Yukking in the Chinese New Year

Both American and Chinese Students celebrated their fifth Chinese New Year together with a laugh, as Fulbright Scholar and comedian Jesse Appell amused the crowd and educated them on the cultural differences and similarities of comedy between the two cultures.
The event was held Feb. 5 at Oxford High School’s Performing Arts Center.
‘What was unique about this year’s event was first we highlighted a cross-cultural student performance where a group of domestic students who have been learning Mandarin Chinese for several years as well as several international students here at Oxford performed the Chinese Sign Dance together,? said Oxford Schools? Director of International Programs Chunchun Tang. ‘The group had been doing a lot of practicing and rehearsing for the dance and they did a fantastic job on the night of the show. I think that is just another testimony to the offering of global learning and world language and culture here at Oxford.?
Tang said they were introduced to Appell through the Asian Society and because they are part of the Confucius Classroom, they received a grant from the Asian Society to pay for Appell’s trip and performance at Oxford.
Appell is a disciple of Ding Guangquan, master Xiangsheng performer, and regularly performs Xiangsheng, bilingual improv comedy, and stand-up live on TV all around China. He creates comedic online videos intended for the Chinese audience, One of these, ‘Laowai Style,? gathered two million views across several media platforms.
Oxford Schools Director of International Operations Jill Lemond felt both American and international students gleaned a lot from Appell’s performance. She said the performance went beyond just the ‘surface level? of language and culture.
‘It was very deep and really got into the intricacies of the culture as to why are things are funny, what is humor, why does the audience matter to the performer and how different is a bilingual audience versus a monolingual audience in China or America,? she explained. ‘It was very interesting to think about all the different perspectives and I think events like that are really where we learn as individuals. Not even just as high school students, but I know I invited multiple adults who are even out of the district to the event, who said, ‘Wow, I really learned a lot from that.??
Lemond said the performance showed the differences in humor between America and China. There were parts she said where the international students would be laughing, but American students didn’t quite get the joke and vice versa.
‘That created a lot of content for further conversation for both in the after-school English as Second Language Course and also with some of American students in (the) Leadership Class and other groups to talk about why we think things are funny or what shapes our opinions and perspectives,? she added. ‘Culture includes humor, so I thought it was kind an easy platform to talk about all those differences and how we’re the same as well.?
The event included a VIP reception, which was catered by the school district’s food service. Guests were entertained by a student orchestra ensemble. Distinguished guests included State Superintendent Brian Whiston, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, State Board of Education, MDE Dr. Richard Zeile and Michigan House of Representatives 46th District Representative Brad Jacobsen (R-Oxford).
Tang said the attendance of these officials shows just how much Oxford and the ‘greater community of Oakland? embraces and celebrates global citizenship and cultural exchange.
Lemond agreed. ‘I think we were really honored to have the number of people that we did from outside our community,? she said. ‘There were a lot of faces there that you don’t see at every event.?
Patterson addressed the crowd and commended Oxford for its passion and commitment in being the first to accept his charge in 2007 to make Oakland County students more competitive in the world marketplace by teaching Mandarin Chinese. Nine years after the initial request, all 28 Oakland County school districts now have Mandarin programs. According to Patterson, Oxford remains at the top with its programming. Others in attendance included Oxford administrators from the district, high school, middle school and some school board members.
‘We wanted to draw as much community participation as possible and hence invited public officials from across the state to join us,? Tang said. ‘We look forward to hosting more events highlighting the intercultural exchange at Oxford.?
She noted that the Social Justice Project committee will be holding another event soon where American and Chinese students will collaborate to create some Chinese artwork in celebration of the Chinese Lantern Festival.
‘The exchange really takes place at the student level and . . . it’s our role (as district administrators) to support and to foster that,? Tang added. ‘But at the end of the day, it is student-driven, as it should be.?