Editor’s note: This feature story on Sarah Broghammer ’22 is the last of six that will appear this summer about College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University graduates who have received awards from the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.
When Sarah Broghammer ’22 entered ninth grade and moved to a different high school in Winona, Minnesota, a new friend convinced her to try Nordic skiing.
“I hated it at first,” Broghammer said. “I hate the cold. It was horrible and I was horrible at it. I was 15 and all the seventh graders were lapping me. I was so slow that sometimes I would take my skis off and walk. But I stuck it out for the year and then it became a challenge. I like to be challenged.”
She not only skied in high school, she went on to captain the Nordic Ski Club at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University. She’s skied the American Birkebeiner three times and, when she decided to apply for a Fulbright U.S. Student award ahead of graduation this past spring, her passion naturally helped draw her to a Nordic country. As a result, she departs in August to serve as an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Bergen, Norway. She'll work as a teaching assistant at Bergen Katedralskole and the University of Bergen. At the university, she will design the syllabus for and lead a writing workshop that corresponds with an American literature and culture course.
“I decided to apply for Norway because of two things,” said Broghammer, who double-majored in English and communication at Saint Ben’s and is one of six CSB and SJU students to earn Fulbright opportunities for 2022-23. “First, the education system there is a leader in access and higher education. I thought that would be a great place to learn and explore to see whether education is something I’m interested in long-term. I also noticed their application said that I would mostly be working with secondary students – like high school and university-aged students. The description also said the position would be really writing focused. I thought that’s where I would be most comfortable.
“The second thing that was really important to me was Norway’s engagement and lifestyle centered around the environment. A big part of their life revolves around hiking and Nordic skiing. The Birkebeiner actually originated in Norway, so that’s something I hope to do while I’m there if I’m well-trained enough. The race there (54 kilometers, starting in Rena and finishing in Lillehammer) is very different because it traverses two mountains. It’s pretty intense.”
Second-generation Bennie gravitates to English, communication
Broghammer is even more comfortable and talented with the written word than she is on skis. She worked at the CSB Writing Center for three years and was a regular qualifier for the dean’s list and inducted to Delta Epsilon Sigma, an elite Catholic honor society, as a junior in 2021.
Despite being the daughter of a Bennie and a Johnnie, she resisted following in their footsteps.
“At first I was like ‘No way! I’m not going where my parents went,’” Broghammer said. “But when I toured, I really liked a lot of the things the school has and one of the big things was study abroad. I still applied to about nine different schools. I was set on a few different things. I wanted to ski in some capacity in college. When I toured (CSB and SJU), I was able to meet one of the club captains. He told me about the races we would compete in, and he showed me the ski route and told me about the coach. And I definitely felt the ‘community’ that everyone talks about.”
She planned to major in global business and minor in Hispanic studies but, after one semester, English professors Chris Bolin and Matt Callahan encouraged her to reconsider.
“I always loved English,” Broghammer said. “In high school I had a firecracker of a teacher who really pushed me. I think at some point I started thinking, ‘What am I going to do with an English major?’ (Adding) communication was a natural fit.”
Law school in her future?
Broghammer’s experience volunteering with the J-Walking program – a social justice initiative with the Dream Center, a transitional housing facility in St. Cloud – helped fuel an interest in law school.
She took the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and was planning that progression. But along the way, COVID-19 stole her chance to go overseas. She planned to study in Italy and Greece in fall 2020, but the opportunity was canceled.
“It took me awhile to get over that,” said Broghammer, whose younger brother, Luke, a junior at Saint John’s, is studying abroad this fall in London. “It’s crazy how much my perspective has changed with the pandemic.”
At first, she was incredibly disappointed that she wouldn’t study abroad. Then, as distance learning dragged on, she was just hopeful of returning to campus. And, fortunately, by the spring semester of her senior year, masks were no longer required, and her class had a normal graduation.
“I think I’ve gotten away from our American tendency to rush through all our stages of education,” Broghammer said. “I used to be set on not taking a gap year. That’s why I took the LSAT. During the pandemic, I learned what a privilege it is to be able to go abroad to live. That’s become my priority now.”
Or perhaps teaching? Preparation is similar
Depending on her experience at the University of Bergen, Broghammer said she also may alter her route to become a professor. Scott Richardson, professor of classics at CSB and SJU, convinced her teaching higher education might have similarities to being a lawyer.
“He said they’re alike because they’re both for people who like studying alone and then, once they know their material, they put on a performance,” Broghammer said. “I’ll go to more school, whether that’s law school or graduate school. I think I’ll either be a lawyer or a professor, or maybe both. I can see myself being a little more flexible now.”
To make the most of her time in Norway, Broghammer says she’ll join a running club or a ski club. She wants to lean into environmentalism at the intersection of outdoor lifestyle and sustainability.
Norway is one of the most sustainable countries worldwide and ranked No. 3 among the top 10, according to Sustainability Magazine. The country’s parliament has pledged to be entirely carbon neutral by 2030, which is 20 years earlier than most other nations’ plans. Norway has one of the most efficient recycling systems, which incorporates composting, and predominantly uses hydroelectricity for power. The only countries considered more “green” are Switzerland and Sweden.
Bergen, the busiest port and second-largest city in Norway (population 285,000), has a mild and wet climate where the average high peaks at 66 degrees (Fahrenheit) in summer and bottoms out at 32 degrees in the winter. But it’s surrounded by seven mountains, which will provide Broghammer with endless opportunities for outdoor adventures. She intends to celebrate those through a multimedia blog during her stay. Each post will introduce viewers to someone she meets.
Now if she can just get the hang of speaking Norwegian, which she’s developing on the fly. To augment that, she’ll take a class in the language at the university.
“Norwegian will undoubtedly be challenging to learn, but I'm excited,” Broghammer said. “I love language. It's powerful; it's how we share our experiences and truly understand each other. I'm excited to help teach English because I believe we have a responsibility to not only share our own stories but also amplify others’ stories and make sure everyone has a voice. Teaching a language is one way to accomplish that.”
She should be well qualified, whatever her future holds.
CSB and SJU students interested in applying for a Fulbright Award for the 2023-24 academic year should contact Phil Kronebusch, professor of political science and coordinator of competitive fellowships at CSB and SJU, or Lindsey Gunnerson Gutsch, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research at CSB and SJU.