Senior Rebecca Dance’s education at Roanoke College is about to take her further than she ever imagined. Shortly after graduation, the Lunenburg, Massachusetts, native will be flying off to the coastal region of Galicia, Spain, as a Fulbright Scholar in one of the most competitive and prestigious programs in education.
“I’m terrified but, honestly, also so excited,” said Dance, who will be living abroad for the first time. “When I think about it sometimes, it’s just like, wow, I really get to go off and do that.”
Dance, an English education and literary studies double major, was tapped for an English Teaching Assistant Award with the international program. She’ll spend the next year teaching English in a Galician classroom — a remarkable start to the career in education that she had been building toward.
Her passion for teaching is something she discovered while at Roanoke after being encouraged by an advisor to try out a course in the program.
“I actually came to college having zero intention of doing anything in education,” she recalled. “Then, I took that first course. Roanoke is really good at getting us into classrooms right away, so I was in a classroom for three hours a week, and I was interacting with the kids and watching them start to understand what they were being taught. Those light-bulb moments. And I said, ‘Ohh, this is what I’m meant to do.’ From then on, I committed wholeheartedly, and I love it. I’m so glad people didn’t let me just dismiss it.”
Dance, who’s graduating with a license to teach grades 6-12, is an honors student who was picked to carry the Omicron Delta Kappa national honor society flag at Commencement on May 6.
She's served as a tutor for The Writing Center and a fellow with the Center for Civic Engagement, where she worked with ESL students in partnership with Blue Ridge Literacy. Readers will recognize her byline from The Brackety-Ack, where she’s outgoing Opinion Editor. She was also part of the first cohort of mentors who volunteered with the Bridges Program, a new initiative designed to encourage more students of color to go into teaching.
Professor Wendy Larson-Harris, chair of the English and Communication Studies Department, described Dance as the type of uncommon student who manages to make the extraordinary look effortless.
“I’m continually impressed with all she wants to do, how many areas of interest she has, and all the balls she keeps in the air with grace and good humor,” Larson-Harris said. “She makes things look easy. But she’s able to accomplish all that she does through lots of careful planning, discipline and sheer hard work.”
Dance designed an honors distinction project that took her to Guatemala for a month last summer to research translation theory by exploring how moving between multiple languages shapes people’s understanding of linguistic structures and the way that meaning is conveyed through word choice and context.
Her trip immersed her in the in-between zone of two languages — Spanish and English — in order to experience firsthand how the science of linguistics and the poetry of words collide. That foundation made her an ideal fit for the intercultural nature of Fulbright, Larson-Harris said, and will make her an asset in the classroom throughout her career.
“Understanding the complexity of living between languages — which is a daily reality for students who come from multilingual families — will make Rebecca a more empathetic teacher. One who can encourage all her students to be more open to the value of diverse experiences,” Larson-Harris said.
Cultural immersion and exchange are priorities of Fulbright. The program, run by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, is known for its highly competitive selection process. Over the past two years, only one in five applicants has been accepted to work as an English Teaching Assistant in Spain.
Roanoke College has a strong record of Fulbright success. It’s seen numerous students named Fulbright Scholars or semi-finalists.
This year, in addition to Dance, Katherine Charbonneau ’23 and George Kendall ’23 were announced as semi-finalists for programs in Czechia and Germany, respectively. Professor Dolores Flores-Silva also recently won a 2023-2024 Fulbright fellowship that will take her to Mexico in the fall.
Dance encouraged future students to dive into the type of opportunities offered by programs like Fulbright. “I would encourage everybody to look at it. With Fulbright, they’re not just looking at your GPA or your transcripts. They’re looking at the whole person. They want real people who are doing real people things to be part of the program. Everybody here could try it.”
Support and guidance are available from the Office of Major Scholarships and Fellowships — which helped Dance navigate the process — as well as from faculty.
Dance recalled feeling nervous to ask her professors for letters of recommendations because the application deadlines were looming. “I felt bad because I know they’re busy,” she said. “But they were so excited to do it for me. They were all so helpful.”
Dance is gearing up to depart for her Fulbright year in September. Until then, she’ll be polishing her Spanish, which she’s studied since high school, and researching the history and culture of Galicia.
She summed up what she hoped to gain from her time abroad in just a few words: “Experience. Exposure to the larger world,” she said. “I love meeting people. I love different perspectives. I think that’s what I’m hoping to get out of it. Learning to see the world from new perspectives.”