À la troisième, c’est la bonne! 1

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.


Emma Verril profile picture in France outside a cafe

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.Emma in sunny France in front of a church

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.

Emma in France in front of a church

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.