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Center for Southeast Asian Studies > Students > Foreign Area Officer (FAO) Program Information

Foreign Area Officer (FAO) Program Information


The Asian Studies Program at the University of Hawai‘i offers an unequalled opportunity for FAOs to study a wide range of topics, disciplines, and methodologies covering a broad geographical arc including East Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. The School of Pacific & Asian Studies (SPAS), in the College of Arts, Languages & Literatures (CALL), is home to two Title VI National Resource Centers for Asia (East Asia and Southeast Asia), ranking the school’s Asia programs among the strongest in the US.

The University of Hawaii’s Asian Studies Program has been engaged with the FAO Program since 1997. Since that time, we have awarded MA degrees to more than 75 officers across all regions of Asia. The MA degree program is tailored to meet the academic needs of FAOs who are preparing to work in their Asia region of expertise.

The University’s location in Honolulu, Hawai‘i, offers unique opportunities for FAOs concentrating on Asia. The extensive academic resources at UH-Mānoa are enhanced by its proximity to the East-West Center and the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies. The numerous Asian and Asian-American communities on Oah‘u—and the temples, festivals, performances, talks, classes, restaurants and cultural sites they support—provide an unparalleled resource for learning about Asian cultures and worldviews outside the classroom. Finally, given that between a quarter and a third of all job assignments for Asia FAOs are based in Hawaii, studying at UH gives you access to these units through briefings, lectures, and so on. It also gives you the opportunity to check out future job prospects—specifically, which jobs you might wish to compete for as well as which jobs you might wish to avoid.

The MA program requires students to complete 30 credits of coursework and reach the 301-302 level in their target language (students may test out of the language requirement if they have already reached that level). Of the 30 credits, there are only three required courses (total 9 credits). Students work with their academic advisers to design a course of study that best fits their needs and areas of interest.

FAOs are advised to select the Plan B: Non-Thesis Option, although accommodation may be made for individuals who wish to complete the Plan A: Thesis option.

The Master’s in Asian International Affairs is designed for working professionals whose careers would be enhanced by a deeper understanding of contemporary Asia and the multi-faceted (cultural, historical, social, and political) determinants and impacts of Asian nations’ engagement with their neighbors and the world.

Geared toward students with at least two years of professional experience, the program includes courses on area studies and applied theory, and culminates in a capstone experience in which students will be asked to apply their knowledge either to a project in their own field or to a collaboration with professional partners working on real-world issues.

In this way, graduates of the program will be better positioned to work productively across cultural boundaries on questions of national and global importance, and to make well-informed decisions in a global environment in which Asia is increasingly central.

Required courses will be offered at night, on weekends or online, to accommodate the schedules of working professionals.

Graduates of the MAIA program will be able to:

1. demonstrate an advanced understanding of key sources and modes of conflict and cooperation in contemporary Asia.
2. demonstrate advanced understanding of diverse Asian perspectives on issues of regional and global significance.
3. accurately interpret and critically assess research on Asian international affairs, and express their analyses concisely.
4. reflect critically on the ethical consequences of different paths of international engagement in the Asia-Pacific.

The MAIA program requires students to take a total of 30 credits of coursework, of which

  • at least 18 credits must be at the 600 level or higher;
  • not more than 14 credits may be taken online;
  • all courses must be Asia-related, unless they provide important theoretical or methodological training, in which case the student may petition to include up to 6 credits of non-Asia-related courses.  

Required courses include: 

1. Core Thematic Requirements (6 credits). Students must take at least two of the following four courses: 

  • ASAN 626 Capitalism in Contemporary Asia (3 cr)
  • ASAN 629 Asian Security Cultures (3 cr)
  • ASAN 687 Conflict and Cooperation in Asia (3 cr)
  • ASAN 689 International Relations of Asia (3 cr)

2. Core Area Requirements (6 credits). Students must take at least two of the following three courses: 

  • ASAN 630  Southeast Asia Now
  • ASAN 651 East Asia Now
  • ASAN 654 South Asia Now

3. Capstone (3 credits) 

  • ASAN 710 MAIA Capstone (3 credits) 

The capstone course allows students to gain course credit for work on a real-world problem or issue. There are two options. 

ASAN 710 Option 1 allows students to work with a UHM faculty member to apply the knowledge they have learned to a project relevant to their workplace or career goals. 

ASAN 710 Option 2 assigns individuals or small teams of students to collaborate, under the supervision of a UHM faculty member, with members of the security, diplomacy, advocacy or industrial sectors in Hawaii as they work to address a carefully defined real-world problem or issue. Initially, the community partner for Option B will be the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies.

In addition to the required courses, students may elect to take courses from Asian Studies or from other departments on campus. Students will be assigned an academic adviser who can help them design a study plan that meets their individual needs. 

FAOs in the MAAS or MAIA program will be able to: 

  1. complete their degree work in 12 months, including coursework during the summer break.
  2. do summer academic work at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Waikiki. This opportunity is only available for FAOs.
  3. enroll at UH as a Hawai’i resident for low-cost tuition purposes.

