Editor’s Note: This feature on Noah Knapp ’22 is the fourth of six to appear this summer on College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University graduates who have received Fulbright US Student Program awards.
Know that he has his next year firmly scheduled, serving as Fulbright student in 2022-23 at a university in North Macedonia, you’d think Noah Knapp ’22 would be ready to kick back and relax this summer.
No. Always one to be fully prepared, he is currently in Tempe, Arizona, where he is taking a seven-week course to acquire at least a rudimentary ability to speak Macedonian.
“I actually know very little at this point,” said Knapp, who is from Aberdeen, South Dakota, and graduated from Saint John’s University with a degree in English this spring.
North Macedonia has only existed as a country since 1991, when it gained independence as one of the successor states to the former Yugoslavia, and is bordered by Kosovo, Serbia, Bulgaria, Albania and Greece – where Knapp studied abroad last fall.
“The fact that Saint John’s has a study abroad program was a huge plus in my decision to have a study abroad program,” said Knapp, one of six students at the College Saint-Benoît and Université Saint-Jean for winning Fulbright scholarships this spring. “I planned to do this in my freshman year, and my family is from Germany. Initially I was going to go to Austria, but with COVID it fell through. It was the downfall of my freshman year. The next semester, I was going to go to London, and it fell through. In the fall of my senior year, my options were dwindling and I decided to take the Greco-Roman program. My aunt had did that, and she was really hype. I have to go, but even then the program split. So I had to choose – Italy or Greece?
Studied abroad in Greece
He decided to go to Greece because he thought Rome might be a more accessible destination for him in the future. He also wanted to experience something more foreign to Americans and expand his religious experience. Greece (like North Macedonia) is largely a Eastern Orthodox Christian nation and neighbors Turkey, which is 99% Muslim and borders Syria, Iraq and Iran.
“I was raised Catholic,” Knapp said. “I am still. I love being Catholic. But I also wanted to get out of my comfort zone. I had never had a conversation with someone who was Greek Orthodox. It was a good experience for me to live in a big city. Aberdeen is about 26,000 people and Saint John’s is in the middle of the woods. All my life I’ve lived in very small communities. Moving to Athens, where there are 4 to 5 million people, was totally new and exciting.
Knapp said the changing political climate and culture around politics in Greece was markedly different from that in the United States. It has seen many visible protests, usually against the government or the Greek Orthodox Church – which are often intertwined.
“All over Athens there were spray-painted signs for Antifa,” Knapp said. “You knew what kind of neighborhood you were in based on some of this (graffiti).”
However, he found the religious and ancient history fascinating, which made North Macedonia an attractive target with his Fulbright candidacy.
Destined to pass through Saint John’s
Knapp was a regular on the Dean’s List and became a member of Phi Beta Kappa during his tenure at Saint John’s. His mother, Catherine Cantleberry Knapp, graduated from CSB in 1990 and his father, Michael Knapp, graduated from SJU in 1992. They met just outside the Great Hall before a chamber choir concert at which they participated under the guidance of Dr. Axel Theimer, who became a close friend of the family. So it’s no surprise that Noah went to Collegeville, even though the decision was another example of his thoughtful nature.
“Growing up, I knew about Saint John’s, and then my mom wanted to introduce me to college tours early on,” Knapp said.
The summer after his junior year in high school, he began his college search in Saint John’s. He became interested in music and met Theimer.
“Since I was so young, I haven’t taken it too seriously,” Knapp said. “Later I visited again and enjoyed the experience but – it’s kind of crazy, I know – I kept visiting, like, 25 other colleges and universities. My parents were supportive. They wanted me to find what was best for me, and in my mind that meant seeing as much as possible.I visited Saint John’s for a third time at the beginning of my senior year, and at that time, I had to make a decision.
To do this, he made pros and cons charts and top 10 lists for the schools he had seen.
“I realized I was comparing all my other experiences to Saint John’s,” Knapp said. “Once I realized that, it was a pretty clear indicator of where I wanted to go.”
Future in higher education, writing, law, music?
Knapp excelled as a creative writer and was one of nine CSB and SJU students to earn a Manitou scholarship in 2020. She provided a $7,500 stipend to allow him to focus on his writing that summer without taking on an extra job.
Music also became a major influence in his life. He participated in a jazz ensemble under Professor Pete Johnson for three years and also learned the trombone from Professor Carson King-Fournier. But Knapp eventually switched to the piano as his primary instrument, studying with Fr. Robert Koopman, BSF.
“I don’t think music will be a career for me, but it was a big part of my college experience,” Knapp said. “It created a lot of friendships, playing in different bands, but the most important thing I’ll take away from Saint John’s is the friendships I made throughout college. That’s what I’m most grateful for. The education was amazing, the religious community was very welcoming, and the environment is beautiful. But friendships, I believe, will last the longest and bear the most fruit in my life.
Knapp knows that he will be an English teaching assistant at Goče Delčev University in Štip, starting October 3. It is one of five state universities in North Macedonia. Beyond that, however, he’s unusually unsure what he’ll do next.
“That’s a great question,” he said. “Although I haven’t taken any education courses, I’m really interested in education. Part of being a Fulbright was so I could see what it’s like to be on the other side of that equation. I have normally been a student. I want to see if being an educator is something I enjoy, am motivated to do, and am good at. If all goes well, I might be interested in long-term education – maybe something in higher education.
He is also considering law school and would not rule out working as a diplomat. But for now, he is content to know that he will arrive in Skopje, the capital and largest city of North Macedonia, at the end of September. He plans to run a marathon there just before the start of the school year.
“Number one on my list is making friends,” Knapp said. “It sounds a bit corny. I know I will be working with colleagues and students, but I hope I can befriend them too. I also want to understand how North Macedonians perceive their national identity. What is What does it mean to them to be North Macedonian I think I would have a hard time answering if someone asked me what it means to be American.
CSB and SJU students interested in applying for a Fulbright Award for the 2023-24 academic year should contact Phil Kronebuschprofessor of political science and coordinator of competitive scholarships at CSB and SJU, or Lindsey Gunnerson GutschDirector of the Office of Undergraduate Research at CSB and SJU.