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Kyler and Andrea Kayanek

They were born 18 days and an ocean apart, yet they were destined to be together.

Kyler and Andrea Kayanek, both 23, are on the leading edge of Generation Z.

Now husband and wife, they met in 2011 as teenagers. Andrea was a German exchange student, and Kyler was a student at Signal Mountain High School.

From the beginning of their friendship, the two say they felt a strong attachment.

"We just really really hit it off," remembers Kyler, now a chemistry major at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. "She was staying with [a family] from my church, so I got to see her a lot."

"He always made me laugh," remembers Andrea, who is pursuing a degree in international law in Hamm, Germany. "I was open to dating someone who was not from Germany."

Today, the two are at a crossroads due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Andrea is in Chattanooga now on a break from school, but must soon decide when she will return to her studies in Germany.

Meanwhile, Kyler has online classes here at UTC to complete and a part-time job as a landscaper. If things go as planned, he will graduate next year.

For the two, separating again soon means perhaps being trapped apart for months, depending on how the pandemic resolves.

"It makes it harder," says Andrea. "We don't know what's going to happen."

As it stands, the plan is for Andrea to travel back to Germany next month and return to Chattanooga in the summer, but who knows what restrictions will be like then.

"There is so much uncertainty, you don't know what the right decision is," Kyler said.

But much about their relationship has been hard, even improbable. They have lived apart for months at a time, with only daily Skype sessions to keep their spirits up.

After meeting in high school, the two were engaged in September 2015 and married in October 2017. When their hopes that Kyler could attend medical school in Germany unraveled, they chose studying apart for a time as the most efficient way forward.

Eventually, Kyler wants to attend medical school in Germany, but the two haven't ruled out living in the United States at some point.

There is a maturity — almost stoicism — about Kyler and Andrea that bodes well for their futures. They have big dreams of starting ambitious careers and a family one day, but no expectation that things will always be easy.

"We realize this is the first major — or crazy — thing that has happened in our lives," Andrea says of the pandemic. "We were alive for 9/11, but we were young children and we don't remember. It [the pandemic] is not a war, but it's still worldwide. It's new and scary and makes you realize how everything is connected. It makes you feel like an adult."

"It will get worse before it gets better," adds Kyler. "But I think things will eventually return to normal."

In preschool during 9/11, in elementary and middle school during the Great Recession, and now in college during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, young adults such as Andrea and Kyler have had their personalities forged in hardship.

If history holds, this will make them resilient adults, just when the world needs a sturdy new generation.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

 

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