or U-Sem, which all first-year students take. The course on Ghandi remains one of his favorites so far. “It’s basically all discussion based and it's a small class. So you talk about Gandhi and you learn new perspectives. It's really interesting,” he says.

His course on the Silk Road has also been impactful. “[It] has nothing to do with my major, but the professor is one of the leading people in the field of Far East and Asian art,” says Al-Bahish. He appreciates that classes like this one are taught by professors themselves rather than teaching assistants. “I’m actually getting lectures from someone like that rather than just someone that's maybe an older student in the major,” he says. 

Outside of class, Al-Bahish has discovered the ND Climbing Club and he is a member of the Muslim Student Association (MSA). MSA spreads awareness about Islam on campus and provides resources for Muslim students, including prayer space, dietary guides for on-campus eating, and rides to a local mosque. 

Al-Bahish says that the idea of attending a Catholic university as a Muslim student didn’t deter him. Rather, he knew he would be “surrounded by a moral community that uses faith as a catalyst for global communication.” He has found that though many students identify as Catholic, it’s possible to build a community that fits you spiritually.

“They don't push you to practice,” says Al-Bahish. “Not everyone is Catholic, keeping Mass all the’s more like you have the opportunities there for you if you want to practice. There are other places—like there's like a multifaith prayer room that you can go to. So there's obviously other avenues available.” 

Al-Bahish continues to play soccer when he can. He’s involved in his hall’s intramural sports teams. Last semester he played flag football and this semester he’s joining the soccer team. 

With a full course load, it’s important to Al-Bahish to have those outlets for fun. For example, he and his roommate make an effort to play pingpong every night, no matter how late they get back to their residence hall. 

The trick to balancing it all is developing good time management skills, he says. “For the week I always write out my plans. I like to look at things long term rather than just short term so it's like I don't want to always feel like I'm behind or catching up.” 

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