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FLAS: Cyberjaya

November 14, 2016

This week our TWISEA editor and MA student Kasey Rackowitz is going to talk about the FLAS and her trip to Malaysia to get you excited about applying for the FLAS.

Midterms are (hopefully) wrapping up, the sakura tree leaves in the Quad have fallen and Winter Break is upon us. What better way to spend the next couple months than on applying for scholarships? Are you an undergraduate or graduate student who is interested in studying a Southeast Asian language (Indonesian, Burmese, Thai, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Khmer)? Why not apply for the FLAS? The application is open until January 31, 2017 so you still have plenty of time to work on it. The FLAS provides good funding (both tuition and stipend money) as well as good prospects for continuing school and getting a job.

When you see this scholarship opportunity, you may feel discouraged about it being too competitive. I felt the same way too when I was an undergrad. Then I learned that Southeast Asian languages are currently a priority, which means they get plenty of funding. When you apply for the FLAS, you also have the opportunity to apply to the Center of Southeast Asian Studies for your Southeast Asian language. That means you only compete with other students who study Southeast Asia. Also, undergraduates and graduates do not compete against each other. In the end, you actually have a good chance of getting it!

For example, over the summer, I traveled to Malaysia for two and a half months to do ethnographic fieldwork. I brought along no affiliations thanks to self-funding and three years of Indonesian language experience only made possible by receiving the FLAS. My home base was a city called Cyberjaya, which can be translated as “cyber success.” Described as a science park, Cyberjaya is made up of a network of wide roads with names like Jalan Teknocrat (Technocrat Road) and Jalan Silikon(Silicon Road). New eco-friendly gated communities and shopping centers are sprouting up before they can even fill the ones they have. Young men and women pass out fliers for bigger and better real estate investment opportunities within Cyberjaya and even over in Singapore. My first day I decided to explore the city in my boyfriend’s Perodua Nautica only to discover how empty Cyberjaya is (You know when you’re arriving in Cyberjaya/Putrajaya when the traffic suddenly disappears). Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed in Cyberjaya both as a place for research and as a place to relax and enjoy what Malaysia has to offer.

Then I spent more time outside. In Cyberjaya, there’s a recreational area everyone calls the Domain. Within a few blocks of space are modest boutiques, convenience stores, hookah lounges, mamak stalls and various restaurants. At night, this center becomes a major social hub that shows off Cyberjaya’s real beauty – it’s international diversity.

In Domain, there’s a hookah lounge and restaurant called Karyabhara that would make you feel like you’re in a hipster Seattle coffee shop, but in a good way. Murals of birds and prime ministers decorate the brick walls. They serve mocktails with Western-style treats to enjoy while you watch open-mic performances. The unforgettable part of Karyabhara, however, is the Malay family who owns it. They pride themselves in making their customers feel at home not only in their restaurant, but in Malaysia as a whole. More than half of the people who frequent Karyabhara are foreigners. Why do they feel at home at Karyabhara? The family makes an effort to introduce you to all of the regulars when you visit for the first time and you’re still feeling lost in an unknown land. They remember everyone’s birthdays and throw a party for them to ease the homesickness. And this is just one restaurant.

Cyberjaya is not the city of cyber success that Mahathir dreamed of where new international multi-billion dollar companies are born. It’s a city of young Malaysians fresh out of college trying to build their resumes at outsourced call centers and Vietnamese men working as construction workers to send money to their families back home. It’s bakeries run by Syrian refugees while they wait for the day they can return to Syria and work as the doctors they used to be. It’s churches in hotels where the African community can find solidarity together in faith and away from discrimination. It’s Tunisian and Algerian international students chasing their dreams of working in the “developed world.”

It’s the side of Malaysia that is shrugged off for being un-Malaysian, but keeps the Malaysia that the world knows running.
FLAS Fellowships are funded by the International and Foreign Language Education Office of the U.S. Department of Education.  FLAS fellowships support undergraduate, graduate and professional students in acquiring modern foreign languages and area or international studies competencies.   Students from all UW departments and professional schools are encouraged to apply.  Find out more about the FLAS Fellowship here.