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FLAS Fellowships Enrich Academic Programs

Foreign Language Area Studies (FLAS) fellowships are open to graduate students in any program, and provide a unique opportunity to develop language skills that supplement their academic study in significant ways. Established originally as part of the National Defense Education Act of 1958, FLAS Fellowships became part of the Higher Education Act of 1965 with the goal of producing a uniquely qualified cadre of modern foreign language experts whose knowledge significantly influences the business, government, and higher education community.

Duke is one of fewer than 60 institutions that have been approved to administer and offer FLAS fellowships, which were first offered at Duke in the 1962-63 academic year. Five centers at Duke administer the fellowships: the Asian/Pacific Studies Institute; the Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies; the Center for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies; Duke University Center for International Studies; and the Duke University Middle East Studies Center. Competitions are held in the fall and spring for both academic year and summer FLAS fellowships. Here, the benefits of the FLAS are highlighted by recent recipients.

Language as a way to negotiate and experience other cultures

I’m an M.A. student in Islamic Studies with the Religion Department expecting graduation in Spring 2012. I’m currently in the midst of Ph.D. applications, hoping to study and eventually teach comparative Islam. A thorough knowledge of Arabic will be critical to my research and career goals. For dissertation work, I hope to balance the study of historical texts, both colonial and indigenous, with fieldwork, examining how Muslims themselves have used and changed the discourse of rights, citizenship, and nationalism in the context of Islam. I am especially interested in ways that religious political thought in the Arabic-speaking Middle East differs from that in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Duke is one of the top universities in the country in terms of FLAS opportunities, which certainly influenced my choice in schools. As more and more religion Ph.D. programs expect students to have already obtained a master’s degree, generally funded out of pocket and through student loans, having support through FLAS has helped ease the financial burden of master’s work immeasurably. Additionally, a Summer FLAS enabled me to continue my Arabic studies in a more intensive setting at Middlebury’s program over the summer. Balancing language study with other coursework cannot compare to the rigor and growth achieved in complete language immersion. The experience was intense, but the shared camaraderie with my fellow Middlebury students and the incredible teachers made the experience worthwhile.

The FLAS program represents an important national priority in incentivizing Americans to study and master world languages. My mother is a Spanish teacher, and from an early age I was instilled with the value of language as an important way to negotiate and experience other cultures as well as represent my own. Learning Arabic is not about encoding and decoding in exact parallel; it changes and expands the way I think.–Marcela Schuleter, M.A. student, Religion

Opening important doors to research

The summer 2011 FLAS fellowship enabled me to participate in a pilot language study program at the Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo initiated in partnership with Tulane and Vanderbilt. The program not only brought me to Brazil and helped immensely in improving my Portuguese, but, even more than I had hoped, opened many important doors to future and now ongoing research in these areas through the introduction of new archives, ideas and authors and opportunities for making personal acquaintances and academic contacts. Not only did we receive seemingly countless hours of language instruction by very dedicated and energetic language teachers, but were given tours of various locations of historical, cultural and aesthetic importance in the city of Sao Paulo, even taken on a three-day tourist excursion to Rio de Janeiro.

With the language skills I acquired and reinforced over the summer intensive language course, I was empowered to conduct research and participate in intellectual, cultural and public life in Brazil. Some of the various events that graced my experience with meaning and inspiration included the translating of several articles in the Winter edition of the journal O Menelick 2o Ato from Portuguese into English, meeting several writers of national and international renown; giving a public talk in Portuguese on the topic of my research on the African diaspora; teaching some English classes at a unique school that matches African diaspora education with language learning (Ebony English); making many friends, eating tons of good food and seeing many beautiful sights.–Damien-Adia Marassa, Ph.D. student, English

Preparing for a doctoral program

Japanese language study is crucial for my Buddhist studies work as a master’s student in religion, preparing for a doctoral program and career of teaching and research. As a student of modern Japanese Buddhism—and aspiring ethnographer—I need language training to read documents ranging from ancient Buddhist treatises to twentieth-century newsletters, and to communicate with Japanese religious practitioners today. Although Duke was unequivocally my top-choice program, funding was a concern, and being awarded a FLAS fellowship did factor into my decision to enroll at Duke. I am very grateful for the FLAS fellowship that allowed me to pursue outstanding training in language alongside religious studies at Duke.–Rebecca Mendelson, M.A. student, Religion

