McKinleigh Lair ‘19 is one of 75 Americans selected to study and work in Germany as part of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) for Young Professionals program. CBYX is a joint program of the U.S. Congress and the German Bundestag. Participants in the program come from a diversity of educational and career backgrounds, and study and work in different fields. Some participants are placed with host families, and others live in shared apartments while in Germany. This depends on fellows‘ preferences.
Contributing writer Jadyn Davis spoke with Lair via email about her time in Germany with CYBX and how obstacles like the COVID-19 pandemic allowed her to grow closer with her community.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Jadyn Davis: How has COVID affected your fellowship with the program and what have you learned as a result?
McKinleigh Lair: I think COVID has forced a lot of us to slow down and reevaluate our priorities. I’ve always known how much I valued travel, but I’ve also come to fully appreciate the community more. I think there’s a lot of value in being fully present within the community you’re living, wherever it is. While I’m here, I want to focus my energy on seeing the most I can of this beautiful country while also forming meaningful friendships with my host family and other locals. I see this as equally important to any career development.
JD: What inspired you to become a part of the program?
ML: I’ve always been in awe of the diversity of experiences both in the U.S. and around the world. This curiosity is one of the factors that led me to pursue documentary storytelling as a career. I think it’s also why I spent so much time abroad as an undergrad. While at IC, I made a film for Park Productions in Guatemala, took a documentary class one summer in Seoul, spent a semester at the IC London Center and also studied a semester in Jönköping, Sweden. But despite having studied a couple of languages along the way, I’ve never become very comfortable understanding or expressing myself in a foreign language. At first, I felt torn about whether I should accept this fellowship because within the past couple of years I had been gaining a lot of career momentum as a freelance documentary cinematographer. But this fellowship offered me a mix of opportunities I found hard to pass up — the chance to work toward a bucket list language-learning goal, see more of the world and form new friendships — all while working on my craft.
JD: What has been your experience living in Germany?
ML: I’ve been living in Köln since the beginning of August, taking an intensive language class and living with a host mother who makes a living as a tennis instructor. She’s introduced me to some local journalists and documentary filmmakers who she knows from her club. In my free time, I’ve gotten to hit some tennis balls with them while learning about Germany’s documentary industry. Tennis has been a big part of my life for a while and it’s been rewarding to use it as a little window into both my industry and this community.