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Fellowships speak to students’ desire to learn foreign languages
Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship recipient Steve Rodriguez and his language teachers at Universitas Sam Ratulangi in Manado, Indonesia.

Fellowships speak to students’ desire to learn foreign languages

Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships provide funding to qualified graduate and undergraduate post-secondary and professional students who are interested in learning modern foreign languages or training in a related area.

"Speaking another language is a door that opens up to so many other things, both short- and long-term.” ~Lee Mackey


When Lee Mackey, a PhD student in the UCLA School of Public Affairs, was deciding on a dissertation topic, he knew he wanted to focus on research in Brazil. Mackey, a native English-speaker who is fluent in Spanish, had already completed a master’s degree in public policy and a certificate in public health at UCLA and studied migration issues specific to Mexico and Central America. He was quite excited about the prospect of moving his work into Brazil, where he wanted to study the globalizing dynamics of Brazilian agro-innovation across the wider tropical world.

But there was one major obstacle standing in his way.

“I didn’t know Portuguese.”

He did know, however, that he didn’t want to conduct work in a foreign country without the proper language skills. He also knew about the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships offered by the U.S. Department of Education. The program provides academic-year and summer fellowships to qualified graduate and undergraduate post-secondary and professional students who are interested in learning modern foreign languages or training in a related area.

"It's really wonderful that the U.S. Department of Education has recognized UCLA's commitment to the teaching of less-commonly taught languages by awarding grants that enable us to provide these wonderful fellowships," says Barbara Gaerlan, assistant director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies. "We are all hoping that in this era of budget-cutting, the U.S. Congress will continue to fund them at the same levels they have in the past."

Areas with FLAS funding at UCLA include Latin America, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe/Eurasia and the Middle East. For graduate students enrolled in the academic-year program, the fellowships cover full fees and tuition plus a $15,000 stipend. Undergraduate students are eligible for $10,000 for tuition, as well as a $5,000 stipend. Summer fellowships may only be used for intensive language study. These provide for tuition, a $2,500 stipend, and optional travel grants. They may be used at UCLA, at other U.S. programs, or abroad. The application deadline for summer 2012 and academic-year 2012-13 is Feb. 15.

“There’s a lot that you miss speaking only English,” says Mackey, noting that research, academic and travel opportunities, along with the chance to make strong professional contacts and a host of new friends, are among the key  benefits of learning a new language.

“Speaking another language is a door that opens up to so many other things, both short- and long-term.”

Following an intensive academic-year fellowship on campus and a summer fellowship in Salvador, Brazil, Mackey emerged speaking fluent Portuguese. He says that his classes, combined with reading Brazilian newspapers, watching Brazilian film, listening to Brazilian music and finding Portuguese-speaking conversation partners, made his understanding of the language and culture come alive.

“You have to make it a way of life, sort of. You have to immerse yourself, but it doesn’t have to be drudgery.”

As a Ph.D. student studying history, two-time FLAS recipient Steve Rodriguez believed it would be to his advantage to learn Indonesian and Vietnamese as he was gearing up to study the development of national parks in Southeast Asia.

“The FLAS is crucial for departments in the humanities, where Ph.D students often are not funded,” says Rodriguez, adding that, like Mackey, he would not have been able to conduct his research without knowledge of the local languages. “It is also important because it attracts graduate students to languages that they might not study otherwise. Besides funding, FLAS is a respected fellowship. The fact that I have received FLAS fellowships has enhanced my credibility as a scholar of Indonesia and Vietnam.”