Working Far Away, From Home


Rex Simmons ‘19 is the 2020-2022 Fellow to Shanxi Agricultural University. This is his first year narrative. 

Working from home has been a striking adjustment for much of the global workforce. Some love it, some hate it, but the boons and banes of the hilarious juxtaposition of personal and professional lives has become a common trope in our lives, and is often parodied and celebrated in comics, commercials, and internet memes. But for young adults, the adjustment to working from home is less often peppered with rowdy toddlers and inconsiderate pets. Instead, it is imbued with the awkward and taboo sentiment of returning to a once empty nest. Previously viewed as a sign of social and professional failure, moving back in with your parents has become a great necessity for many during the pandemic. For us recent graduates beginning our careers in the exciting but often alienating work from home movement, carving out a workspace amongst your dusty childhood memorabilia in your childhood home has become a shared symbolic moment in our lives.


Since moving back in with my parents in Ypsilanti, Michigan, I have completed my first semester as a Shansi fellow to Shanxi Agricultural University. I designed my own 10-week curriculum with the help of other fellows and online resources, instructed 250 Chinese graduate school students in spoken English, and managed all assignment submissions and grading through WeChat and Tencent drive. At times, I had my doubts about my ability to provide a useful curriculum to my students from half a world over. How could I effectively teach spoken English without actually conversing with my students?  Worrying for my student’s success, I tried to accommodate my student’s learning as much as possible by offering speaking practice sessions over Zoom, lots of audio recorded assignments, and being available daily to answer questions over WeChat. I am pleased to say that the feedback I received from my students was very positive, and I am immensely satisfied by the curriculum and experiences I managed to create for my students. Even more so, I am amazed that I imagined doing it all while intermittently staring out the window at the familiar view from my childhood bedroom.

Looking forward, I am excited by the idea of more opportunities to teach online, and the faint glimmer of hope of being granted a visa to work abroad in the coming Fall. For now, I am enjoying the Chinese new year holiday break, and using my time to continue to lesson plan, record a new musical project, and search around for covid-safe part time jobs in Ypsilanti. In an unexpected turn, my time as a Shansi Fellow has given me an opportunity to reconnect with my home and reemerge into my local community as a young adult. While working as a fellow next semester, I hope to start also working for a local organization that focuses on local food security. If I am selected for the position, I could start work building home gardens or help running the farmer’s market for Ypsilanti residents this spring. 

I often think about how different my experiences has been from past Shansi Fellows. Though this is technically Shansi’s second pandemic, I assume this is one of the first remote fellowships in the organization’s history, and is certainly different than any of the experiences of the past Reps and the Shansi affiliated members of my family. I still share many of the moments of awkward language misunderstandings, somewhat invasive lines of questioning, and pre-lecture jitters, but all from the unprecedented comfort of my own home. However, in a time when nearly every previous Shansi Fellow has been inundated with new sites, smells, and scenery, I am intimately reintroducing my most familiar surroundings with the person I have become. Both experiences have their perks and detriments, but I am optimistic that I will make the most of my situation and serve my organization, students, and community, as Fellows before me have also sought to do.