Stillwater Area High School alumnus Paul Knaak is embarking on the adventure of a lifetime.
After an intensive interview and selection process, Knaak was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to participate in the U.S.-U.K. Fulbright Commission program at the University of Bristol.
His reaction when he heard?
“I was really excited. I did a celebratory dance in my room, but I had to do it quietly since my roommate wasn’t up, It (the dance) probably wasn’t pretty but honestly I had no idea if I was gonna get it. I didn’t know what the competition would be like,” Knaak said. “I’m really excited to go to England. I’ve wanted to go to it since I was younger. And this program, it’s specifically set up for people who haven’t traveled much, so we’ll have the opportunity to go places, take in the cultural aspects, and the academic aspects as well. The University of Bristol is a really renowned institute. The people there are really smart and very well-respected.”
The rising sophomore at Saint John’s University majors in history, with minors in international relations and economics. He will get an all-expenses paid four-week trip that allows him to study the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.
“It had such a profound impact on all three different countries, especially in Africa. To an extent, I think Africa is pretty overlooked in history when it comes to this topic. But it really allowed us to create everything we’re familiar with. Obviously it was done to expand Europe imperially and in the Americas. It still impacts us every day and it’s very tragic too of course.” he said.
Although studying figures prominently in Knaak’s experience, he also looks forward to the new adventure, even if he’s a little nervous.
“I was just talking with my friends about this the other day actually. I’ve come into contact with a fair number of foreign people that have studied here and I was thinking that it’s going to be interesting to be on the other side, as me who’s got the strange customs and accents,” he said. “And obviously I’ll be further away from home than I have ever been before. I don’t know if it’s nervousness, excitement or a combination of both.”
He’s also looking forward to making new friends, breaking some stereotypes and confronting challenges.
“My understanding is that the U.S. is seen in other parts of the world as a large insular country. We don’t get out much and we’re not very worldly,” he added. “I think that attempting to reverse that is going to be one challenge. Academically though, I know the coursework will be very rigorous and that I’ll be working at a very high level which will also be a challenge.”
Knaak encourages other students interested in applying for a study abroad experience to consider looking into a Fulbright Scholarship.
“It’s not just for grad students. They have pretty diverse programs that people can pick from that are available to incoming college students,” Knaak said.