Badgers may be returning to the familiar sights of Madison, Wisconsin this fall when classes resume, but James Llewellyn – a master’s student in Southeast Asian Studies – has a very different semester planned. With assistance from a Boren Fellowship, he will be taking his last academic year in Malang, Indonesia.
For a person who hopes to one day build a career around regional studies and language acquisition and bring their talents on the national and international stage, the Boren Fellowship presents an incredible opportunity.
Boren Fellowships award funding to undergraduate and graduate students to study languages and cultures most critical to the United States’ national security. In exchange, students agree to utilize those skills within the government by seeking and securing federal employment for at least one year.
Llewellyn is spending this summer learning Indonesian at UW–Madison as part of the Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute (SEASSI) to prepare for his fellowship abroad in Malang, Indonesia. Once in Malang, Llewellyn will study at Malang State University in the fall and aims to find an internship in the spring at Warmadewa University in Denpasar. He hopes to help facilitate the Bali Democracy Forum, an open intergovernmental forum on the development of best democratic practices sponsored by the Indonesian government.
Like many others participating in intensive language study abroad, Llewellyn hopes to bring together formal in-classroom Indonesian and enrich it with real-life, everyday experience in language and culture.
“Gaining knowledge about Indonesia, like having that sort of invaluable experience you can’t recreate, is definitely what I’m looking for,” Llewellyn said.
Llewellyn was initially drawn to Southeast Asian culture through participation in the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Abroad program, a high school cultural exchange scholarship created by the Department of State to foster relations between the United States and countries with significant Muslim populations. Through YES Abroad, Llewellyn lived with a host family and studied in Malaysia for a full academic year.
Llewellyn’s drive toward the region and its politics pushed him to pursue politics and international affairs as an undergraduate at Wake Forest University. During his time at UW–Madison, he received a Fulbright for the 2020-2021 academic year to teach English in Malaysia and a Boren Fellowship to study in Indonesia for the upcoming 2021-2022 year.
Llewellyn was drawn to UW–Madison by the university’s nationally acclaimed Title VI National Resource Centers, which receive federal funding to teach less commonly taught, strategically important languages for national security and global engagement.
“I was very impressed by the faculty of Wisconsin, and particularly Dr. Michael Cullinane, who runs the Center for Southeast Asian Studies,” Llewellyn said. “The environment at Wisconsin was very conducive to my study of Indonesian.”
One of the areas Llewellyn likes to focus on is the intersection of politics and language – how the latter shapes the former and what topics are culturally permissible per country.
“I love studying language. I don’t just study Indonesian, I studied a couple others, but when it comes down to it, I study languages because I just enjoy hearing what people have to say,” Llewellyn said.
Though Llewellyn’s Fulbright award in Malaysia was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, he remains optimistic that the Boren fellowship will be fully in-person for the 2021–2022 academic year.