Sorry for not updating more recently – between midterms, getting sick, finals and what I’ll be writing about today, I haven’t had the time or energy to flesh out any of the things I’ve wanted to write about recently. With any luck, things will settle down soon and you’ll get a rash of posts on slightly old topics shortly. Today, however, I thought I’d write a bit about that which is currently consuming this grad student’s life: summer plans.
The vast majority of the people pursuing Ph.D.’s do so with the help of fellowships, a certain kind of scholarship. These come in a variety of forms, but the aspect that concerns me at the moment is the summer. Some fellowships cover an entire year, but some only cover the academic year. That can leave you scrambling, but it also opens up other opportunities. (To be honest, in practice most people seem to be more irritated at the scrambling than thankful for the flexibility.)
For an area studies scholar like myself, the government runs a program called FLAS, or Foreign Language and Area Studies. FLAS fellowships are designed to ensure that the United States has a pool of people trained in speaking various languages in case a need arises. The academic-year fellowship also have an area studies component, in addition to language classes. You can use a FLAS fellowship to study Arabic, Chinese, Korean and a number of other languages deemed both important to the United States and understudied by Americans. The fellowships are administered by various colleges and universities and come in 10-month and 2-month strains. In other words, a fellowship covers either an academic year or the summer. Each one has two parts: a set amount of money for tuition, and a set amount of money for you to live on. If you’re a grad student, your school may add in some extra money if it’s in a city with a high cost of living.
There are several tricks to the summer FLAS which complicate matters. First, summer classes have to be intensive – 120 hours is the minimum, and that’s only for advanced language learners. Then you have the double bind of the spirit versus the letter of the fellowship. For my own purposes, because it is best for me, I want to be as fluent as possible. The Program wants me to be as fluent as possible. Ditto everyone else on the FLAS. However, the best way to gain that fluency is often to travel to a nation where your language is actually spoken to take your intensive class – a $1,000+ cost that is not included in your fellowship. In addition, you most likely have carrying costs in America during this time – a year-long lease you can’t sublet, car insurance payments, cable/gas/electric bills – which you have to cover out of an already-small stipend.
It’s hard. Figuring out the details and trying to get additional funding so that I can do this right has occupied a lot of my time, a lot of my advisor’s time and a lot of our local FLAS administrator’s time. To some extent I’ve had to recover lost territory – I couldn’t buy plane tickets until getting the details of a certain kind of funding set, but by the time that was settled, a sale I had found was gone and tickets had gone up $500. I got $600 in another kind of funding explicitly for tickets around the same time, but now tickets are up $600 from when I first looked for them.
It’s complicated. It’s a bit unwieldy, as a system, since you have to apply for funding and programs separately, and can’t guarantee either until you’ve heard from both. This summer, lingering effects of the earthquake in Japan got several summer programs cancelled, and even more were considering until very close to the deadline by which the FLAS administrators needed to know where I was going. (Past, actually. They have been extremely understanding and helpful throughout.)
All that said, I’m going to attend the premier Japanese-language program in the world this summer, and I will be far more fluent in August than I am today. At this point in my career, I need a great honking shove in the patootie to get over that next major hump in learning Japanese. This is it.
Having this opportunity means that next year, if all goes as planned, I will be able to start learning Korean. Learning these languages helps me do my job, but it also helps the nation. We’ve seen what happens when we’re suddenly thrust into an engagement with a group whose language we hardly understand twice now. FLAS is intended to protect against that by ensuring that languages which people wouldn’t necessarily study on their own get studied and that people who might study a language a little bit in high school or college and then forget half of it are able to take the extra steps to become fluent for life.