Hip-Hop: The Grammarian's Guide
Fulbrighter uses music and dance to teach about American language and life
by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
Fulbrighter Melissa Reif '13 poses at the Escadaria Selarón in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where she visited while studying abroad during her junior year. Reif will return to Brazil to teach English through the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant program.
Melissa Reif ’13 hadn’t planned to volunteer as an English
tutor during her time as a study-abroad student in Brazil, and at first, she had
no idea how to motivate a gaggle of boys who were much more interested in
American rap music than in American grammar and syntax. So she decided to
channel those passions and teach them about American music and pop culture,
Along the way, the boys picked up vocabulary, idioms and
phrasing. They also learned about American history, holidays and traditions and
everyday life. “It was a lot more fun for everyone involved, and we got to touch
on important issues, like slavery and racism in America,” Reif says. By the end
of her stay, she knew that she truly loved teaching—and that she wanted to someday return to Brazil.
In March, Reif will get her wish when she travels to Brazil as
a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA). She’ll tutor English in one of
Brazil’s 59 federal universities for 20-25 hours each week and will devote an
equal amount of time to volunteer work within the community in hopes of again
fostering greater intercultural awareness through the arts.
An avid amateur dancer and former member of Dickinson’s
Anwar Belly Dance Club, Reif plans to partner with a local arts organization to
teach students three quintessentially American dance styles: tap, jazz and
hip-hop. As the students learn to dance,
they also will learn about the cultural and historical significance of each dance style.
Based on her experiences teaching English as a study-abroad
student, she expects the work to be wholly satisfying. “There was something so
gratifying about seeing the look in [the students’] eyes once they understood a
concept or new word,” she says.