The 30-year-old Tracy High School graduate moved in October to the small South Pacific island nation of Palau, where she is one of three Americans working as court counsel to the three justices of the country’s Supreme Court, writing case opinions and managing case loads. She also writes content for the court’s website.
Being so far away doesn’t mean Knize has forgotten about home. A quick trip to the grocery store brings her right back to the Central Valley.
“This place is so small, even though it’s a country, it’s still like a small town with only 20,000 people,” she said from Palau during an interview Wednesday, Jan. 18, via Skype. “A lot of the fruits and vegetables, not surprisingly, come from California and the Central Valley. I’ll be walking around the grocery store and there is food from Ripon and grapes from Fresno. It’s really exciting having a little piece of home so far away.”
After graduating from Stanford University in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in American studies, Knize earned her law degree from University of California, Davis, in 2008. She heard about the opportunity in Palau while clerking for a federal judge in Orange County. Knize has also worked for a law firm in San Francisco and clerked for a judge in Los Angeles.
“Most people have never heard of Palau, and it’s true that I really didn’t know too much about it,” she said. “I remember sitting and talking to my parents, saying, ‘I think I’m going to apply to this job,’ and then in June I had found out I was selected.”
The Palau court system heavily recruits clerks from the United States federal courts system, Knize said. In Palau, where land ownership lawsuits clog the courts and universities and law schools don’t exist, Knize said, American clerks typically have the most experience handling the large case loads characteristic of the Palau Supreme Court.
“Palauians sue each other a lot, so there is a real demand to take on these cases,” she said.
Accepting the job was a decision of both work and play, Knize said. Because the island is only 285 square miles, social opportunities can be scarce. Knize has made friends with her two American coworkers and other Americans in the Peace Corps and military services that populate the island. Locals typically gather for recreational activities, such as yoga and basketball. The island was also the site of the bloody Battle of Peleliu in 1944 that ended nearly three months after U.S. Marines took it from the Japanese.
“It’s kind of hard to have a social life, but many Palauians find friends through sports,” Knize said. “I’ve been able to learn how to scuba dive, and there are so many other great outdoor things to do.”
After growing up in Tracy, Knize said, she was prepared for the size and scope of the tiny island nearly 1,000 miles east of the Philippines. The island has no fast food or chain restaurants, movie theaters, bookstores or Starbucks shops. Also like Tracy, it prominently features scorching sunshine.
“When I interviewed for this job, I talked a lot about growing up in Tracy, because it was really small, and I felt like I knew what it would be like to run into the same people at the grocery store,” she said.
“You just kind of see the same people all the time, and in that sense, growing up in a small place and then coming to Palau, it wasn’t that much of a change. My only complaint is that it’s incredibly hot here — that’s the biggest thing.”
Knize will continue at her post until October, at which time she will “just see where things take me.”
“I have a long career ahead of me. I’m just glad I could do this while I was still young,” she said.
Knize’s time in Palau can be tracked by following her blog at www.penpalau.com.