To be eligible for admission to the University of Hawai‘i, applicants must

  • hold a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited U.S. college or university, or an equivalent degree from a recognized non-U.S. institution of higher education.
  • have earned a GPA of 3.0 or above (B average on a 1-4 scale) for undergraduate and any post-baccalaureate coursework. If your GPA does not meet this cut-off, you may still be considered for admission if, in your work experience, you can demonstrate your aptitude for academic work (critical thinking, reading and writing at an advanced level).

FAOs go through the normal application procedures for the MA in Asian Studies. For detailed information on how to apply, please see University of Hawai’i’s Asian Studies Program

In brief, your application must include the following materials:

  1. UH-Mānoa graduate Admission Application (including application fee)
  2. Transcripts from all undergraduate and post-baccalaureate graduate coursework
  3. GRE scores
  4. Asian Studies Graduate Program Application Form
  5. Statement of Purpose Writing sample (minimum ten pages)
  6. Two letters of recommendation from individuals who can speak to your aptitude for graduate work.

Contact Information:  Pattie Dunn, FAO Student Academic Advisor, Asian Studies Program, School of Pacific & Asian Studies, College of Arts, Languages & Letters, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, 1890 East-West Road, Moore Hall 416, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi 96822; Telephone: (808) 956-7814; Facsimile: (808) 956-6345; Email:

Admission to the Asian Studies MA Program is valid only for the semester for which you are applying. If you need to apply more than one year in advance, you have two options:

  1. re-apply and pay the $100 application fee again, or
  2. accept admission and immediately apply for a leave of absence.

LOAs are good for only one year. The best thing to do is contact us and we will help you find a solution to your enrollment challenge.

Tuition Cost Offset

FAOs are now automatically given in-state tuition status. UH is a low-cost school.

Cost of Living in Hawaiʻi

Hawaiʻi has an extremely high cost of living – if you are not in the military. Prices in the commissary nearly mirror those in Monterey. On-post housing is available at Fort Shafter, but sometimes there is a waiting list. Off-post rent is comparable to that in Monterey with some of Hawaiʻi’s best residential areas within biking/walking distance from the University (Mānoa Valley, Saint Louis Heights, Kāhala, and Waikīkī). All dependent medical care is handled at Tripler Army Medical Center. The care is fast and first-rate, with no payment of a Tricare deductible. Hawaiʻi can be expensive, but the Army provides adequate compensation (BAH/COLA) to meet ones needs.

Monthly Housing Allowance (BAH-Hawaiʻi) [as of 06/25/2021]
GRADEw/ dependentsw/o dependents
Monthly Cost of Living Allowance (COLA-Hawaiʻi) [as of 06/25/2021]
GRADETIME FRAMEw/ dependents (#)w/o dependents
O-38 yrs$687 (3)$523
O-38 yrs$653 (2)$523
O-38 yrs$588 (1)$523
O-410 yrs$760 (3)$560
O-410 yrs$723 (2)$560
O-410 yrs$651 (1)$560

Space-A Travel

The availability of travel via Space-A in and out of Hawaiʻi is plentiful. Daily flights occur to/from Travis AFB (S.F. area), McCord AFB (Seattle area), and Yokota AFB (Tokyo area). Weekly flights occur to/from North Island NAS (San Diego area), March AFB (L.A. area), Kelly AFB (San Antonio area), McGuire AFB (New Jersey), and Charleston AFB (South Carolina). Being stationed in Hawaiʻi, dependents are authorized to travel unaccompanied Space-A anywhere within the Pacific Theater and to the end-destination for CONUS mission. As an Asia-focused FAO, this is an invaluable fringe benefit. It is extremely easy to travel to/from Japan during class breaks or PTDY during summer semester. From Japan, there are multiple flights each week to Korea and Singapore, which are extremely economical gateways to China, Southeast Asia, and India.

General Topics of Interest

As a FAO concentrating on Asia, about one-fourth to one-third of your future job assignments will be in Hawaiʻi (Pacific Command, JICPAC, US Army Pacific, The Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies). Studying at the University of Hawaiʻi gives you early access to all of these centers in the form of briefings, lectures, conferences, etc. The resources are there if you want them. It also provides you the opportunity to check out future job opportunities, specifically which jobs you might wish to compete for as well as which jobs you might wish to avoid.

Access to Professionals in Your Field

The Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, located in Waikīkī, is the preeminent security think tank and educational center in the Pacific.

The East-West Center, located on the campus of the University of Hawaiʻi offers access to top researchers in Asia and the Pacific, visiting diplomats, scholars-in-residence from around the world, and ongoing conferences, talks and performances.

Additional Information

School of Pacific & Asian Studies Contacts

UH/SPAS Recruiting Representative: Dr. Cathy Clayton / Dr. Anna Stirr
UH/SPAS Asian Studies Department Chair: Dr. Cathy Clayton / Acting Chair Dr. Anna Stirr
UH/SPAS/FAO Graduate Advising & Admission Documents: Pattie Dunn, (808) 956-7814; Facsimile: (808) 956-6345