Stepping outside my department to take advantage of some of Duke’s other resources

I applied for the FLAS fellowship because I wanted to study Arabic while traveling abroad and exploring the Middle East. The fellowship is great; it covers tuition up to $5,000 (which is, as far as I know, more than enough to cover any summer Arabic program in the Middle East or North Africa) and provides a $2,500 stipend that can be used for living expenses. Up to $1,000 is also provided, upon successful completion of an approved program, to contribute toward air fare. That’s up to $8,500 for a summer abroad. I’ve received two FLAS summer fellowships over the past two years, and I’m planning to apply for another next summer as well as the academic year FLAS.

My background is in Latin American Studies, but at the doctoral level I’ve decided to shift my regional focus to the Middle East. I’ve been studying Arabic since I began my Ph.D. program in political science. The FLAS has been fundamentally important in getting me to where I am today with Arabic. There is really no better way to learn any language than studying abroad, and I believe I’ve been able to advance at a rate of about one academic year per summer. Right now I’m taking media Arabic, and next semester I’ll be taking Classical Arabic Texts—only three-and- a-half -years after learning my first Arabic word. If I receive a FLAS next summer, I’ll likely attend Middlebury’s graduate program in Arabic in California. It’s been great to step outside my department and take advantage of Duke’s other excellent resources, including the Center for International Studies and the Center for Islamic Studies. There are many wonderful people on campus, professors and students, whom I probably wouldn’t have met were it not for my initial interest in Arabic. FLAS has helped to facilitate everything having to do with that.–Seth Cantey, Ph.D. student, political science

Language is crucial to my academic and professional goals

I chose to come to Duke because I had a friend who got her Ph.D. here the year before I came, and her description of the community and academic environment made me want to be here. But if I had not gotten the FLAS, I would not have been able to attend. Duke tuition is more than I am willing to take out in loans in the current economic environment. Because of the FLAS I am here, and I am loving it. I got the FLAS for Japanese, and language is crucial to my academic and professional goals. I am studying Japanese history. In the research I hope to do, most primary sources are in Japanese, and I need to speak Japanese to work with the academic community in Japan. Also, in order to be accepted into a Ph.D. program for Japanese history, I need to be already fluent in Japanese. So during my M.A. studies, I am really focused on language learning.–Sarah Guest, M.A. student, East Asian Studies

Pursuing a wide range of interests outside a traditional academic framework

This is a photo of me taken on a boat in the Neva River in St. Petersburg, Russia during the “White Nights” that happen there in June of every year when, thanks to the city’s northern latitude (the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska), the sun doesn’t fully set for over a month, and the city is a nonstop festival during that time. In the background of the photo, which was taken around 1:00 a.m., is the Peter and Paul Fortress, the first major structure built in the city in 1703 by Peter the Great, and where all of the Romanov tsars (except Paul I!) are buried.

The reason I included this photo is because I wouldn’t have been there, on that river, during the summer, if it hadn’t been for a FLAS Fellowship to further my Russian language skills for six weeks at St. Petersburg State University through Duke’s Summer in Russia program. I am on a year-long FLAS (for the second year in a row), and it absolutely contributes to the reason I came to school here. I am a second-year Master’s student in the Russian M.A program, and I chose Duke over another university because it offers FLAS awards to first-year and second-year students with an option to apply for a summer FLAS. This basically provides full funding for the time you are enrolled at Duke. I could not afford to come to graduate school to study Russian without the possibility of funding, and the FLAS gives that to me. My career interest is to work in cultural exchange between the US and Russia, and the M.A. program in Russian at Duke is interdisciplinarily focused, which has helped me pursue a wide range of interests outside a traditional academic framework. But none of that would be possible without the FLAS.–Will Evans, M.A. student, Slavic and Eurasian Studies