FLAS recipients reflect on their language learning experiences

Studying an African language at UW-Madison? Fund your language study through a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship (deadline: February 12).

Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships are administered by the African Studies Program for graduate and undergraduates to study African languages. Funded by the United States Department of Education, FLAS fellowships are intended to develop a cadre of linguistically competent specialists in the study of Africa in a range of disciplines. FLAS fellowships cover tuition and provide a stipend for the academic year or summer.

Applications are due February 12, 2018. Still unsure whether or not FLAS is right for you? Hear from former recipients on why they applied for FLAS and how the award impacted their language study.

Lauren Parnell-Marino

Studied Luganda in Kampala, Uganda

Lauren studying with her Luganda teacher, Simon Mpanga, at the City Language Centre in Kampala, Uganda. (Submitted photo)

“I applied for FLAS because I wanted to make language learning an essential part of my graduate education. Proficiency in Luganda will enable me to do my best possible research, and I wanted to do everything I could to work towards proficiency. I’ve made tremendous progress since I’ve started and have also deepened my knowledge of Ugandan culture alongside language learning. It’s helped me converse with Ugandan friends who have limited English skills and connected me with Luganda learners. ‘

FLAS has given me the time to prioritize my Luganda education meaningfully during the school year. It’s also allowed me to spend time in Uganda and experience intensive one-on-one instruction and has given me the chance to practice with dozens of friends and people on the street. It’s been a gift to me personally and professionally – and it could be the same for you!”

Koffi Dogbevi

Studied Swahili at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Koffi Dogbevi. (Submitted photo)

“I applied for the FLAS because the funding I was awarded as a research student (LLM/SJD) through the Law School was limited, and I have to cope with other jobs outside the university to afford the cost of living, room and board. An equally fundamental reason of my application for the FLAS fellowship was the subject of my research: “Accidental Crop Contamination, Patent Infringement and Food Sovereignty in Africa.” My decision to apply for the FLAS, and particularly the Swahili language, was motivated by my intent to do field work in a Southeastern African country (Kenya, Tanzania or Uganda) and engage with different small holder farmers on ethical, socio-economic and environmental aspects of my research.

Overall, the FLAS award brings me stability and a peace of mind to focus on my research. Moreover, it offers the opportunity to learn a foreign language – in my case the Swahili language – which is a great addition to my knowledge, my resume, and a large range of new opportunities linked to the knowledge of a new language.”

Sam on a tour of the local livestock market in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. (Submitted photo)

Sam Allen

Studied Swahili at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Most learning takes place outside of the classroom, and FLAS helped me get out there. My FLAS scholarship helped me conduct research in Tanzania this winter break, and I met with the NGOs, multilaterals and military I’ve only read about so far. I encourage you to take your academic career to the next level with FLAS, and to use the skills you gain from this scholarship for the betterment of your country that entrusts you with it.”


Claire Widmann

Claire Widmann (Submitted photo).

Studied Swahili remotely over the summer (2020) given COVID19

“I was drawn to Swahili by the rich history, diverse landscape, and agricultural ingenuity of East Africa. After deciding to study in Kenya, I knew my experience would be aided by my ability to make friends and show respect in the local language.

“My summer FLAS was specially designed to facilitate learning amidst the COVID-19 crisis. I met with my instructor one on one for 3.5 hours a day on video call. The small size allowed plenty of space for asking questions, conversation, and fun bonuses like cooking chapatis!”


Lindsay Ehrisman (Submitted photo).

Lindsay Ehrisman

Studied Swahili with two academic years FLAS awards in African Cultural Studies 671 and in Kampala, Uganda with a summer award. 

“I began studying Luganda—a language primarily spoken in the Central Province of Uganda—after receiving an academic year FLAS in the second year of my African history PhD program here at UW-Madison. With the support of FLAS, I had the opportunity to study Luganda in Professor Thompson’s Less Commonly Taught Languages course for two consecutive academic years, and at the City Language Centre in Kampala, Uganda over two summers.

“Both summer and academic year FLAS awards provide a number of benefits and invaluable opportunities to awardees. For me, perhaps the greatest benefit was getting the opportunity to live with a host family and participate in an immersive summer language training program in Kampala. Since Luganda language courses are not offered at UW-Madison (list most other universities), receiving a summer FLAS provided a rare opportunity to take formal language classes, and also to live, build relationships, and practice Luganda with native speakers at home.

Another benefit, particularly regarding the academic year FLAS award, is simply time. Most graduate students receive funding through time-consuming Teaching Assistantships that often take time away from meeting our program requirements—including language requirements. The financial support FLAS provides, grants awardees the rare opportunity to focus full-time on language learning.”


Max Bobholz

Max Bobholz (Submitted photo).

Studied Swahili at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

“The FLAS was another huge motivator for me to pursue the African Cultural Studies major because it encouraged me to take more and more African Studies classes while improving my Swahili. With the FLAS grant, I took: an African History course, a course on Comics and Graphic Fiction in Africa, a course on African fashion, and a course centered on giving students a multidisciplinary perspective of Africa from pre-colonial to contemporary Africa.  The FLAS really encouraged me and allowed me to get a very well-rounded understanding of African Cultural Studies and really grew my interest in African cultures!”

Miles Wilkerson

“My interest in studying Yorùbá was twofold. The first reason was to integrate ethnography into my research on disability in the early modern African diaspora. Yorùbá is spoken not only in Nigeria and Togo, but also Brazil, Cuba, and other parts of the Americas. The transatlantic nature of my academic interests made Yorùbá a natural fit.

“More personally, I recently discovered that I am strongly tied to the Yorùbá diaspora genetically. Speaking to a dear friend in his native language -the language that my ancestors spoke- has been a real blessing that I would not have received without my FLAS award.”

Applications for summer and academic year fellowships are due February 12, 2018. To apply, visit flas.wisc.edu.