European Studies FLAS Fellow Svea Larson Speaks About Her FLAS Experience

Handwritten cookbook by “Mathilda Jansson”

Svea Larson is a University of Wisconsin-Madison European Studies Academic Year 2022-2023 Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellow engaged in dissertation research in Sweden. 

My name is Svea Larson and I am a PhD Candidate in Scandinavian Studies. I am using my Swedish language skills to conduct research in Swedish archives and museum collections for my dissertation, which focuses on Swedish migration and remigration in the early 1900s.

My friend and colleague Ida helped me make these cookies. We had to translate the measurements into units we could use and easily read. We used a modern oven, rather than a cast iron stove like the one pictured here. I hope to be able to do a few more experiments with older kitchen tools in the future!

I use Swedish every day with my colleagues and friends and in research. On a typical day, I wake up and head over to the humanities building at Lund University, grab a cup of coffee and get to answering emails, or working through the primary sources I have gathered.  At noon, the other PhD students and I usually grab lunch in the staff dining hall. Although afternoons are mostly dedicated to more reading, writing, and emails, I often get the chance to go to a seminar or lecture by one of my colleagues. The more exciting days are when I get to make research trips to different archives around Sweden. This fall I was able to make trips to seven different collections around southern Sweden, where I have met with many different scholars who work in my field. Talking about my project with them in Swedish has been useful in reshaping it and thinking about it in new ways, and I’ve loved getting to explore the Swedish countryside.

I work on material culture, especially food, and my favorite research activity this year has been trying to make Swedish recipes from the early 1900s with my colleagues and friends –sometimes with mixed results! I’ve found that translation can be really tricky –some of the terms for kitchen tools, practices, and job titles. They can be really outdated and don’t quite transfer into modern Swedish or English. I have gained a much more nuanced understanding of the languages I am working in. Some of the texts I read are in mixed Swedish and English, and I don’t always see where the “Swenglish” is.

The finished results. These cookies were… a bit bland, but had a really nice, airy texture!

Collaborating with native speakers has helped me think about my sources in new ways and led to fantastic conversations about the role of language in shaping transnational identity and cultural practices. Being in the culture and studying it has meant that I have been able to explore research questions I would never have thought of, visit new places, and meet with scholars who challenge me to make connections I had not thought of before, and have some fun at the same time.

FLAS is a great opportunity that you can make use of at many different stages in your education. Earlier FLAS grants helped me learn Finnish, a research language that I never thought I would have the chance to use and learn, and as a dissertator on a Swedish FLAS, it has meant that I have been able to pay my bills while abroad and relieved a lot of stress about funding. Many of the fellowships that dissertators in my position apply for do not pay for tuition, insurance, or segregated fees, meaning that you must look for, apply for, and receive multiple funding opportunities to be able conduct your work.  The FLAS fellowship helps take care of all those administrative bills and provides a solid stipend to use for your research and living costs! This has meant that I can focus developing my language skills and conducting my research, and even afford to take research trips to archives and collections that are a bit out of the way.

Sweden is beautiful in the fall. When taking a detour from the archives, I got to explore the Småland countryside.

If you are considering applying for the FLAS, my main advice is to start early, get your advising team on board, ask Eleanor and Mark for help, and don’t be afraid to get creative to find ways to show how the language will benefit your studies! There may seem like a lot of hoops to jump through, but the application gives you a lot of room to explore why you want to learn or use a language. The FLAS staff are great at helping you navigate the administrative side of things, and they want you to apply and to win the grants, so there is no reason to hesitate! And if you do end up on a FLAS, make the most of it and have some fun! Make a trip out of your research visits, try new foods and activities, think about the things that you take for granted about your native language and homeland, listen to and learn from the people you meet, and don’t be afraid to be a bit silly in a new language –making mistakes, asking questions, and learning how to be  a bit uncomfortable is just as important as memorizing the grammar or vocabulary.

The FLAS application portal for summer 2023 and academic year 2023-2024 awards is now open! The deadline to submit for both competitions is 11:59pm, Tuesday, February 14, 2023. Do not miss out on this opportunity!

Visit our FLAS website for applications, deadline information, and frequently asked questions.