October 31, 2011
The Third Time is the Best!
Emma Verrill, who uses a wheelchair and previously taught and studied abroad with CIEE in Rennes, France, will be writing a three-part series for the blog about her current time abroad. You can read more of Emma on her blog: Ma Vie Est Belle.
I’m currently sitting outside on the mini terrace of my new apartment listening to the kids in my neighborhood and watching people leave church and head for lunch. I have settled in France for the third time and I feel an ease that you can only feel in a place you call home. Two and a half years ago I fulfilled my dream of studying abroad in France. Despite hesitation from my family and friends, and some administrators at my college, I successfully lived with a family in Rennes (in Brittany), went to school, and traveled around Europe in what became five of the best months of my life.
When I graduated from college in 2010, I knew I wasn’t done with traveling and exploring the world. My thirst for discovery had only just begun, and being in a wheelchair was not going to stop me. I was accepted to a government run teaching program in France and without many other options decided to carpe diem and take advantage of a new opportunity to travel and live abroad. I spent the school year living in Rennes (again!) and teaching lycée, or high school students. Looking back I can remember how much fun I had, how much I loved seeing my students thrive, and how welcome I felt at the lycée and back in Rennes. I remember my doubts and my fears. I had never taught before and my nerves and insecurities were trying to get the best of me. I thought about how the students would perceive their young, American teacher in a wheelchair. Would my chair be a distraction? How would I control the classroom? Would they listen? Would they be interested in the material I was interested in teaching? My head was constantly filled with millions of theoretical questions, impossible for anyone else to answer.
Taking one day at a time was essential. Every class was different and every student was different. Sometimes the students would respond well to playing name games for a couple weeks to ease their shyness into participation. Others were engaging right away and humored me by cooperating as I gave a passionate lesson about American high school culture or environmental sustainability. I had the occasional class when my students weren’t listening or participating and I walked home feeling discouraged and incapable. Why wouldn’t they listen today? Was I doing something wrong? I learned that being a teacher requires an immense amount of energy and sends you on a daily emotional roller coaster. But I also learned how to live on my own, how to navigate French bureaucracy and how to be independent.
My teaching experience in Rennes was frustrating, exciting, scary, and fun. It taught me so much about myself and also introduced me to new things I never would have discovered. As frustrating as it was and could have been, I enjoyed it so much that I reapplied and renewed my contract for a second year. I was placed in Rennes yet again and will be returning to the same high school. I’m so thrilled to be back for a second year to try new things as well as revisit familiar lessons, classes, and activities.
So here I sit, on the terrace of my new apartment, getting prepared for another year. Some of those impossible questions are back, but I have found a new confidence that I could only discover by challenging myself every day.