Storytelling Across Cultures
May 2012

In late May 2012, Michelle Sizemore facilitated a Student Summit that involved delegates from the University of Kentucky and Shanghai University. The students from the University of Kentucky were already in Shanghai, participating in an intensive summer language course; many students from Shanghai University were training to teach Chinese as a second language to English speakers.

The group of students met twice - on the first and last evening of the event - and discussed excerpts from Maxine Hong Kingston's 1976 book, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. Students were invited to share their own stories and thoughts on ways in which Chinese and American cultures merge and diverge, and make interpersonal connections in the process. For many Summit participants, this was their first experience having an academic conversation with someone from another country. Listen to a podcast with Michelle Sizemore about the Student Summit here.

In the first seminar session, the group began exploring the topic: "Storytelling Across Cultures."  The UK & SHU students discussed how stories speak across cultures, and how they're a vital means of learning about one another.  In this first seminar, Sizemore stressed that storytelling isn’t something reserved for special occasions, it’s something people do everyday.  Little stories show up in daily conversations all the time—and for many different reasons—to engage listeners, to get better acquainted with someone, to impart lessons, or to share parts of ourselves that may be best expressed through narrative.  The conversation was anchored by the chapter "At the Western Palace" from Maxine Hong Kingston's memoir The Woman Warrior.  The first seminar session served as a springboard for the next two days' events; students were encouraged to consider the seminar's ideas and questions as they attended the lectures by the UK Appalachian Studies faculty.  The second seminar concluded with our insights about the Summit and assembled our capstone project: a podcast featuring their "stories" of cross-cultural exchange and enrichment from the Summit.  


Seminar Discussion Questions:

1. Storytelling: Who are the primary storytellers in the memoir? What is the nature of these stories? Why are these stories being told? What seems to be the larger significance of storytelling in The Woman Warrior?

2. Cross-Cultural Dialogue:  What are some of the challenges that Kingston and her family members encounter as they try to learn about American or Chinese culture?  How do stories facilitate or hinder the process of intercultural understanding?

3. Perceptions of China/Perceptions of the U.S:  How would you describe the Chinese emigrant generation’s initial perceptions of the U.S.?  How would you describe first generation Chinese Americans’ perceptions of China?  In what ways are these perceptions confirmed or contradicted in the memoir?