The Foreign Language and Area Studies Award includes fellowships and grants, funded by the U.S. Department of Education and administered by the UW’s National Resource Centers to assist students in acquiring foreign language and either area or international studies competencies.
Applicants must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the United States. Applications by students in professional fields are encouraged. Preference will be given to applicants with a high level of academic ability and with previous language training. Academic Year and Summer FLAS awards are two separate competitions requiring two separate and complete applications. You can attend the virtual info sessions with this link:
TODAY, February 1 at 4p
African Studies applicants have used the award to learn Swahili, Wolof, Luganda, Arabic, and other African languages. If you are interested in applying, please attend a virtual information session, and, then, contact Assistant Director of African Studies Program Diana Chioma Famakinwa (firstname.lastname@example.org) to learn how to make your grant as competitive as possible. Last year we were able to accommodate FLAS awardees with virtual language programs. If you are applying to Swahili or Arabic, you can apply to multiple area studies centers. You can meet with Diana to learn what is best for your particular circumstances.
How does Swahili influence your graduate work?
My Ph.D work focuses on social emotional learning initiatives with refugee communities in East Africa. I am hoping to conduct my dissertation research in Tanzania with Burundian and Congolese refugees; a place I have lived in before and communities I have worked with previously. This research will involve a lot of qualitative work and a lot of communicating with students, teachers, administrators, parents, community members, non-governmental organizations, and local humanitarian and government actors. While these groups speak a variety of tribal and national languages, Swahili is a common language spoken among them all. Therefore, Swahili is absolutely crucial for me to conduct my research.
How did the academic year FLAS help you learn the language?
Although I have previous experience living and working in Swahili-speaking countries, I never had the time to formally learn the language. Much of my work there was conducted in English and my workload didn’t allow for much free time; I just picked up words and phrases from my colleagues, friends, and the market ladies I saw weekly. This past academic year was incredibly helpful to learn the foundations of Swahili more formally and expand my vocabulary, knowledge of grammar, and comfort in speaking. I also had an amazing Swahili teaching assistant who made learning Swahili fun and feel effortless, which increased my learning curve immensely. I looked forward to every class and really enjoyed practicing in my own time. While I still have a long way to go, this last academic year made me confident that I will reach the level of fluency I need for my dissertation research and future professional work.
What are your long-term language goals?
Beyond my dissertation work, I hope to continue working with refugee communities in East Africa, as well as East African refugees who seek asylum in the United States and other countries. I also hope to engage with Swahili–speaking colleagues and students professionally and through academia. As such, my long-term goals are to continue improving my Swahili beyond my dissertation work and to eventually become fluent. Being fluent in Swahili would set me up for a variety of meaningful career paths and allow me to serve as a much needed communications conduit for vulnerable groups in and from East Africa.
What advice would you give to fellow graduate students applying for FLAS?
I recommend tapping into your motivations for your graduate work and letting that shine through in your application essays. Being clear about how learning a particular language is crucial for your graduate work, as well as the overall goals that your graduate work aims to accomplish is key. I also recommend ensuring the individuals who are submitting your letters of reference are familiar with the goals of your graduate work and feel confident that they can speak to that in their letters. Additionally, meeting with individuals who sit on the decision committees for the FLAS Fellowships is a great way to learn about what they’re looking for in an application and get their advice and recommendations. Lastly, remember that this is a U.S. government-funded fellowship, so there should also be an element of what returns they will see from their investment in you and your language learning. Other than that, let your motivations, passions, and energy shine through in your application. Good luck!
What is your FLAS experience?
“I received FLAS for two academic years (2018-2019 & 2019-2020) and one summer (2019), which was instrumental in my Swahili language learning. I came to UW with an intermediate speaking and reading capacity and was able to work to near fluency thanks to the award. I took the African Cultural Studies Program’s Less Commonly Taught Languages (AFR 671) course for three consecutive years and spent one summer in an intensive program at MSTCDC in Arusha, Tanzania.”
How did the FLAS award help you learn Swahili in ways you had not been able to before?
“The African Cultural Studies 671 course was perfect for my learning style. I was able to design my own language learning process, choosing topics that interested me and pertained to my research questions, as well as use a diverse array of activities to promote learning and curb burnout.
“When it came to my summer award, I checked out a number of language study/travel programs, mostly through US universities, and they were very expensive, which would have left me with near nothing to live off of in Tanzania. My colleagues and mentors at UW suggested that I enroll in a local program in Tanzania. Having lived around Arusha before, I chose MSTCDC and cannot recommend it enough.
“I was able to work with MSTCDC to incorporate housing and dining into my tuition bill as a part of my full language immersion experience. Besides the financial support I received, MSTCDC was a dream. I worked for several hours a day with a teacher, one-on-one, which again allowed me to cater learning topics to my interests and research needs. MSTCDC pedagogical approach is designed to be intuitive and adaptable. Also, living on the campus allowed me to continue my language learning outside of the classroom, giving me the chance to speak as little English as little as possible. Meals shared with Swahili speakers provided an informal classroom at all times of the day and I couldn’t believe how rapidly my communication capacity improved. While unofficially, everyone who worked at MSTCDC was my Swahili teacher at one point or another. The campus is also beautifully situated in the woods and near some delicious food spots, so there’s a lot of outdoor and local activities to immerse yourself in. I really can’t recommend MSTCDC enough!”
How does Swahili support your research?
Swahili is integral to my research. I study intellectual history, specifically political theory. My dissertation looks at leftist debates at the University of Dar es Salaam, where I am reading Swahili newspapers and academic sources. One of the questions the historical figures I look at asked was about the significance of language in the politics of knowledge. So, I not only translate Swahili sources to analyze them but I also observe the ways people delivered information to make it more powerful in the minds’ of their readers. I wouldn’t be able to facilitate this work had it not been for the intensive language study the FLAS allowed me to do during my years of coursework.