FLAS, the essentials:
- A generous federal award that promotes the study of foreign languages and area studies for college students who recognize that their career and academic pursuits will be bolstered, broadened, and enhanced by intercultural knowledge and training.
Undergraduates and graduates are eligible for this award.
While the amounts of the stipends for undergraduates and graduates differ, the FLAS award is available for both groups. For graduate students, the output produced for upper level courses may be lengthier and their proposals for research in their applications may be more detailed.
Historically, awards are given with priority for less commonly taught languages.
Farsi, Hausa, Igbo, Quechua, Turkish, Wolof, Yoruba, and Zulu are all examples of “less commonly taught languages.” However, it is also possible to study Western European languages in conjunction with this award.
You can apply for the FLAS award before entering your degree program.
If you know that the study of a foreign language is essential to your success/field/discipline/career before starting your degree program, consider preparing your FLAS application alongside and in addition to your admittance application. I was in graduate school for library science for three years; two of them were supported by the FLAS award. Had I known beforehand about the FLAS and that I was eligible to apply, I may have found financial support for all three years via this venue.
As an awardee, you are obligated to take two courses.
One of the more obvious requirements for participation in FLAS is that you take two courses: one in language and one in area studies. The language courses are usually easy to identify and the area studies courses tend to span a wide breadth of topics. For example, for Brazilian Portuguese, you may be able to take a dance class in capoeira, a religion class on candomble, or an independent study on the literature of Luis Fernando Veríssimo, the last of these being one of the options I chose. Consult your advisor on your schedule every semester to make sure that you are complying with the requirements of the award.
You may need to get voted up.
Your personal statement should be compelling and you will likely need your home department’s support/nomination/corroboration. In my experience at Illinois, the first time I applied for the FLAS award, my department was required to collect the application materials belonging to everyone in my field and then rank them before they were submitted to the different cultural centers on campus for evaluation. In any scenario, whether this is the format of the process in your department or not, your department should be made aware of your intent to apply. I suggest multiple rounds of feedback on your statement of purpose between you and your advisor/recommender to make for a strong application.
The award is contingent upon approved, federal funding.
At Illinois, cultural departments which serve as FLAS-awarding bodies must re-apply for funding every four years. That means that a department may have been an awarding body for five cycles of four-year periods for a total of 20 years but has the potential to lose its funding the sixth time it applies. So, the cultural department that was an awarding body last year, may not be one next year. Moreover, if there are any delays in approval of funds on the federal level, there will also be delays in disbursements. In 2014, the first payments for the award were delayed for at least two months and awardees had to find alternative methods for covering expenses in September and October until the issues were resolved. A larger lump sum was eventually disbursed to make up for lost time, but the situation was stressful for all involved-- students and coordinators alike.
It is awarded exclusively by public university campuses.
Again, the FLAS is a federal award. It is one of the ways that our country invests in its people to create a populace this is more culturally aware and able to meaningfully engage with people, texts, histories, sciences, et al all over the globe. Private schools cannot select and/or distribute these federal funds to students. However, for example, a student from a private school can apply for a summer FLAS award to be carried out on a public campus or through a public campus’ study abroad program. And, in the case of Middlebury College, a private school in Vermont, awardees from public schools can use their awards on a private campus to study language. In the latter scenario, the student is paid the monies through his/her home institution and then pays a tuition bill to the college. Any program, domestic or abroad/overseas, must comply with a minimum amount of contact hours. Your FLAS award coordinator can give you the details on the stipulations.
You can hold the award and earn a wage.
Typically, the award does not exclude you from working and earning a paid wage. It may limit the amount of hours you can work per week, however. As a student, I worked as a graduate assistant both years that I participated in FLAS. The two different departments that awarded me the FLAS had different policies on the amount of time I was allowed to work. One limited me to 10 hours a week; another allowed me to work more than 20. Attentively investigate the ways you need to comply with the requirements of your award. Beyond moderating your work hours, you may also need to attend an awards ceremony and/or give a presentation. You will certainly need to have your skill level evaluated at the beginning and the end of your award.
Be strategic in planning your "time to degree."
If you enroll in a two-year master program, for example, your home university wants to support you in completing your degree in an efficient amount of time. However, you should know that accepting the FLAS award means enrolling in two courses beyond your degree’s requirements every semester for which you hold the award. So, you should expect a packed schedule. With mindful planning, and perhaps even a summer term of courses, you can complete your degree “on time” but know that your study time will likely be intensified by being a FLAS recipient.
Academic year and summer awards are separate entities.
You can apply for the academic year award or the summer award or both. You may be awarded one, both, or neither. Summer awards are sometimes more competitive as that period may be attractive to researchers wanting to go abroad and fewer awards are granted then. See the FAQs that provide information on what prior experience makes you eligible for a summer award.
The government is interested in your progress.
You must provide the U.S. government with progress reports that detail how you have used the language for 10 years following the award (even if you have not used the language studied for professional purposes or at all). This means that the federal government will contact you and ask you to respond to questions that pertain to your employment and other professional activities.
Awarded funds not used for the purposes intended must be refunded.
Between studying Portuguese and Arabic, I made a brief attempt at Swahili. For those of you considering the same, let me say that my change of heart had nothing at all to do with the difficulty of the language. Rather, there were some logistical problems I encountered. Back in summer 2015, there was a mass glitch that “shut down the visa application process” (Yuki Noguchi) and which delayed my instructor’s arrival to the United States by two weeks for an intensive summer course. That means that some 40 hours of class meetings were conducted through Skype. So, while one of two disbursements of the award had been made to me, my decision to drop the class obligated me to return the monies afforded for that purpose.
It is a competition.
FLAS awards are hardly automatic or guaranteed. Assume that the most eligible, diligent, and interested parties on your campus are applying for this award. They are shaping statements that describe why their plans of study are compelling, necessary, and meritorious. Therefore, your application should be professional, well thought out, punctual, and pertinent to the research needs in your field.
Sometimes there’s a second round.
On occasion, if a cultural center cannot award all of its funds to eligible candidates on its first attempt, a second call for applications can be made. The cultural centers want to use the funds they are allocated to demonstrate the robustness of their programs and to increase the likelihood of future funding. This means that each cultural center must demonstrate that there is a demand for the languages and courses being taught underneath its auspices.
Good luck out there!