Life changed for Karla Pérez '25 when she moved from Cuba to Florida at the age of 11. Her mother told her they were just going on a vacation. A week later, she was permanently in the United States, where she would finish high school and begin her college search.
Pérez says she was always interested in Knox because of the flyers and information sent to her in the mail. Even though her original goal was to attend an Ivy League college, Knox was ultimately the college that she chose.
“I had a whole dresser drawer full of college flyers, but Knox was always in the back of my mind,” Pérez said.
Pérez’s choice to attend Knox came down to a number of key factors, including her first steps onto campus during her tour. She recalled that Knox provided a Spanish-speaking translator for her mother. For Pérez, it felt like people at Knox were putting forth the effort to understand her background. “I was always scared to go on any tour because of the language barrier. Knox made us feel welcome right away.”
She said she was also drawn in by the beauty of the campus and the “ancient-looking buildings.” By the time the tour was over, Pérez says she told her mom Knox was her choice.
Moving to Illinois gave Pérez a sense of freedom to explore a new part of the country. As she had moved around involuntarily many times throughout her young life, she felt a sense of freedom to make a choice for herself. She says the cornfields were immediately intriguing, as was the Midwestern air. “Illinois felt comfortable. I felt like I could go out and explore.”
Pérez joined Knox’s TRIO achievement program and moved onto campus a week earlier than other students. She says TRIO gave her an opportunity to meet people and feel settled into a new environment.
“I learned so much in that week. We were all released into the wild. That's when it hit me that I was all alone in a brand new home,” Pérez said.
Now in her second year, Pérez is embracing fully Knox culture through a number of roles across campus, including student Senate outreach chair and design editor for Catch. She believes this stems from her Cuban heritage.
“I think it's just how I was raised; it’s just a Cuban thing,” said Pérez. “Teachers in Cuba always told me I had "chispa," a spark. I love being busy and love doing things.”
Pérez plans to self-design a major in business and marketing studies. This flexibility and custom curation of study have been a boon for Pérez, who has discovered more about her passions as she has taken courses over her first few terms at Knox. She is considering adding a computer science element to her major to truly make it her own.
She is proud to be a representative of her home country of Cuba at Knox. During International Fair, Pérez held the Cuban flag during the flag ceremony. Her desire to tread her own path in life and education has not taken away the story of how she made it to America and all the way to Galesburg, Illinois. “I love telling people about where I come from. People can learn about my culture as I learn about theirs.”
As she continues her journey, Pérez wants to represent everything that someone with an international upbringing can be at Knox. “I need to be excited about what I’m doing or I can't function. I see next term’s schedule is all business classes. I see these 200-level courses and I'm excited. I want to see how far I can push myself.”