Spotlight: FLAS Award Winner Kristina Caltabiano


FLAS recipient and Guanajuato alum Kristina Caltabiano (left) with her brother in Guatemala

FLAS fellowships fund the study of less commonly taught languages and area studies coursework. This program provides academic year and summer fellowships to assist graduate students and advanced undergraduates in foreign language and area studies. The goals of the fellowship program include: (1) to assist in the development of knowledge, resources and trained personnel for modern foreign language and area/international studies; (2) to stimulate the attainment of foreign language acquisition and fluency; and (3) to develop a pool of international experts to meet national needs.

We were pleased to sit down with one of these recipients, Kristina Caltabiano.

Before pursuing a dual graduate degree in social work and public health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Caltabiano served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala. There, she worked as a health educator in a rural Mayan community and cemented her aspirations to work internationally in a community organizing capacity. After learning about FLAS from a Peace Corps colleague, Caltabiano pursued the opportunity and was granted an award to learn Portuguese.

FLAS was even one of the reasons Caltabiano chose to pursue UNC’s dual MSW and MPH degree. She said the opportunity allowed her to tailor course assignments to align with her interests on different areas within Brazil. Part of the award allowed her to live in São Paulo and pursue an upcoming fall semester in Rio de Janeiro, where she hopes to achieve full proficiency.

“Such a huge part of my graduate school experience is learning Portuguese, and I’m so grateful and aware of what a gift it is,” Caltabiano said.

Studying languages has always been an interest of Caltabiano. Originally from Syracuse, NY, Caltabiano attended St. John’s University where she studied both Psychology, International Relations and minored in Spanish. As an undergraduate, she studied abroad in Chile and then following graduation, spent one year teaching English in Spain.

“Languages are fun for me,” Caltabiano said.

In addition to learning Portuguese in her graduate studies, Caltabiano participated in the APPLES Global Course Guanajuato alternative spring break. The course allowed her to be connected to the local immigrant community and better understand the link between North Carolina and migration, specifically from Guanajuato, Mexico. Caltabiano said the oral histories particularly humanized learning about the migration experience.

“You can hear and read about migration all the time, but interviews bring to life someone’s personal account of what life looks like, what life looks back in their home country, and how their kids lives are different from theirs,” Caltabiano said.

When she’s not busy learning Portuguese, studying for her dual degree, or participating in service learning, Caltabiano enjoys traveling, being outside, and spending time with loved ones.

Thank you so much for sharing photos from your experiences in Brazil (above) and thank you for joining us, Kristina! We look forward to the great things you will do!


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FLAS Fellowship Applications are Open!
FLAS fellowships fund the study of less commonly taught languages and area studies coursework. This program provides academic year and summer fellowships to assist graduate students and advanced undergraduates in foreign language and area studies.

This year priority languages include Arabic, Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian, Hindi-Urdu, Polish and Russian, as well as an opportunity to learn Turkish in Germany. The FLAS application deadline is January 31. Start your application today!

UNC Alumna Writes Young Adult Novel Inspired by Haitian Earthquake of 2010

See the original post from our friends at UNC Global 

holdtightcoverSurviving the 2010 earthquake in Haiti inspired University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill alumna Laura Wagner to write the young adult novel Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go, published by Harry N. Abrams in January 2015. The novel is Wagner’s first.

The novel follows Magdalie, a teenager whose adoptive mother dies during the earthquake. Magdalie and her cousin Nadine, who is as close to her as a sister, go to live with their uncle in a camp in devastated central Port-Au-Prince. When Nadine joins her biological father in the United States, Magdalie is left behind to find her own way in her devastated city, coping with her grief, her community’s poverty and the challenge of paying for her schooling. The novel charts her ups and downs as she sets a course for her own future.

Wagner explains that the 2010 earthquake “literally felt like the end of the world.” Wagner was rescued by neighbors and friends after several hours trapped in rubble. She later wrote an article in Salon about the experience, which led to the writing and publication of Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go.

Wagner was in Haiti studying the Creole language and working on a doctoral research project when the earthquake struck. She was about halfway finished with her program, funded by Foreign Language and Area Studies program and International Dissertation Research Fellowship Program awards.

Laura Wagner

“Haiti was already a place where the superstructure of society was not strong. People really immediately knew that if people were going to be saved, they would have to be doing it themselves,” she recalls. “There were a few days that social class didn’t exist, and people shared what they had. Quite literally, the walls came down, and I think that’s why as many people survived.”

Folklore and children’s literature expert Brian Sturm, associate professor in the UNC School of Information and Library Science, adds that adolescence is typically full of upheaval and chaos, but the earthquake’s destruction of Magdalie’s city and family gives credence to the intensity of her emotional journey.

Sturm added, “Magdalie makes her own decisions, thinks critically about the world around her, copes with life and is strong inside herself. Wagner shows these characteristics beautifully.”

Magdalie’s story includes the years after the earthquake, giving Wagner time to explore her protagonist’s new relationships and to share the language, food and rituals of Haiti.

Wagner earned her MA in 2008 and her PhD in anthropology in 2014.