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‘Not coming was never really an option to me’

In the middle of the pandemic, in August 2020, the US American lawyer Kendall Taylor packed her bags to start as a guest researcher at the Chair of Common Law at the University of Passau. A discussion about researching abroad during the coronavirus pandemic. By Florian Kammermeier

At the beginning of 2020, coronavirus began to spread throughout the world. States closed their borders, journeys became complex and risky. Whilst students and researchers were cancelling stays abroad, the American lawyer Kendall Taylor signed the contract that took her to Passau for two years, to Professor Jörg Fedtke’s Chair of Common Law. 'Not coming was never really an option for me', says Kendall Taylor. After all, her dream job awaited her in Passau. So she packed her bags in August 2020 and came to Passau. But what does it mean to risk a period abroad as a visiting scholar during a pandemic? In the interview, the lawyer talks about the start of her time in Germany, who supported her and why the Passau way of life can be more attractive than the American one.

You moved from the U.S. to Germany in August 2020, so right in the middle of the pandemic. Did you encounter a lot of obstacles?

'Surprisingly enough, there were not as many obstacles as I thought there would be. The biggest one was all the paperwork I had to translate and fill in in order to get into the registration system of the University. The University’s Welcome Centre was a very huge help in finding an apartment and understanding the documents. I received a lot of support from the chair, too. Silvia Böhm, the secretary, is instrumentally helpful. She’s awesome! Applying for the visa wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. Of course, I had to quarantine before and after I moved but there weren’t a lot of other restrictions.'

How was your start in Passau?

'The situation was similar to the U.S., so it was somehow familiar to me. In fact, back in California, I had been used to wearing masks inside and outside for months at that point, while in Passau, it had not yet been common.  Luckily, when I arrived in August 2020, I was able to encounter my new colleagues of the University’s Chair of Common Law in person. At that time, it was still possible to meet outside in the Old Town of Passau, we got to know each other and became friends. So it wasn’t too hard when I got here.'

It was probably difficult to foresee that it would work out relatively well. Did you have thoughts like 'is it worth all of this, coming to Passau now?'. After all, many students quit or delayed their plans to go abroad.

'That never really crossed my mind. To me, this is a dream job! So, the only thing I really hoped was that it will work out in the end. Not coming was never really an option to me.'

What makes it a dream job for you?

'I get to do a ton of different things. I get to teach courses, help with the Moot Court, where students meet internationally and simulate court negotiations. I coach them for their oral arguments and edit their written briefs. I can do research on a variety of different topics – basically whatever my chair and my boss, Professor Fedtke, wants me to look into. And I get to work on my own PhD thesis for whatever appears interesting to me. It’s nice to have that sort of freedom: to research whatever you want.'

Kendall Taylor, University of Passau

Research assistant Kendall Taylor. Photos: University of Passau

Kendall Taylor is a research assistant at the Chair of Common Law at the University of Passau. As well as working on her doctorate, she is teaching English for lawyers and giving tutorials in American tort and contract law. This is the 26 year old’s first visit to Germany. Before she came to Passau, she completed three years at the Tulane Law School in New Orleans, in the US state of Louisiana. There, she also attended a course run by the Passau lawyer Professor Jörg Fedtke, the holder of the Chair where she is now researching and working. Fedtke teaches in Passau and holds guest lectures in New Orleans. This is how the then student became aware of the position in Passau. She previously spent four years studying for a Bachelor’s in Economics and Business in Washington D.C. and Texas. Kendall Taylor grew up in Texas. She spent the quarantine before her departure for Germany with her family in California.

What is the topic of your PhD thesis?

'I’m researching on executive action in the field of international law. Right now, I’m looking into the U.S. but I will also start to work on the UK and Brexit. In the U.S., there have been a lot of executive orders by the President in the last years which affect international law. And Congress is not involved in this. So, I’m researching the expansion of this executive power. I’m investigating whether I find a way to integrate the German system into my work, which is very different from the U.S.'

You have now been in Passau for roughly half a year. Is there something that you have really started to value?

'Yes! I value the way of life really much – people are very active here. Walking is obviously the main way of transportation here while it’s the car in the U.S.. And it’s such a picturesque town, I just love strolling through it and looking at the beautiful architecture and the old buildings. Furthermore, I enjoy the landscape of the nearby Bavarian forest. For example, I hiked Lusen the other week. Also, I like your environmental sensivity: The recycling system is well organized. In the U.S., we don’t have anything comparable.'

Is there anything that you miss from your life in the U.S.?

'I do, of course, miss my family and friends. Also, I miss a couple of food items like some very American snacks and Mexican food!'

You haven’t met family and friends from the U.S. since you arrived in August. Do you plan to travel back this year?

'I’m not sure if I can travel to the U.S. soon. I don’t want to travel unless I’m vaccinated. My family is already fully vaccinated, so I try to figure out if my mother can come visit me here. Hopefully that works.'

Organisation of a guest residency during a pandemic

Sylvia Böhm, the secretary at the Chair of Common Law, has experience when it comes to organising residencies of visiting scholars. However, the pandemic presented her with completely new challenges, just as it did for the other units of the University of Passau that are involved. In July 2020, one month before Kendall Taylor arrived, there were still strict entry restrictions for the USA. “At that time it was not certain whether she would be allowed to come at all,” says Böhm. There was an active exchange between all parties involved, managed by Jana Schöberl, project leader of the Welcome Centre: “Among other services, we provide support on the topics of visa, residence permit and health insurance - tailored to the personal circumstances of the scientist," Schöberl explains. In the case of Kendall Taylor, this was particularly challenging. At the German consulate in Los Angeles, Kendall Taylor had to prove that she had to come to Passau in person, as well as providing the usual visa documents. In a letter for the consulate, Professor Fedtke argued that she needs access to the library and must be on-site for face-to-face teaching when that is allowed again. The organisational work was also more challenging because the pandemic made it more difficult to reach the necessary bodies in Germany and the USA. According to Böhm, this was why the process took just under four months, instead of the usual two to three. As well as the Chair, the Human Resources Division of the University of Passau was involved in the process. Another important point of contact for the US American was the Welcome Centre, which supported her with her search for accommodation from a distance. “As a result of the united, intensive efforts of everyone involved at the University of Passau, everything finally worked out, and we were all relieved to be able to welcome Kendall to the Chair of Common Law,” says Böhm.

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