Through word of mouth, Meghan Leinbach discovered an extraordinary way to study and work abroad the year after her graduation from the University of Pittsburgh. In 2011, Meghan was a part of a cohort of 75 Americans and 75 Germans who participated in the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals (CBYX), a fellowship funded by the German Bundestag and U.S. Congress, that annually provides young professionals the opportunity to spend one year in each others’ countries, studying, interning, and living with hosts on a cultural immersion program. Cultural Vistas, a non-profit organization headquartered in New York, has administered CBYX for Young Professionals for over 29 years, together with its German partner organization, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (German Agency for International Cooperation). The fellowship program is broken into three phases. American fellows spend the first eight weeks studying German at the Carl Duisberg Centrum (CDC) language school in one of three locations: Cologne, Radolfzell, or Saarbrücken. Following completion of the language school phase, participants relocate to their permanent placement in Germany. During the following “study phase”, most fellows study at a German university to gain an understanding of the higher education system with regard to their career field, and they also seek out volunteer work. During the final “internship phase”, fellows apply to and secure an internship position in their locality. The fellowship includes round-trip airfare, tuition, housing, and a monthly stipend. Intrigued by this incredible opportunity, we asked Meghan about her experience in CBYX.
1. What inspired you to apply for the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals (CBYX)?
Keeping my German heritage alive is what motivates me to continue studying German culture and language. I knew I would always regret it if I did not become fluent in German, so while attending the University of Pittsburgh I majored in German and History of Art & Architecture. During my final year at Pitt, I was looking for an opportunity to continue to improve my German, as well as my professional aspirations. My landlord Peter was an alumnus of the CBYX program and he knew I was a German major, so he recommended I apply for the 2011-2012 year. After researching CBYX for myself, I found the program to be very appealing because it encouraged applicants from all educational backgrounds and professional fields to participate. The format of the program was also a huge draw for me: it includes two months of intensive language classes followed by four months of study at a German university and a five-month internship. The structure allowed for so much interaction with the German language, I knew I would be confident in speaking German after a year. I also knew I wanted to go to Germany, experience the German culture, and gain more professional experience, so I took Peter’s advice and applied.
2. Where did you intern and how did you find your internship?
The CBYX program placed me in Berlin, where I lived with a German family for a few months. My career objective was to work for a cultural institution or museum and to share my passion for art, language, and history with others, so the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) was the largest and best place to do this. After applying for an internship online at the SPK, my host mother helped me by writing to a contact she had there, who then recommended me for a position in the Publications and Merchandising department of the Staatliche Museen Zu Berlin (National Museums of Berlin).
The Publications and Merchandising department was a small team of people who coordinated the author contracts and the distribution of the exhibition catalogs and museum merchandise. As an intern, I helped by preparing contracts, planning, coordinating, copy-editing, and producing posters, postcards, and other merchandise. I also acted as liaison and translator for international communication. While I enjoyed working with my colleagues and working for such an esteemed cultural institution, I found that perhaps an office environment is not the right place for me and that I might be better suited for a more hands-on job. I am so grateful for the experience I had at my internship because, without it, I might not have learned this about myself.
3. What tips would you give others applying to the CBYX fellowship?
Even though the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals program accepts applicants from every vocation, there does exist a common thread in those who are accepted: career goals and a genuine interest in Germany. Emphasize your passion for both and your application will stand out. I would also tell applicants to show flexibility since the program will place them anywhere in Germany.
Born and raised in the heart of Amish country, Meghan Leinbach lives in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where she is currently saving up for her many ambitions. A 2011 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, Meghan holds a B.A. in German and History of Art & Architecture. As a fervent lover of the humanities, she enjoys watercolor painting and hopes to work with and inspire youth in the future.
© Victoria Johnson 2013, all rights reserved.